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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Cranberries

I wrote this over a year ago but never published it.  Since Cranberries and Thanksgiving are starting to be on people's mind here you go:

Friday my housemates and I visited a cranberry bog in Carver, Mass., south of Boston.  This farm, Fresh Meadows Farm is one of the only certified organic cranberry farms in the commonwealth. 

The farm manager Dom, is a third generation cranberry farmer.  His grandfather immigrated to Massachusetts from the island of Fogo in the Cape Verde Islands off the west coast of Senegal, Africa.

Dom and his grandson. Picture from
freshmeadowscranberries.com (last fall)

Dom was extremely accommodating.  Despite a slight mis-communication between the folks who organized our trip and Dom which made him think we weren't coming, he still happily gave us the tour anyway.  He talked extensively about the economics of the cranberry market, his organic cranberries, and his conventionally grown berries.  I found all that information fascinating and wish to enlighten you all on the cranberry market.

Market
Cranberry farmers like Dom either sell their berries on the commodity market where buyers control the price, or on the cooperative market where shareholders, and often farmers themselves have more control over the price.  Dom sells to Ocean Spray and to the commodity market.  He said Ocean Spray pays better.  I've made it a goal to only buy Ocean Spray cranberries rather than the store brand to support Dom with my purchase.

Wet vs Dry Harvesting

As you have probably seen on the Ocean Spray commercials cranberries are typically harvested with water.  The perennial shrubs (flowering each year) are grown from cuttings in a bog or swamp.  During the winter the bogs are flooded to protect the plants from the harsh dry winter winds; even though the water will usually freeze it keeps the plants moist and alive until spring. In the spring the fields are drained for the plants to begin growth.  The bogs will typically be flooded several times during the growning season before they fruit to control pests.  They usually flower in April and the flower buds are long and slender representing a crane --thus its name is from "Crane"-berry. 

After the flowers are pollinated and the fruits are ready by late October through November the berries are harvested.  Originally all cranberries were dry harvested, picked by hand or with a comb-like scoop and then sorted, stored or processed, and then sold.  In the mid 20th century wet harvesting became popular which is flooding the fields, the berries float to the top, are collected, and then sent for processing.  The wet-harvest can bruise or soften the berries compromising their shelf life and they require immediate processing for storage.  Typically wet-harvested cranberries go into juices, sauces, or are dried as crasins, and dry harvested berries are sold as whole cranberries in grocery stores.  In the last decade the wet-dry harvesting method has come into play which is a wet harvest followed by an immediate drying in huge warehouses, these can also be sold as whole cranberries.


Organic

In order to have the organic label on one of his bogs, Dom has to dry harvest using the old fashoned machine which is like a giant comb.  

To be certified USDA organic, Dom is not allowed to use any synthetic pesticides or fertilizer on his organic fields.  This requires more care, and often results in more crop lost to pests.  This is one reason organic cranberries cost a little more.  In order to afford to grow organic berries he must also grow conventional in other fields he owns to sustain the income.  The majority of Organic cranberries are grown in newly-developed bogs in Canada where they have no natural pests yet.

I asked Dom what is his spiritual connection to food.  He said it was about his connection to his family.  He does this because he is closer to his parents and grandparents by following in their footsteps.  Dom sort of uses the older equipment and the organic method as a hobby because he loves it so much.

I really enjoyed that visit and listening to Dom.  I will always think of him when I buy Cranberries.  And I will eat more of them raw, after about five of them you get used to the tart flavor.

This Thanksgiving think of farmers like Dom who are honoring their families by connecting with the earth and growing us delicious cranberries.  Maybe go for a visit if you're in New England.  Happy Eating!

Thanks Dom, you've been on my mind for a year.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Food Justice in Virginia

The Sunday after I returned from Boston to my home in Millboro, VA I gave two presentations about my time in Boston.  One at 2:30pm in Goshen with my home parish, and one after a potluck dinner at 5:30pm in Harrisonburg for Trinity Presbyterian where I attended during college.

I talked about YAV in general being like the Church's version of the Peace Corps for one year. life with mostly females, Lazarus at the Gate bible study, Farmer Dave's CSA distribution at my church, teaching people what kholrabi and other weird vegetables are, showing how leftovers go to the food pantry, etc.

