Viewing entries tagged
thistle farms

Video: "Thistles were the last wildflower..."

Video: "Thistles were the last wildflower..."

Becca was recently interviewed for a filming project. Here, she talks about the beauty she found in the thistle and why they’re so important to Thistle Farms

“I wanted to name the whole place ‘Thistle Farms’ to celebrate the women, their ability to survive, their persistence, but also deep beauty and their softness, like the thistles.” —Becca

We Can Do Better Than Being Civil

We Can Do Better Than Being Civil

The cynicism and anger smoldering under a veneer of civility is ready to crack because of inauthenticity peeking through. We have to truly want with our whole hearts to show loving kindness to whomever we deem the “other." It is the hard work of our times: to stand for justice and proclaim our truth, but to do it with authentic love for one another. 

 Beauty & Love in Brokenness

Beauty & Love in Brokenness

On a recent trip…I started recounting all the sisters of the community of Thistle Farms who have died as saints and survivors of some of the oldest pain the world inflicts on young women. If I could create a stained glass, I would make a field of wildflowers with thistles and healing plants. There would be sunlight pouring down, and I would piece together all the names I could recall.

It's About Friends

It's About Friends

Friendship is critical in justice work. Its bonds and generosity allow all of us grow together. I am so grateful for the love and trust of friendship.

Midsummer Daydreams

Midsummer Daydreams

This has been a summer of travel, work, and high altitude dreams. From the Sleeping Giant Volcano in Hawaii, to Porter's Cabin 10,000 feet up in Idaho, to the shrine on the mountain in Ajijic, Mexico, I have felt my mind full of hope and dreams. I wanted to share a few of the images and thoughts with you.

"Just a Blessing All Around:" Ty's Story

"Just a Blessing All Around:" Ty's Story

Ty in Manufacturing (Photo Credit: Peggy Napier) 

Ty in Manufacturing (Photo Credit: Peggy Napier) 

I was recently given the assignment to interview one of the amazing survivor leaders at Thistle Farms, and I am so grateful to be able to help share her words here on the Boss' blog. I know you'll love Ty as much as I/we do. #loveheals

--Jordan/Team Becca

---

"My favorite Thistle Farms product has always been the candle, and it will always be the candle. Everyday in the Circle, we light the candle for the woman who's still out there suffering in hope that they would find their way home. And I know now that someone lit the candle for me, for years before I ever made it to Thistle Farms." 

--Ty, 2015 Graduate & Survivor Leader 

If you've ever met Ty, you know her choosing something that provides light as her favorite product isn't a surprise. Her smile and kind spirit brighten the day for everyone she encounters. Employed as a Manufacturing Manager, her tasks range from inventorying products and assigning projects based on needs for the day to different team members, training new women, and getting in the mix herself as well whenever she can. So, whenever you purchase our products, you're taking something with you that carries the light women like Ty infuse into everything they make. 

Ty describes her experience of being a Magdalene resident, graduate & survivor-leader as a gift beyond words. "In the beginning it gave me time to rest, to get myself together physically, mentally and emotionally. It also gave me hope, as well as helping me financially and giving me the resources I needed to take care of myself and my family," she says. Now that her experience has come full circle, Ty thinks it's  "a thrill every time I see a new woman come through the door and knowing that they will receive the same blessings that I received." 

Holding "love for every single woman on the team," she is also thrilled to be part of all the expansions and growth that her department has seen through the last few years. Ty explains, "Since I've been in Manufacturing, we've added 7 new machines, including equipment that allows us to pour up to 1500 candles a day if needed, as opposed to doing 100 just by hand." In other words, production is great, and the team and their capacities "are growing everyday." 

For everyone who has supported Thistle Farms and helped make healing journeys like Ty's possible, she offers a sincere and heartfelt thank you: "Our supporters and all their contributions are changing lives. It allows us to buy new machinery and provide new employment opportunities. It allows us to bring in new women to the residential program. The love from our community partners and friends is just a blessing all around." 

 

 

It is not what we are looking at, but what we see

It is not what we are looking at, but what we see

ken-treloar-365829-unsplash.jpg

Transfiguration Sunday 2018

Mark 9:2-9

We hear the story of the Transfiguration twice a year in church. The first is the last Sunday of Epiphany and then again at the feast of the transfiguration on August 6th. I have been ordained 26 years, and it is always so humbling to try to preach the Transfiguration on the 6th of August. As you remember, it is also the anniversary of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The dichotomy of thinking of this cloud in the sky offering life and transformation and this horrible, horrible image and reality of death and violence--I always think about that. This is a beautifully strange Sunday, a beautifully strange celebration, that happens in season that is mostly about unrequited longing and fulfillment. And yet, that we get these moments of pure vision... 

