Who’s Knocking?

 

UPDATE: 2 pm

I just received a call from Covenant Capital Group management and was told that, after Monday,  all tenants were given the chance to extend their leases through May 31st. I’m thankful for this compassionate response, and pray that tenants are able to find affordable housing, good schools and loving community wherever they go.

When I was little, we sometimes got very quiet (pretending nobody was home) if an unknown religious person came to the door unexpectedly. This week, I was on the other side of the door, knocking at Covenant Capital Group. Here’s why:

Tenants of Premier West Apartments are being evicted at the end of their leases, due to the purchase and subsequent upgrades/renovations of the building by Covenant Capital Group. Among their current tenants are families who’ve lived there for years, faithfully paying rent they could afford. Some tenants receive Section 8 assistance. Others do not.

Tenants are asking for four things:

  • That Covenant Capital extend all leases to June 1st, allowing children to complete their school year;
  • That renovations be done in such a way that tenants could stay at Premier West – not necessarily in their current apartments;
  • That rent is not raised more than $40 per month in the lease term, since Covenant Capital has stated the desire to provide affordable housing; and
  • That Covenant Capital would allow Section 8 vouchers to continue in the new building.

Why do I care? My church home is in the neighborhood, and children from the afterschool program (now closed) have lived there. One of our long-term members now lives in White Bluff, commuting to McDonalds on Charlotte Pike – 30 miles away. Working-class housing has been all but wiped out of the Nations neighborhood where 61st United Methodist Church is located. Where are people to live?

I went to a protest at Covenant Capital Group to stand with tenants, and ask Covenant Capital to do the right thing. After much knocking, calling and waiting, the group needed to leave due to after-school pickups. I, in my clergy collar, stayed behind, knocking, calling, and sending messages through their website. After a good while, management came and spoke with me:

  • Since leases end at varying times, each tenant must speak with property management to negotiate a new move-out date;
  • Tenants will not be allowed to remain during renovations due to potential safety hazards;
  • Since the renovated apartments will be rented to middle-income people, they are very certainly going to be more than $40 per month additional than existing leases; and
  • Section 8 will not be determined until renovations are done which are expected to be completed this fall.

I gave this news with Austin Sauerbrei of Open Table Nashville. While encouraged that I was able to speak with management, he shared that tenants have already gone to the property manager, only to be told the decision is in the hands of the owner (Covenant Capital Group). So, it seems this has become a circular discussion. I’ve offered to go with tenants to property management, with Austin, to follow management’s direction. I’ll write about what happens next.

In the meantime, “act justly…love mercy… walk humbly with your God.”*
Neelley

*Micah 6:8

 

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Communicating for Social Good

I’ve been working on my new startup called Harper Hill Global (HHG) whose mission is to empower the human spirit through media, messaging and mobile solutions. I will share more about this when the time is right!

HHG’s first project is with the East Congo United Methodist Church to address the issue of sexual violence against women, and combat the stigma that follows. I have an amazing team of talented people around the world to work with! Communication resources are being developed in four languages to begin: English, French, Swahili and Otetela.

I am happy to share this first video for the effort which I produced with my gifted editor Jerome Mercado in the Philippines:

Please watch and share this effort with friends and family. Go to CongoWomenArise.org to learn more.

By Grace,
Neelley

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The Cross

The Cross

a symbol
of betrayal
and pain
anguish
and death.
a self offering
for atonement
and reconciliation.

the tomb awaits.
  a mother weeps.

old friends
flee
a criminal
believes.
Christ’s
saving power
even on the cross
leads a path
to paradise.

the tomb awaits.
  a mother weeps.

the messiah
a son beloved
dying,
the prophets words
real now
old testament verses
felt and seen
not read.

the tomb awaits.
  a mother weeps.

his garments
now shared
the woven tunic
of a high priest
divided by lots
four soldiers
the days work done.

it is finished.

the tomb awaits.
a mother weeps.

a hurried burial
to honor
the law
the customs
the sabbath.
a rich man’s grave
perhaps,
care by faithful women
and men of courage.

the tomb is sealed.
a mother weeps.

dawn of the
third day
the stone rolled away
angels instead
prophecy
fulfilled.
God’s power
shines
in the living
Christ.