I talked a little about Manna Mondays, but then the audience had some excellent discussion about how these themes could apply to my home community in the Shenandoah Valley and Appalachian Mountains where poverty, geography, agriculture, and local food all looks different.  Here are a few pictures I showed.






First of all I asked the refreshments be locally sourced.  In Goshen we got eggs from Chicken Lawhorn's Chickens, lemonade made with water from the mud puddle out back.  There were some delicous cakes and snacks as well.

Justine and Ray Tilghman, the forman couple of the Craigsville Food Pantry were there. The Craigsville pantry serves Bath, Augusta, Rockbridge, and parts of Highland Counties.  Mostly rural mountain communities.  They serve a much larger area than Burlington, but similar numbers.  Justine gets fresh produce from WalMart once a month the week before they open for distribution.  Usually it's close to going bad and needs to be tossed or sent to feed someone's livestock before distribution.  Things have been better since they got a walk-in refrigerator, but Justine is still concerned about the food waste.  She's been considering opening up once a month for a few hours just to give out produce so it wont get thrown away.  (If any of those links ask you to pay to read the full article send me an E-mail and I'll get it to you for free haneyja314@gmail.com)

Refrigeration and opening just a day for produce were two things Jane has been exploring in Burlington to manage the abundance of fresh produce from Farmer Dave's and the area grocery stores.  It was a good conversation of the two of us sharing ideas while other church members learned of ways they can help her.  Those interested near Craigsville should contact Justine at the pantry (540-997-5827) about volunteering for the vegetable only distribution, or helping deliver produce to those in need.

In Harrisonburg a few college buddies came which was awesome!  Mary, Rebekah, Tim, Mike, and Hannah you should all really think about YAV!  The discussion in Harrisonburg involved a lot about school lunches, hunger in schools, the new regulations, and the weekend backpack program.  It got a lot of church members talking about that with some of the college students who are still packing backpacks a few times a month.  We heard from some teachers the real problems hungry kids have in schools and how they hate to see them going for chips to curb hunger pangs.

Both discussions felt a lot like my time in Boston.  There was a lot of raising awareness of the issues, a lot of defining the problems and blaming others.  I walked away thinking that we all knew the problems better but lacked solutions.  But at the core of the discussion we shared ideas and options for real solutions in the respective communities.  That was my truest job as a YAV- stirring up conversation and empowering folks to make changes in their communities.  When it's all said and done, that's quite an impact for a year's time.

I was in Boston for a year, Virginia for a week, and Goshen/Harrisonburg for just a day.  My hope is that the pictures, the silly jokes, and the discussions can all stir up some spirit within folks to take an action, large or small to make something better.  Heck, if we all do something together, we all do something toward the same goal we are working as one body in Christ and what can stop us then?

What did I Learn as a Food Justice YAV Living with 3 Girls?

I wrapped up my term in Boston faster than I wanted to.  I felt like I had just figured out what I was doing, and then it all went away.  When I drove back on the 15th with Kathleen I was missing a lot of people, thinking about how much I've grown this year.  I want to share a few last reflections before I close out this blog.

People have asked me many questions about the year, so here are my top three answers to each of my top three questions:


What did you learn in Boston?  

1.  As a YAV in Boston I was in the top 5% of the world in terms of income.  Yes. On my approx $20,000 annual income ($470 per month plus $120 in food stamps plus everything YAV paid in car insurance, rent, utilities, and my dad's health insurance)  I had more money than 95% of the world.  That is right at poverty line in Massachusetts and I was in the top 5% of wealth in the world.  Every little bit we can give can make a big difference to so many people in the world.  Boston Faith & Justice Network's Lazarus at the Gate class helps us each individually become more generous with this abundant wealth we have.  I promoted that message all year.  It gave me a faith context and real life ways I could do something about the large gap between wealth and poverty in our world.