I also think of this as “Baby Ruth Sunday" because this is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. I always gave up Baby Ruths for Lent when I was a kid. So every time I hear this Gospel, I have a Pavlovian Response and want to eat Baby Ruths because Lent is coming. This is the week we get to think about what we want for our Lenten season: what we want to take on, what we want to give up, how we want to be clear. This is the moment before, the moment that hangs in the balance between the divine light of Epiphany and the beautiful season of reckoning in Lent. 

This simple, but powerful, Gospel has so much to teach us about the journey. We remember it is not what we are looking at, but what we see. It’s all about this idea that the Transfiguration of Jesus is actually about transfiguring us. The Gospel writer tells us that the moment before the Transfiguration, the disciples are wandering around hurriedly, wondering what this ministry means; but soon as there is the moment of Transfiguration, their eyes are set on Jerusalem.

Transfiguration gives us hawk eyes: clarity, vision, freedom from distractions. The needs of the world did not change before the Transfiguration or afterwards, but the destination became more urgent and poignant. So, for us. in our lives as we seek transfiguration and moments of clarity, we cannot be distracted. (Remember this passage was written before social media...) We know the goal. We know the destination. On the spiritual path, the destination is important, not the just the journey. We’re headed toward love, so don’t be distracted by all things that will call you away in your life. It's a a time for hawk eyes.
 
The second lesson of this Transfiguration is about embodiment. This was not just a head trip. This was a “body” trip where there was glowing and fear. There was physical change. They get there, not out of the blue, but out of a lot of hard work and giving up so much. That’s how they get to the mountain. They get there at the cost of a lot in their lives, and they walk up there together in a community. So, then I ask how are we transformed and transfigured in these bodies? 

The third and final point of this passage, along with the reminder of how important hawk eyes are and the connection between physical and spiritual transformation, is that transfiguration is always the aftermath. You get these moments of insight, a glimpsing at glory and the beauty of the heavens touching the earth. And there’s a cost, and the cost is the change in us.

Don’t be mistaken. The disciples are changing more radically than any white garments that Jesus displayed. They are tearful and fearful and excited and inspired; their lives are different forever. If you long for transfiguration, be prepared to change.

And that sucks. It’s hard to change. It’s hard for me to change. It’s hard for me to say, “I need to let go. Or I need to take on. Or I need to feel different in this world. Or I need to understand the world differently. Or I need to pray differently. Or I need to act differently.” Those are true for all of us. We need to change if we long for transfiguration. If we want to love and glimpse at this wondrous gift, we have to change. 

This weekend, I was preaching at the Diocesan Ministry Convention in Northern Indiana, and they were talking about transformation. They were asking how do we as a diocese hope in community, learn from each other, how do we make changes in this world?

The bishop was upfront, a beautiful, kind man, and they invited us to begin that transformation with the hundred of us all gathered in a circle at that moment. Jennifer, one of the Thistle Farms’ Survivor Leaders was in the back. She lit the the candle and offered the words that we use to begin the weekly meditation circle at Thistle Farms saying, “We light this candle for the women on the streets, and we light this candle for the women trying to find their way home.” In my head, I was thinking, "Isn’t that the way it is?" She has the Simeon viewpoint in the back. She is going to have to speak in a loud voice because the mics are all up front.

Jennifer who is such a powerful, powerful witness on the road said, “I’m the person that you feared when I was on the streets, when you walked by me. I was the person in prison that you may have prayed for, but didn’t come visit, I represent the hundreds of women who are still trying to find their way home. And now I have become the light.” When she lit the candle, I looked back up and realized in very back of this cathedral was a beautiful stained glass window of St. Andrew. St Andrew was raising his hand in a blessing, and the sun was hitting it just right so the glowing in the stained glass was falling on Jennifer, the light that was lighting the candle for everyone else.

Just for a minute, I got to see it, the light that changes everything it touches. 

I wish we could live like that all the time. We see this light shining down on each other and the face of God. Everything else goes away, and you do want to stay there. You do want to say, “Can we just stay a little while longer in this beautiful peace and love, where all our judgements get passed aside and where all our fears about our own place in this world get left behind and we just feel love?” I want to live like that so bad, and I am so grateful to Jennifer for the light that she brought. Thank God for when we get to see it and when we get to live in it.