Christ is Risen!

by friend and colleague in ministry jackieshields

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Meeting Ahmed Kathrada of South Africa

Image result for Ahmed KathradaI am deeply saddened this morning to learn of the passing of Ahmed Kathrada, a true hero of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.  For those that don’t recognize the name, he was sentenced along with Nelson Mandela and others at the infamous Rivonia Trial in 1964 to life in prison, even though he was not a member of the Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC.

If you saw the film Mandela, you saw Kathrada being portrayed, especially in the absurdity of being allowed long pants in prison as an Indian while Mandala, Sisulu and the others had to wear short pants as black prisoners.

One day after Mandela became President I attended a formal dinner in the Parliament of South Africa.  Kathrada was there.  After we ate, my fellow Parsee, Frene Ginwala, the Speaker, asked all the guests to follow her for a tour of the Parliament. I noticed Kathrada stayed in his seat and so I decided to as well.

When all the others left, I walked over to him, introduced myself and asked if I could ask him a question.  I asked him if the jailers on Robben Island really didn’t know that papers written by them were being hidden in the cleaning closet or if they knew but let it happen.  He was intrigued that a foreigner would know enough to ask such a detailed question. It began a conversation that has lasted in my memory to today.

Other than giving me a blast about the Canadian Government’s attitude towards a visa for him (a matter he was quite angry about), we had an extraordinary discussion about history, apartheid, what happened at Robben Island, the personalities of his colleagues and the future of South Africa.

At the end of it, as we sat completely alone in the large room in Parliament, he offered to give me a memento.  There was no one to ask for anything so he wrote a note to me on a napkin in a red pen.  I have always had a personal policy of not asking for anything from the historical figures I have met (I must be the only person on the planet who met Mandela but have no photograph with him) but that napkin, which was a very encouraging and personal message to me, I treasure.

Ahmed Kathrada came out of 26 years of prison a profoundly calm man.  He was one of the very few, perhaps the only person, who never asked for anything after apartheid was extinguished for his years in prison. It is a remarkable lessen in humility and selflessness.  It is a mark of a truly extraordinary man who understood the meaning of sacrifice with no other motive to achieve a goal.

By Firdaus Kharas,  a social entrepreneur and media producer who uses video and animation to better the human condition around the world.

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Learning to ROAR

Last week I wrote about channeling my anger for good during the Trump administration. I said:

The hateful rhetoric and falsehoods that propelled our current president to power strikes at the core of who I am, and against the foundations of my faith tradition.

I came up with a method (ROAR) to keep me focused, and now I’m working it. I thought I’d take some time to write about my experiences. For sure, I’ll make missteps and will share those too. This week is “Relate.”

Relating to people of differing opinion has grown more difficult in the digital age. We now have a president who has regularly used Twitter to bully and oppress, and whose following is so large that his behavior is somehow condoned. We have to remember that a large number of people also condoned lynching, stood by silently during the Holocaust, and cried for the death of Jesus Christ. Numbers alone don’t mean much.

Here’s where the rubber hits the road. Do I have faith enough to act on the things I believe, even if it makes me really uncomfortable? And can a small number of committed people make a difference?

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I reached out to someone whose political views are radically different from my own, and who uses them to bully others. I asked if we could host community gatherings together – the purpose would be to get to know our neighbors, and the issues they face. These gatherings could take the emphasis off of a national leader and help us focus locally on things that could unite us. So far, my first effort was only met with the other person doubling down in divisiveness.

I haven’t given up hope yet.

Small numbers of committed people can make a difference. Most weeks, I’m part of a gathering pretty much like the one I described above. The group who meets is one big mixed lot. Some live on the streets. Some live in mansions. Some Democrat. Some Republican. Some don’t care to know the difference. We come from a variety of ethnicities, but have found that the common blood of humanity and Christ is enough to tie us together. The place? Sixty-First Avenue United Methodist Church.

