Sunday, August 28, 2016, Reflection on Luke 14:1, 7-14
by Elizabeth Dede
Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Jesus is clear here that we are to be on the side of the poor, the outcast, the ones who are more often than not turned away.
There’s an old labor song called, “Which Side Are You On?” It asks that question repeatedly, and, of course, the answer is that you should be on the side of the laborer and not the boss.
It could be Jesus is singing that song to us. Koinonia has a long, rich history of being on the side of the poor. We were founded to live along side, be in relationship to the outsider in Americus—the African American people, the sharecropper both White and Black, those who lived in shacks.
We must always look for ways to stand with the poor because it is easy to overlook them. Our society, which is so caught up in materialism, puts the poor out of the way. They can be invisible.
Prisons are an example of the invisible poor. Prisons are built, for the most part, in the middle of nowhere. The Stewart Detention Center is one of those. It stands outside of the town of Lumpkin, a tiny place with nothing to recommend it, except, perhaps, El Refugio—a hospitality house for the families of prisoners.
The Stewart Detention Center is a private, for-profit prison. It was built on speculation. The Corrections Corporation of America thought it could sell the State of Georgia on another private prison. But Georgia had no interest, so the building stood empty and unfinished for a number of years, as CCA looked for a customer. They actually asked the State of Hawaii if it wanted to put a state prison in the middle of nowhere in Georgia.
Finally, the Federal Government contracted with CCA for an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prison. The men who are locked away there have, for the most part, not committed any crimes, except that they are in the US without the proper paperwork. Most likely, they have been caught up in an ICE sweep. They are awaiting a hearing and deportation. I heard on NPR recently that the judges are so unfair that more than 90% of the men held there are deported. From visits and letters we know that many are facing violence and repression in their countries of origin. They are not just economic refugees.
Not too long ago I received a letter from a man who wrote to us in perfect English. He was in his forties and had come to this country when he was five years old. He was born in a Central American country, but he had not lived there since he was five. He spoke no Spanish and had no relatives or connections to his country of birth. He was set to be deported—considered an alien in this country (Illegal at that), and he was an alien to his country of birth.
Here at Koinonia, we stand with the men in the Stewart Detention Center by visiting them and by receiving their letters and packing bags of clothes for them to have when they return to their country. I am learning Spanish so that I can talk and write to our friends who are locked up there.
Why stand with the poor? Why be on their side? Our culture values money and material possessions. It says there must be something wrong with a person who has little. They must be lazy or crazy or disabled in some way.
We choose the side of the poor because Jesus does. He tells us to invite the poor to our feasts. He makes it clear that we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, and visit the sick and the prisoner.
Sunday, August 21, 2016 Reflections on Luke 13:22-30
by Elizabeth Dede
Luke wrote his Gospel especially for the Gentiles. They were Christians who had not come to the faith through the teachings, beliefs and traditions of the Jewish faith. They were often looked down on and left out because of they were outsiders. So Luke has Jesus teaching and talking to these outsiders, as well as giving a warning to the good Jewish people of the day.
The Jewish Christians believed that they had the way into the Kingdom of God because of their history. Jesus, here, admonishes the Jews, and warns them that they may very well be on the outside looking in to the Kingdom of God. Their belief in the prophets will not be enough to get them a seat next to the prophets in the Kingdom. They need to go through a transformation, just like the Gentiles that Luke is writing to.
This is a Gospel lesson for us, too. We can’t simply rely on our backgrounds, on the faith of our fathers and mothers, on the tradition of our families. We, too, are called to a transformation of our lives because the new order, as Clarence Jordan says, is impinging upon our lives.
What does that new order look like? We live in a world where material things grab all our attention. We are especially caught up by technology, and many of us feel that we need to have the latest gadget—smart phones, tablets, laptops. My materialism compels me to collect more and more musical instruments. I have more than I can ever hope to play well.
Fortunately, in community we have a way to transform our lives. We live together and share all things in common. We live on an allowance that the rest of the United States would define as poverty wages. We share meals together. We have common computers. We share housing. We have a common closet for clothes. We even share our children so that they are raised by many, rather than just by two parents. All of this brings us great joy. We find that we do not miss the things that the world tells us are necessary for the good life.
Some would say that we are among the last. We have fallen behind in what the world calls the good life. But we are making an attempt at solidarity with those who are considered last in this world. And so we look for ways to enter by the narrow gate. We are constantly trying to live a life more dedicated to each other, and less to the self-serving bent of our society.
Jesus teaches here that many who are last will be first. I have a long way to go, but I am trying to enter by the narrow gate. I hope that my life here in community at Koinonia is a step in that direction. Amen.
Sunday, August 14, 2016 Reflections on Luke 12:49-53
by Elizabeth Dede
These are difficult words from Jesus—a hard prophecy about family relationships. But to follow Jesus is often difficult.
I have experienced this division first hand in my family. As a young adult I made decisions that were painful to my family. Until I turned 24, I had been an obedient child, doing everything I could to please my family.
When I finished my Masters degree, I made a decision to follow Jesus’ call in my life, rather than the duties and obligations that my family called me to. I was expected to become a teacher, but I didn’t hear the Holy Spirit asking me to do that.
Instead, I heard a call to life in community. When I told my mom that I was going to live at the Open Door in Atlanta, Georgia, she said, “Well, don’t expect me to ever come visit you.” My oldest sister Susan actually called my favorite college professor and asked her to convince me that life at the Open Door was crazy and a waste of my God-given talents. I know that I was a disappointment to my father, even though he didn’t say that directly. Once when I visited Susan, she had her husband Doug take me to downtown Indianapolis to his law office to show me around. He took me to his office way up high and showed me the view from it. He practically said, “All this can be yours.” I felt like I was being tempted like Jesus in the wilderness. I wanted to say, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” But I knew that wouldn’t go over well.
So I was a daughter set against her mother, a sister set against her sister. My family was divided by Jesus’ teaching. There was a time in my life when I thought that life in community was the only way to live. I alienated a lot of my family and friends because they were turned off by my life that was so different from theirs. I wasn’t interested in making money. I didn’t want to live in my own house with my own car. The sad thing about all that was that I thought everyone should live that way. So I threw up barriers against my family and friends. I couldn’t see how I was being just like them in insisting that my way was the only right way.
Fortunately, I grew up and matured. I learned that there are many ways to live a life that is faithful to the call of Jesus. I learned that my way was only one of the ways. Now I try to live in such a way that reconciles my differences with others. I don’t try to force others to live and work like me, but I try to be faithful to the call that I hear for my life.
This has led me down different paths. I’ve just finished reading a book about the Imperial Hotel takeover in downtown Atlanta and how that event led to affordable housing for hundreds of formerly homeless people. I was part of that takeover and was full of self-righteousness at that time. It was exciting and daring, but it wasn’t the only way to get affordable housing. I thought it was. The book was helpful in pointing out that many people worked for affordable housing in Atlanta. Without a plan from the mayor, without progressive developers, without the Task Force for the Homeless, none of it would have happened.
So I learned that we are a many colored garden, growing side by side. Sometimes Jesus’ call divides us into rows of different kinds of flowers and vegetables, but still we are one garden. Even though my sister Jocelyn is going to vote for Donald Trump, I can still love her. I have to admit that it’s difficult at times, but I still love her.
So, yes, the life following Jesus brings divisions, but we can learn to live peacefully together. Amen.