May we have those hawk eyes to experience it and take it in. May we have the journey and the destination clearly in our mind. May we embody it with everything we have, and may we be humble and courageous enough to live it out. 

"Be Quiet So That I Can Hear:" A Sermon on Silence

"Be Quiet So That I Can Hear:" A Sermon on Silence

aziz-acharki-292702.jpg

Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Mark 1:21-28

I know it’s important to know when to be quiet. One time when one of my kids was little and had done something horrible, I was explaining in detail why he was in trouble. He finally turned and said to me, “Be quiet so I can hear.” It is true for all of us who have had the gift of parenting that kids are really the best teachers in the world. He was saying, “Be silent. I want to hear what is going on in me. I want to know how to grow and how to do what I need to do.”

The lesson from Deuteronomy is to learn to be silent. The lesson from Mark is that in the midst of a busy Sabbath day in Capernaum the vortex of chaos is thriving. Everything starts spinning out of control. There is so much noise and someone in the front of the temple is spouting nonsense. People must have been thinking—be quiet so we can hear. Jesus knows it is both the demons within and without in this world and it is not of God.

He does his healing work by saying, “Be silent.” For the love of God, be silent. And with those simple words, healing began. Jesus spends the rest of his day healing anyone he can through both words and deeds—Peter’s mom, people coming through the door in the evening. Then he goes to a lonely place to be quiet. This busy day ends with his going to a lonely, deserted place.

Why? So, he can hear again.

And so, it is that preachers have been trying to figure out how to preach on silence. St Francis preached that the best deeds, the best preaching of love, is done not in words, but in the way we are together.

I want to share two vignettes about how I have been preached to—not in words:

Several years ago, one of the women from Thistle Farms went with me to Texas to share her story of healing and hope in the community of Thistle Farms. She, like most of the women, was abused early on and hit the streets at a young age. One of the joys of getting to do this work is being on a woman’s first trip, the first time a woman sees the top side of the clouds, the first time she goes into a community and says, “Guess what? Women heal and women recover. It works.” It is exciting and wonderful. This particular woman started on the plane ha getting knots in her stomach, thinking her words are not going to be sufficient. She started editing. She missed dinner that night at the hotel. I think I heard her read her version of her story three or four times.

The next morning, she got up and said, “I rewrote it and I want you to hear it again.” I was like, “Dear God. It’s beautiful, you’re amazing, it’s perfect, you’re great. The words are awesome.” But she became more nervous. When we arrived at the community where she was to speak, I got up and I said, “This is making me nervous. I think it will go much better for her and for us if we just go ahead, cut to the chase, and give her a standing ovation now.”

She stood up, then everyone stood up with her and started applauding. She started weeping, we all started crying, and it was a big love fest without any words. The words were so much less important than her witness, standing up there being able to say, “Here I am.” And that people could love her.

Two weeks ago, my husband and I had the privilege of being theologians-in-residence at Episcopal High School.  Whenever I go to a high school, specifically part of the story I tell is my own story of sexual abuse that started in the church, and I think it’s an important story. I don’t go into detail. I talk about there is healing and that part of the power of sexual assault has to do with silence.

As communities, we need to hear the stories well. We need to be there for each other. When people are little, they don’t have those words, but as they get into high school, they learn those words for their own bodies and their own lives and how to begin to speak that with power. So, I told my story and that night one of the chaplains said, “It was really powerful what you did today and what you said was beautiful. How did you heal from all that?” I said healing was a process, and that I had a lot of sickness still in me when I started Thistle Farms/Magdalene, and it was kind of hard. That I would get triggered a lot and I knew I had to go back to confront my abuser and to go to a therapist. He asked, “What was that like?” And I told the story of going back to my abuser.

I looked over and my husband, to whom I have been married for 30 years, was crying. I don’t know if you know what that is like. To know that you have been with someone for 30 years and they can weep for you, but it is very humbling. He could not have preached love more powerfully.

Think about all the times in your life when someone finally said, “Be silent” and you were able to find the gift of silence. Stop all the noise, the senseless demons within and without us in this world and feel feelings –whether someone clapped for you or somebody wept with you, or maybe it was that you finally just took a breath and allowed the spirit to speak. This is a busy day. There is a lot of noise in our world, and there are a lot of people chattering away.

So, if you take anything away from this—take this: speak the words of God when you need to. Preach through your deeds. And every now and then, for the love of God, be silent.