Last night, the fear for loved ones affected by executive orders was palpable in the after-sermon sharing time. Pastor Marie had just preached from Micah 6:8 which says,

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

How do we live out this essential element of faith under this administration?

We can’t let the government define who we can and can’t love any more than we can legislate discipleship. We can’t let the government define who is and isn’t of a particular faith either. And if we who are Christian want to prove ourselves to be outwardly Christian as potential litmus tests are considered – wouldn’t we emulate our leader – Jesus Christ – who ate with the outsiders of his time? Wouldn’t we be the Good Samaritan and not leave harmed travelers by the side of the road?

One thing I know that I can do is host an interfaith dinner – intentionally reaching out to those who are being oppressed. This type of regular gathering could resist profiling’s damaging effect of increased prejudice and hate crimes. It can make a difference.

I will get to work and will write about the experience. I cannot stand idly by.

 

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I Cannot Stand Idly By

gty-womens-march-washington-4-jt-170121_12x5_1600Rallying cries resound from women marching in the streets – stirring something within me that challenges me on many levels. I want to make a difference. But why? How? What difference will my actions make for those I love, for our daughters, our granddaughter and still future generations?

So, being a white, middle-class woman, why do I care? Maybe I’m just now feeling the pain minorities have felt for centuries. The election process, having our nation’s first female candidate, revealed deep prejudice that still exist within our nation, foremost on gender, but also on race, religion, class and sexual orientation. The hateful rhetoric and falsehoods that propelled our current president to power strikes at the core of who I am, and against the foundations of my faith tradition. A few examples:

Body shaming women with derogatory terms like “fat pigs, slobs – and disgusting animals,” this president thrives on the lowest form of human dialogue – often in a public forum where he incites other low-minded individuals. Bragging about sexual predatory behavior showed a deep human flaw of using power over those considered less powerful for one’s own pleasure. We’re in the 21st Century now. Can we just agree that “boys will be boys” doesn’t work anymore…especially for the leader of a nation? The classism and lack of care for the poor that calls for the end to healthcare options means that low-income women and children will suffer. I cannot stand idly by as if I’m alright with any of this. I’m not.

But how do I turn my anger into a productive energy? How can I live in this time and place, fighting injustice that will come and caring for people who will be most hurt during this administration? As an homage to a song often sung during Second Wave Feminism, I’ve written these steps based on the acronym ROAR:

Relate. Become politically active at the local and state level. This means getting to know the people I’ve voted for and attending city council meetings. Make my voice known, and carry the voices for whom I may speak. We also have to relate more to our neighbors. Maybe it’s time for less Facebook and more “face-to-face.”

Organize for justice and compassion. If something I care about is killed at the federal level, work with my local community on addressing fallout from both a compassion and justice perspective. See what is going on with different faith traditions and how, together, we can offer love.

Assist. Charitable giving can provide resources that may be dropped by the government, and it’s tax deductible. Share food with those who may have to reallocate budget to rising healthcare. Provide transportation to community meetings that lift up one another in spirit and circumstance.

Refuse to be silent about oppression and injustice. Use my words, my vote, my dollars to voice what I stand for – doing business with those who support my beliefs, voting for those who have the courage to stand up against injustice, and dialoging about issues faced by those I care deeply about.

We deserve a better world, and I still believe it’s possible. What we do in the United States matters to the world community, whose geographic and party lines were drawn by none other than humans themselves. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Driving hate out through love is something I can do, by God’s grace. I shall not stand idly by.

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The Crumbs We Leave Behind

Years ago, I visited an art museum in Memphis, Tennessee – meandering about until I found an exhibit on the civil rights movement. I still remember how I felt reading about Dr. Martin Luther King’s “kitchen table” experience and how it set me on a path of striving to live with greater purpose. This is a story from his life that many haven’t heard.