2. God cares about food and the church should be leading the food movement.  I came into the year thinking the Boston churches were bringing organic, local, fresh produce into their meals programs to be hip and trendy.  I felt like my scientific interest in saving the planet had no place in the church.  But around December I got smacked in the face with biblical definitions of Justice from the old testament prophets, the Manna stories, and the gospels, and then it was clear.  God wants us to take care of the widow, orphan, traveler, hungry, naked, sick, and those in need. We've all heard love your neighbor, and share your toys since childhood. The problems in our food system and environment are leaving people hungry, orphaned, traveling, and in need.  The church should be actively working for alternatives, and better systems so that we can effectively do these things the God asks (and sometimes pretty sternly commands) us to do.

What good does it do to feed the hungry with vegetables picked by migrant labor if the laborers cannot afford to buy the food they pick?  These are issues of justice that God has been concerned about before "Organic" and "Local" became trendy so God's people absolutely should be part of this conversation and deeply involved.  So let's get to it, we've work to do!

3.  Transition happens.  People die, people retire, people move away.  This year, I've lost people close to me to taking new jobs, new property, retirement, suicide, sudden heart attacks, and even my own moving back home.  So many I know have lost family members, classmates, friends, and family this year.  It happens, you can't avoid it, and it sucks.  When working with such big problems it's key to consider ways to sustain the solutions throughout the transitions.  Keep in mind how to invite others in to take your place, or to make tasks accessible for others to fill in as needed so that it doesn't depend on any one or two individuals.


What kitchen skills/ lessons will you bring with you?

1.  Save every last bone that comes through my kitchen, and every stem, peel and veggie scrap for soup stock.  I will never buy soup stock again.  (Also sorry to new Boston YAVs for all the duck fat I forgot to get out of the freezer)
2.  Buy root veggies with the greens on them, and eat the greens and the roots.  It's a two-for-one deal
3.  Gus was right when he told me making acorn flour was too much trouble and I shouldn't fool with it.


What is it like living with 3 girls?

1.  Not going to lie it was fun.  I got to share a tent, bathroom, and several nights out with just me and three ladies.
2.  The girls individually paid way more than I did on shower supplies and haircuts.  But really-a lot more, and they had to take trips to CVS without me to buy those bathroom things I don't have to buy.  So tell me why do men get paid more?
3.  Women (some more than others) like to talk about what's going on at certian times of the month and they speak every chance they can about men making political decisions about their reproductive organs.  This doesn't have to do with my fellow Boston YAV's specifically but birth control treats important things down there and some women take it because they need it, not because they are having sex.   Why does the supreme court allow companies to opt out of having insurance cover birth control, but still cover viagra?  How does this relate to my religion?

I will be posting a few more thoughts in the next few days.

What other questions do you have?  What are some things you learned about God, life, the universe and everything this year?




Thursday, August 14, 2014

Busted Watermelon

Tonight I said goodbye to Jane McIninch.  She has been an exceptional mentor, one of the coolest and amazing people I've been blessed to work with.  I didn't realize until about a week ago how much I'm going to miss her.  If you come to Boston, look her up first, ok.

Food Pantry Co-coordinators Jane (left) and Cristina (right)
with the Farmer Dave's produce donations last fall.

 She doesn't know I've called her Wonder Woman to my housemates. She has her hands involved in Farmer Dave's CSA, the food pantry, the community garden, the chamber of commerce, the church, the YAV program, the schools, the soccer teams, the Walk for Hunger....  Just to follow her around is an insight into food justice work.  Jane is from Denmark.  She used to work in a corporate Biotech company. She used to own her own chocolate-making business!   Her husband James is a wizard, fixes anything, knows everything, and gives the children sermons at church.  Thomas their son loves to read, he's tall, quiet, pretty funny when he speaks and great at basketball. Their younger son Kasper plays the recorder, plays soccer, and mindcraft and is pretty good at frisbe.  Both kids always wear their red soccer uniforms (the Danish color) and they are all soooo intelligent.  We "youth's" hadn't been the closest of friends but I've felt like one of the family when I'd ask Jane for help on my projects at her kitchen table in between Thomas and Kasper asking for help on their homework.  They were the first family from my church I ever met, and the last one I saw.  They've given me lots of support this year, I'll never forget them.

Jane (right) helping Barbara, Seabrite
and Skyra roll out pasta dough at the
first Manna Monday.
Boy did they get some long noodles!!