Sermon: The Ethic of Love

Sermon: The Ethic of Love

Image Credit: Pixabay

Image Credit: Pixabay

The Ethic of Love: The Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount has been discussed by numerous theologians throughout the ages. Many have interpreted the teachings as law, making this reading some of the harshest words Jesus ever spoke to his gathered community of wayward fishermen, dispossessed people, and searching souls. The sermon is generally thought to be gathered isolated sayings from the early church communities. Each is a summary of something, like an original sermon of Jesus or the essence of a piece of his teachings, that could have taken the form of a question and answer. Joachim Jeremias, a German theologian in the 20th century, wrote that when the Sermon on the Mount is read as certain scholars have defined it as law, three understandings follow:               

1. A Perfectionist ethic: Jesus is a Teacher of the Law who tells his disciples what is required of them—perfection. He says he has come not to destroy the law as old vs new prescription is contrasted. You have heard it said, but I say....” He is giving the disciples a clear directive of the will of God.               

2. An Impossible ethic: Jesus is the Preacher of Repentance. When Jesus makes such unattainable demands, we know we cannot reach perfection, so despair at our own efforts sets in. Then guilt awakens in us a consciousness of sin, leading us to repentance and the possibility of mercy.           

3. An Interim-ethic: Jesus is the Apocalyptic Prophet. Jesus was preaching to men who knew they were living in a time of crisis, that there was not much time left. It was a time to love your enemies. Pull yourselves together and live a death-bed lifestyle.              

Joachim questions whether Jesus was any of these. He concludes that we are called to read the Sermon on the Mount not as law, but as Gospel. Another theologian of the 20th century Howard Thurman who was a peace activist and mystic, wrote about the Sermon on the Mount as Gospel. He was one of the fathers of the Civil Rights Movement, who influenced Dr. King so much that he carried Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited, with him in his brief case. It was Thurman who wrote in the 1940s in the South under the oppression of Jim Crow that when we read the Sermon on the Mount as Gospel and live it out, “We are free at last.” The Sermon on the Mount explains an ethic of love that calls us to radical freedom. In an ethic of love, Jesus is the embodiment of the Sermon in deeds. As long as we see it as a legal prescription, something we have to live out as an obligation, we become slaves to it. But living into an ethic of love, we glimpse at the miracle of the haunting words, Don't worry about what you are to eat or what you are to wear, Take neither walking stick nor traveling bag, “Love your enemies,” Do not return evil for evil, Proclaim good news to the poor.              

When Thurman describes this ethic of love, he begins by talking about loving people where there are rifts in our own world—the people we are close to in our circle. But then he talks about rifts in a separated world. These are the “others” and it is where people live in fear, shame, anger, and cynicism. For example, how the people on the hillside listening to Jesus might feel towards the tax collectors, their oppressors. This ethic of love does not ask us to condone the act, but the act does not cause us not to love. It’s not condemning the enemies’ actions; it is penetrating their thickest resistance so that we can all lay bare our interior walls and get to the heart. This person or group of people you consider an enemy is what holds you back from the altar and this person or group still belongs to God. When we awaken this gospel understanding in us and in our former enemies, change is possible. We all know that enemies of religious or political nature, can derail any of us. But politics are not our religion. Take Rome, for example, from the perspective of the occupied people in Jerusalem. Jesus lifted individuals out of that general classification and saw them face to face as equals—willing to teach, heal, and comfort them. It doesn’t mean there is not accountability, resistance, or that it doesn’t come at a great cost to the individuals stepping out of their bounds. But it means we change the balance of love in the world in the most powerful and poetic way. It means we reexamine our own prejudices and live as freely as possible with this guiding gospel.              

This week I spent 4 days in LA as part of the CNN Heroes Award given to Thistle Farms. We were there to learn more about running not-for- profits and hear from the other nine groups that also won the award. CNN touts this award as ordinary people doing extraordinary things. As I sat and listened in light of this Gospel, I heard stories of communities wounded and underserved and realized the award should really be about extraordinary people who do ordinary things. I heard the story told by Luma Mufleh who began her talk with, “I am an immigrant, a Muslim, a lesbian, and I serve refugees. I guess you could say I hit the jackpot.” Luma founded the Fugees Family. The Fugees Academy (6- 12 graders) she heads has a very successful football (soccer) team. She told the story to a tear-filled circle of friends about an extraordinary thirteen-year old who was a refugee from the Congo. He had witnessed the death of his father, the rape of his mother, and experienced the hard journey refugees make to our country. Luma described this young man’s anger and how he hit another player on the field. She ran out onto the field and was herself struck. She then embraced the young boy and held her hand over his heart and kept repeating in Arabic, breathe. He placed his hand over her hand, so they were both holding his heart as he began to calm down. Slowly and surely over the next several years, he began the journey from woundedness and anger towards a world of enemies into becoming a passionate student and healer who has gone on to earn a full scholarship to college. It all began simply by holding his heart in an ethic of fearless love. 