In January of 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King struggled for courage to keep up the fight that would later become known as the civil rights movement. After having his life threatened, King went to his kitchen table and had a conversation with God – expressing his doubts as a leader and asking for guidance.

“I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward…The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. ‘I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid…I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’

At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: ‘Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.’ Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.” (Stride Toward Freedom)

mlk-kitchen-tableThe art exhibit featured a kitchen table with a coffee cup humbly displayed along with those words.  The table was simply made, but it echoed the holiness of communion – Christ at the table – feeding one who was hungry with something more than physical sustenance – the power to go on.

King’s table experience empowered him to feed others – to share a vision of something much larger than any one life – and to inspire others to fight for that something more. Elsewhere in the exhibit were pictures of lives lost and maimed, exposing the ugliness of humanity’s bent toward oppression. Yet that ugliness was diminished and overshadowed by the power to overcome, and it was that power that dominated my experience.

As I walked through the museum, I read another quote of Dr. King’s – one that is reflected today on the monument in Washington, DC:

“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.”

I left there thinking about life differently – I felt challenged to live a life that’s not as much concerned over personal welfare as much as leaving the world a better place. If you’ve ever had to clean out someone else’s stuff after they’ve died, you know that it’s not their material leftovers that matter – it’s the other leftovers of their life that count. These may be their ideas, their love, their way of being in community – all things you can’t measure with money. Kind of like crumbs of the soul left behind to feed generations to come. A committed life echoes and informs future generations to make life better – for the whole of creation.

King’s life showed the power of not just letting things lie, but that by taking risk together we can create the beloved community intended by God. There’s still so much to do in the world today – things that need to be discussed and acted upon by people committed to leaving leftovers from their lives that are worthy of consumption.

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Women of the Congo Arise

United Methodist Women in the East Congo Episcopal Area are helping rape survivors emerge from misplaced blame and isolation. In this place often called the “rape capital of the world,” brutal sexual assaults are not crimes against one person – they are crimes against family and community – a weapon of war that cuts deep and wide.

Culturally, the assault survivors bear the burden of shame and become outcasts, living in isolation at a time when they most need support and care. Children suffer in their absence – struggling to understand why their lives changed so swiftly, and needing the one who is often known as the backbone of the family.

I traveled to Kindu in September, and met with those who are reaching out to help.

Mama Helene is an older woman whose face shares the signs of an earnest, hard-lived life. Her strength was visible as she pounded dirt and cement into the form of bricks. Standing amidst young men also making these bricks, Mama Helene, who serves as chaplain of United Methodist Women, spoke about the ministry she envisions. She shared a story about a woman who was raped by “militia.” The survivor’s body was torn and bruised and she needed medical care. Able to help her, Mama Helene’s eyes turned from anger to a sparkle of hope as she began to talk about the development of this program that will help others. “We will share with them God’s love,” she said.

What draws me into this work is that “God’s love” is made beautifully and counter-culturally tangible. Rejecting societal shame, United Methodist Women want to bring more survivors “out of the forests” to provide physical, psychological, and spiritual care through professionals, and help these women gain new income-generating skills for potential life on their own. Cultural change will come as these women emerge from living in the shadows to be reunited with community and family – becoming accepted, loved and respected once again.

East Congo Episcopal Area isn’t alone – they are supported in this initiative by their partners in the Tennessee, Memphis and Cal-Pac UMC Annual Conferences, and by friends everywhere.

Help Congo Women Arise (https://www.tnumc.org/engage-in-mission/mercy-and-mission-ministries/mission-in-east-congo/ ) to do this ministry with, and for one another. Your gift will go toward building transitional housing, and a center for counseling and skills-building. Together, let’s share the love –

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Hearing the Cry of Tamar

I really can’t remember who first told me that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is called the “Rape Capital of the World.” It stuck with me though. I have come to love the DRC through my many travels. I’ve met so many gracious, talented people there and call many “friends.”  In some parts, the land is so vivid and lush that I’m reminded of holy writings of an ancient garden. And although I reject the label as a total “capture” of this place I’ve come to love, I am now looking more deeply into how this name came about.