We all heard other stories of extraordinary people doing ordinary things: a young cancer survivor taking a kayak ride, a foster youth who aged out of a system and got his own apartment, a child with cerebral palsy riding a horse, a survivor of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction taking her first cruise, and a young man from public housing learning to ride a bike. Extraordinary people doing ordinary things not because they followed laws, but because they were casted out and then loved. An ethic of love can overcome any barriers, any divisions as we live out this Gospel in fellowship. Every time we walk out onto a field, take a hit, and then put our hand over a heart in response, every time we step out in love, every time we forgive what we once thought was unforgivable, every time we love an enemy, we are extraordinary and doing the most ordinary thing we were created to do… love. Love. Love.              

What is it that still makes you read this Gospel as a perfectionist law we can never attain? What is it that you think you cannot forgive? Who is the enemy who prevents you from loving? That is a good place to feel the freedom embedded in these strange and compelling words. We hear these words, and then step out into a pretty harsh and scary world and remember the common worth and value of every single person we meet, in our circle and beyond our circle. The calling of this Gospel is not to condemn, but to free us.

Thistle Road Update: November 2016

Thistle Road Update: November 2016

L: Our first woven welcome mat, made from life jackets at the AwakeningSoul Conference, R: Thousands of life jackets left behind on the beach after Syrian Refugees made the hazardous journey in life boats to Greece 

L: Our first woven welcome mat, made from life jackets at the AwakeningSoul Conference, R: Thousands of life jackets left behind on the beach after Syrian Refugees made the hazardous journey in life boats to Greece 

The Thistle Farms Travel Team and I had a great weekend at the 2016 AwakeningSoul Conference in North Carolina. Our time together was a great reminder that we are not just residences, not just a cafe, not just a network, not just a home and body company, and not just a global trade company. We are a movement that loves women.

We are about women's freedom---unequivocally, unafraid, formidable, passionate and powerful. 

At the conference, our team serendipitously connected with a weaver who is coming to Thistle Farms to work with our Global Team on the new welcome mats that will be part of a new social enterprise to help women in Syrian Refugee camps.  (By the way, they can be used as covers for altars as well. What a perfect place to lay a welcome mat!)   We made our first woven life vest into a welcome mat at the conference. It's stunning. 

Driven by the truth that love is the most powerful force for social change, we are going to keep our mission-driven focus like a laser on offering sanctuary.  We are going to rock this holiday, help women refugees in Greece, and lavishly welcome the next survivor coming off the streets of Nashville. 

We will welcome all of our sisters still lost on the streets home, and anyone else seeking refuge. 

peace and love, 

becca

 

The Woman Standing in Front of Us

The Woman Standing in Front of Us

Every time a new partner comes on board the global trade network, it makes the whole effort stronger. Thistle Farms seems to keep growing in proportion to the calling to keep proclaiming love as the most powerful force for social change in the world. We can’t live into that calling without global vision. We can’t talk about healing without knowing the communities of women producing the oils or growing the tea. Just as the trafficking of drugs and people has global and local impact, our work must include multiple dimensions: a local residential program and social enterprise, a national education and outreach alliance, and a global market for women around the world. In this movement for women's freedom it is always glocal. It’s always with an eye toward the global issues and an eye toward the woman standing in front of us facing the hard choices about how to deal with broken relationships and dreams and trying not to run.

The local work happens all over the globe where women sit and make candles, natural products, or tea, and share their journey as healing unfolds. The healing happens one person at a time as stories are shared, and in the laughter and tears as they recognize themselves as beautiful. The healing happens through the daily promise that we will be here for one another. Twenty years ago the seeds we sowed in opening one house have blossomed into a successful social enterprise that is sustainable and scalable, as well as a Global Market that thrives in our partnerships with 24 organizations in 18 countries. All of us are committed to women’s social and economic freedom, and we have learned that freeing women requires all of us working together, because when we leave one woman behind, we are all in danger. The stories we hear of violence, degradation, rape, and pain are the same. It is one story told a million times over in a million different places.

--Becca 

Celebrate Mother's Day 2016 With Thistle Farms

chrysanthemum-202483_960_720.jpg

"I inherited the instinct to want to heal and to do it simply, artfully, and with prayer from my mother..." Becca, Snake Oil

Thistle Farms is an ever-expanding recovery network for survivors of violence, addiction, prostitution, and sex trafficking, a social enterprise, a thriving cafe, a global shared trade marketplace that puts money back in the hands of women all over the world

But we are mostly a community of women who celebrate our lives as mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends. As you love on the special women in your life this Mother's Day, I hope you honor them with gifts that make their day, and heal mothers and reunite families locally and across the globe.

For Mother's Day 2016, we have created a Mother's Day Gift Guide for all of our wonderful Thistle Farmers to help you give love and share love. 

We also invite you to make a reservation for afternoon tea at the Thistle Stop Cafe. 

Peace and love, Becca

Video Credit: Patti Blevins

Photo Credit: pixabay.com

 

"She spoke her truth through a shaky voice:" CEEP Conference 2016

ceep-2016.jpg

in february of 2016, becca was invited to speak at the consortium of endowed episcopal churches (ceep) conference. this honor included the opportunity to take part in a gathering that featured amazing theologians and faith leaders of our times: bishop michael curry, noah bullock, lisa kimball, and miroslav volf. in the wake of this powerful gathering, becca sent a note of gratitude to the conference organizations, speaking truth to power and celebrating the journey of ebony, our whole foods account manager:

Dear friends of CEEP,

It was an honor for Thistle Farms to be invited this year to Denver. At the closing Eucharist I preached about wilderness. I reminded us that if you know the way out, it's not wilderness, it's a hike. Wilderness is the place where we don't pray what we believe, but what we hope to believe.

I told a story about Ebony, one of the graduates' daughters, who is now Thistle Farms' Whole Foods sales representative and works with her mom and a team of survivors.

When Ebony was little she was in the wilderness for years and one day I remember a counselor asking all the women to draw a dream. ebony whispered, "draw a house, momma."

When she was asked to speak in front of the entire Whole Foods staff in CA this past week she was scared. She asked me what should she say.

In the sermon I talked for a few minutes about what I thought she should say. She could tell them about the wilderness and how Jerusalem may be closer than we think--that she is a witness that love heals---that every product they sell opens a path for more women---that the story of abuse and violence is our story. Then I asked for your prayers.

Well, on March 10th, Ebony took the stage and every region and store wept with her. She spoke her truth through a shaky voice, and we will increase our stores by 300 come Christmas 2016. I want to thank you all for your prayers and all the love and leadership the Episcopal Church has shown to women who have wandered way too long in the wilderness.

I am so so grateful.

Love, Becca

 

Shared Trade Updates: February 2016

thistle-428484__180.jpg

Shared Trade is the global initiative of Thistle Farms. Here are some of our highlights from the past month... • Tea with Isabel Allende and key Shared Trade supporters

• $20,000 from 11th Hour to support the development of Moringa Madres and a partnership in Haiti

• New product development with Lwala and Sibimbe

• Mother’s Day Gift Set Collaboration with Cedar House, Freedom’s Promise, and Ikirezi

• New partners: Freedom’s Promise in Cambodia and Blessed Hope Nepal

• Shared Trade connecting Moringa Madres and Monkey Project with student groups at Vanderbilt’s business school

We are acting globally so women experience freedom locally -- becca

original image credit: pixabay.com

Sermon: Going to the Mountaintop

moutaintop.jpg

The dog ate my sermon. I had something so beautiful. The dog didn’t exactly eat my sermon, but basically my two dogs in my life, and the million distractions, and my lazy attitude, and my fearful self, and the hours I spent fretting over things I cannot change instead of reciting the serenity prayer, all ate all the time I was going to use to write something magnificent. What’s your excuse? What’s your excuse for not doing what your potential was for your spiritual journey? That is the way today started out for me with when I was reflecting on this gospel. Those disciples with our Lord did not start out on the mountain. This is the end of Epiphany, not the beginning. This is the conclusion. You don’t get the mountaintop without a lot of other things and there are a lot of reasons people don't want to go to the mountaintop. “I would love to go with you all, but the weather is supposed to be awful.” “I would love to go to the mountaintop, do you know how much I have on me right now? With my work and my kids and my finances, there is no way for me to go.” “I just got out of jail and I am on parole, there is no way I can go to the mountain.” “I’m sick. I can’t go.” “I’m not supposed to go to the mountaintop, I am supposed to tell you all to go to the mountaintop.” What’s our excuse? This season started with an idea of looking up at the stars. “I can’t look up at the stars, I will trip every time if I am trying to go on the path.” And then the season continues with the idea of the gift of prophecy, not about telling the future, but about the spiritual gifts of all of us speaking love into the present. Or else we are nothing but clanging symbols. “I would love to talk about love, except it sounds ridiculous sometimes.” In the fields that are political and the fields of economics, in the fields where you think you are talking about global issues, it seems silly to talk about love. There are a million reasons we don’t, we don’t head out on this journey.