In many parts of the world, rape is used quite effectively as a weapon of war – violent and brutal crimes committed against women while family and community are made to watch. If the woman survives the attack, she becomes a visual reminder of powerlessness against the invaders who committed the crime. She is sent out and isolated – abandoned and left to fend for herself. Her family is left behind, never to be respected as they once may have been. Logically, the family and community understands it is not the woman’s fault, yet the mantle she now bears makes it too difficult for them to look upon her again.

United Methodist Women (UMW) in the DRC are helping to bring victims out of the shadows and back into community – sharing love and hope. When I was in Kindu, I was inspired by Mama Helene who is the chaplain of UMW – a short, slightly built woman of age whose eyes are bright with determination. Quite animatedly, she said, “We let them know that this was not their fault and that we love them. That God loves them.” UMW brings together members of the church who volunteer their time, offering professional counseling and skills training. Even after incomprehensible tragedy, women are coming to learn that all is not lost and are reclaiming themselves as unbroken.

Have you heard the word, “chabadza”? It means coming together with those who are already doing the work – offering your part – adding value. It’s a Shona word and my friends from Zimbabwe may add to the meaning.

I am joining the work of these women in East Congo. I will do my part.

Note: The reference to Tamar comes from 2 Samuel 13.

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New Beginnings

I came to UMCom in April 2007, having been invited to work with the Global Health Initiative and the 2008 General Conference as a contractor. It was a risky move for me, being a single mother leaving behind the benefits of employment as clergy in a local church, but I did it anyway, because I felt that it was God’s calling to a new form of ministry.

In the years at UMCom, I authored and co-authored documents, speeches, sermon series, marketing materials and white papers, even assisting with the publishing of one book. I helped lead the inaugural “Change the World” event – encouraging churches around the world to get outside of their walls and serve alongside others. The best part was working closely with the Rethink Church team and building new friends around the world.

All my life, I’ve had visions of how things can be – but I’ve not always had the opportunity to make those dreams reality. Having leadership who believed not only in me, but seeing the vision as well gave me a chance to lead a new effort – casting vision, teaching and helping church leaders use communications technologies for social good in parts of the world that have been most excluded from the digital age. I enjoyed finding new team members abroad and helping them cultivate their gifts and skills. 

It was fun – finding solutions to communication problems within a global institution. With Ushahidi Crowdmap, we were able to begin mapping the church in remote places for the first time in its history. With FrontlineSMS and later TextIt, we were able to leapfrog over email and reach church leaders without Internet access. We built a ham radio network in the Philippines that can serve during times of calm or storms. We developed a network of United Methodist Radio Stations as another means of strengthening the United Methodist Connexion.

We put these systems to use during times of crises: SMS became a means of fighting Ebola among UM clergy and World Vision staff. Mapping demonstrated where the churches serving as shelters in a storm were located. Solar lights signified the caring of Christ for those living in darkness after Typhoon Haiyan, and handcrank radios/solar cellphone chargers became a means for connection to news and loved ones.

We worked with world renowned experts to develop two animations about Ebola which became the first time that the UMC had broadcast on African television throughout the West Africa region, even while serving populations who could only watch on a mobile handset – all in local languages. It was a privilege to speak on UMCom’s behalf at the United Nations – Geneva, and New York, sharing the work that we were doing to use technology for social good.

Innovation and connection is at the heart of who I am, and how I am called to serve the world.

I am turning in a new direction – to serve beyond one church agency, one local church, and perhaps even one faith tradition. I am passionate about amplifying voices within communities who are most marginalized from information that can impact their well-being. As an independent communications consultant – I will have room to grow a part of me that I feel I only just discovered! You’ll be hearing soon about my first work of this type.

See you online, and many of you at Fail Festival! (Got your tickets yet?)

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