But this Sunday is the last Sunday.The disciples have wandered around, they have preached, they have gone through the valley of the shadow of death. They have climbed in spite of their fears and wanderings up to a mountain, and they glimpsed the face of God.

Last night we had a celebration and it was beautiful, wasn’t it Hal? The Light Bearers’ night. And we invited some of the long-term, big givers and volunteers of Thistle Farms to come sit in a room. And in that room you could not remember who the givers and who the receivers were. Everybody was bathed in a light. And it was a light of gratitude. It was all of us feeling grateful. That was the warm and beautiful light going on in that room. You’re giving to me. I am giving to you and we’re both so grateful to be there.

And now I am convinced that my lesson for Epiphany of this year that will carry me up the mountaintop is gratitude - the path of the mountaintop is gratitude. Gratitude for it all. For everything we have gone through and everything we know and everything we have forgotten, and everything that has been done to us, and everything we have done to find a sense of gratitude that will lead us to a place to know that we have communion with God.

Just the day before, before the Light Bearers’ gift, before Isabel (Allende) and her beautiful team came, we gathered together as a community at Thistle Farms. In this big community of 72 people who are a part of the circle, now continuing to shine that light, there was a new woman, 24 hours into the program off the street. I was looking at her and I was thinking do you have any idea how many candles we have lit to get you here? 25, 30 thousand candles were waiting for you. I felt so grateful and it was like meeting the biggest celebrity I could imagine. Not that I know any celebrities. I am saying, it’s huge. The most honored guest, the beloved one, the prophet sitting amongst us. Nothing but gratitude that she was willing to come and what happened was when we acknowledged her is all she could do is weep, to be sitting in the middle of a community that had been waiting and loving her for a long time before we even knew her name. So we all just cried. You don't have to speak.You don’t have to have words for it. When you feel that kind of depth and gratitude after going through a lot of epiphanies and trying to understand prophesy and speaking love and when you encounter the other, it is easy to see the face of God. And to feel that transformation and gratitude that takes you to your knees. It is not foreign to us, what they experienced on that mountain. Is it? No, we have seen it, we have glimpsed it. We have glimpsed love incarnate in our midst.

I want to go to the mountain with you all more than anything in my life. I want to go with everybody who believes that love heals. I want to go with a community that wants to be with each other. To remember how it is we speak love and how it is we recognize God in each other. Think of what we would miss if we didn’t go, right? We would miss that wonderful feeling of bad cell coverage, of laying all that stuff aside that we thought was so important and just being together. We would miss those moments that are hysterical—where somebody trips and you are not supposed to laugh, and everybody laughs and one person maybe has just a tiny bit of an accident. And their laugh is so hard that it makes it even funnier. We would miss that moment when we were done for the day and we worked so hard and we sit around and we light a candle or a fire and we tell stories and recount the moment. We would miss that surprise when out of nowhere we hear the flutter of a hawk’s wing that cuts across our path. My God, the view we would miss.

When the disciples and Jesus left the mountain, they headed straight towards Jerusalem. Their hearts were so full, they were finally ready. I do not want to miss that mountaintop. I want us to keep going through all our valleys and all the meanderings and all the wanderings. I want us to head up there together. No excuses. Just to walk in love with all our hearts and minds and spirits grateful for all of our lives.

Amen.

original image credit: pixabay.com

Love Your Enemies: In Celebration of MLK 2016

When-we-love-our-enemies-we-are-an-unstoppable-force.-2.jpg

The movement starts when Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” That is the radical moment in the Sermon on the Mount—when the tables are turned, when the tool to beat the sword into a plowshare is offered, and when those in power and control can feel the foundation cracking. Ever since then, when we love our enemies, justice stretches her arms and those movements take on depth. Dr. Howard Thurman, one of King’s mentors, speaks of the longing and loneliness of the seeker of truth searching for a love that lives beyond the boundaries. Mahatma Gandhi speaks of that kind of radical love as Ahimsa, the soul force that changes us as we change the world. Born into the segregated South in 1929 and catapulted into national prominence as the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s call to love our enemies changed the course of our nation and the world. King’s call to action is to let love be the guiding principle for all our civil disobedience and moral protests. Whether experiencing a vision of mountaintops or the anger of racist throngs along a bridge, that call doesn’t change. He continues to call us to love our enemies today even as he did when he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to spearhead non-violent mass demonstrations. Throughout the confrontations in Birmingham, Selma, and Chicago, he remains consistent—love our enemies. In victories such as the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965, and 1968, we are called upon to love our enemies. Even as he turned his attention to economic empowerment of the poor and opposition to the Vietnam War—contending that racism, poverty and militarism were interrelated—he never wavers; love your enemies. Even as he lived in constant danger, including the dynamiting of his home, being stabbed, harassed by death threats, and jailed 30 times, he calls us to love our enemies.

It doesn’t mean we don’t feel anger, it doesn’t mean we don't rail against principalities and institutions that don’t practice radical hospitality, it doesn’t mean there is no conflict. It means we are a bunch of clanging symbols if we don’t act with love as our guiding principle. It is a costly way to live in the political, economical, and religious fields, but it grows a rich harvest for the whole world to glean. Martin, with his deep prophetic voice calling us to radical love, talks about moments like the midnight-coffee hour where he questions everything as he developed his course of action, but he keeps on loving. That commitment—first to love even as we question everything else—is what love requires of us.

Love has always been the beginning of movements. It is the mission statement of Thistle Farms to witness that love is the most powerful force for social change in the world. With national and global partners we are moving towards freedom for many women, compelling us to love our enemies. But whenever a new woman, who has survived the injustices of prisons, the backside of anger, and silence of child abuse asks how does love heal, I question it all. I question how we can love our enemies and what does love mean. I have to go back to the every basics: Love is taking the ideal and moving it into a daily practice. Love is what we allow to break our hearts, and through it, we find the path to freedom. Speaking on the night before he was assassinated on April 4,1968, he says “When people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don't know what to do.” He goes on to say that such a powerful movement cannot be stopped. “Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. Let us move on to make America what it ought to be.”

Whenever we act against the movement founded on the principle to love our enemies, it doesn’t sit well with our souls. It feels uncomfortable and shackles our spirits. We can try to justify that discontent in a million different ways or numb it or impose fear on others, but when we love our enemies, we are an unstoppable force.  All of us are called to walk deeper into the waters of love. To love our enemies and to forgive those who have done us harm is a freeing and noble way to go deeper. Love unleashes us from the bounds of apathy that are shackled by resentment and fear. Love’s partner, Forgiveness, transforms brokenness into compassion. Love’s corollary, Peace, is rooted in the practice of love. It is costly, it is hard, and it leaves us knee-buckling deep in gratitude.

Peace and love, Becca Stevens

Our Sons

oursons.jpg

For the past twenty years, several of us have raised our sons while working alongside survivors of trafficking, genocide, and addiction. This summer, our sons have all come to work at Thistle Farms, the community we helped build. Thistle Farms is one of the largest social enterprises run by women survivors in the United States. We are so proud that our sons are a part of this movement for women’s freedom. This work reinforces a quality of masculinity that empowers them to stand up against pressures in the world which tell them to give in, turn the other way, and stay focused on their own pursuits, even as many young women suffer violence at the hands of abusive men and communities. Their presence reminds communities globally that sexual violence is not just a women’s issue. It is a human rights issue and we need our sons to stand with young women as the next generation works to heal the whole community. Our sons understand the struggles of growing up on social media and witnessing the privacy of others exploited with a single click. They grew up in in schools that prepare for mass shootings. They understand things differently than we do, and we need them to help lead us now that they are in college and entering the workforce.

As a mother, I long to help young men step into life with eyes for advocacy and justice and to learn to see love as the most powerful force for change. I want our sons to speak up for their sisters and others who are exploited. I want our sons to know that their voice matters because silence is a form of complacency. I want our sons to experience the labor and tears of women who have survived brutality as they work alongside them. I want our sons to learn to use their privilege as a means of liberation for others no matter how small. I want our sons to know that their daughters need them now, before they are even born —  working towards a world that protects innocence, holds traffickers accountable, and tells on abusers. As a mother, it is sometimes hard to let go. But I promise that it is much easier to follow as they take the lead on some of this work. It’s joyful to watch them laugh and learn while working on heartbreaking truths.

Our sons are beautiful and powerful. They are becoming more convinced that love requires them to advocate, take action, and stand up for those exploited. We pray for them. We pray that they find in this work an initiation into a life of leadership, deep caring, and honesty, not self-gratification at the expense of others.

My son and your sons have so much work ahead to help us heal this world and grow rich fields of love.   

-- Becca Stevens

 

Photo courtesy of Taro Yamasaki, with support from The Flerlage Foundation