I started really thinking about them hard on Tuesday morning and here is a pretty crazy story about Jane's family.

I said Jane does so much for the town of Burlington.   Monday she put an end to a high speed police chase.  For real! You may have seen it in the news.  It's crazy she and her kids are who they're talking about in this news report.  This guy was being chased from the Burlington Mall when he fled after being approached about idling in a handicap space.  Police chased him northward on Cambridge Street as Jane and I were driving south in separate cars. It was minutes after we closed the church from the Farmer Dave's distribution. Two police cruisers flew past me.  Reports said an officer (probably the one that flew past me) fired two shots at the driver. He tried to hit the policeman, rear-ended a car in his lane, then swerved over and hit Jane head on. Totaling both cars.  The dummy then got out of the car and tried to run away when they got him.  A local news article about it is found here.

Jane's kids were in the backseat. They are fine, a few seatbelt bruises and a little shaken up.  Both back at camp the next day and playing frisbe with me today.  One of the officers on the scene was their neighbor whose kid played sports with her kids.  Jane is ok, "just beat  up and without a car" she told me Tuesday.  They all are fine. Don't panic.  Her four watermelons and two cantelopes didn't have such a fortunate outcome.

I was literally 2 stoplights behind her, I left the church about two minutes later because I went back in the kitchen to grab two watermelons we dropped and busted during Farmer Dave's distribution.  I heard the shots and didn't think twice about it.  I saw police swarming in from everywhere and decided to take a detour home.  The thought crossed my mind, "sometimes Jane comes this way to the grocery store, but she's probably going home the other way because the kids are with her." I almost went all the way around the block to snoop and see what was up but I was running late so I went home.

I had no idea she was in that crazy mess, or exactly what all the crazy mess was until they texted me after midnight that she wouldn't be meeting me at the pantry in the morning.

Then I heard the NPR report on the way to work and put all the pieces together.  I wanted to kill the guy.  He's an idiot and he could have killed Jane--my only work supervisor who hasn't left me yet.  I felt a crazy anger overtake me and had to pull over and calm myself down. (maybe I got my own mental problems I need to work on.)

If I hadn't gone back in the church for that busted watermelon I'd probably have been right in the middle of all that. Probably texting the roommates I was running late.  I had some angels watching me.  And lots of angels were watching her and the kids. Whew.

That particular spot on Cambridge Street where she was hit is where I picked up the older lady on the walker a few weeks ago from a previous post.  It's a particular spot that I often get flashbacks to either my first day of work, or the day Gus died when I drive through. It always has been and continues to be slightly spooky.

It just takes an instant to take it all away. I am so thankful everyone can walk away from that accident and thankful for the police and medics.  I pray for Jane and the kids. I pray for the idiot who I wanted to beat up Tuesday morning.  He has no easy path before him. I pray for the annoying reporters bothering Jane.  I pray for those I know, and those I don't know who didn't walk away from their accident.  I pray that God can show us some signs of hope.

God of grace, thank you for today and that I am still here.  Reveal yourself to us.  Thank you for putting Jane in my life and for protecting her this week.  Thank you for letting me drop and bust that watermelon--it was delicous when I ate it, but quickly forgotten when I realized what craziness was going on outside of my table. May our eyes be opened beyond the delicious watermelon in front of us. May we see your wonderful works and see how to support those in pain.  Protect your children and help us show compassion to those who hurt us and make us angry.  Amen

image from
http://gawker.com/drug-cartel-busted-using-fake-watermelons-to-smuggle-we-1594695148



Monday, July 28, 2014

Cape Cod: vegetables, beaches, and immigrants. What a camping trip!



I’ve always heard about Cape Cod as an expensive tourist destination or place to retire. Last week I got to see a different part of the cape.  We visited and volunteered with CapeAbilities farm.  This rather well-known farm employs and trains people with all levels of mental and/or physical disabilities growing food and flowers or making sea salt.  They have locations all over the cape with a farm in Dennis, a Farm to Table Market in Chatham, and a thrift shop in Barnstable.

Ian the greenhouse manager at the central office in Hyannis showed us around and had us seeding some micro greens, and pruning the tomatoes.  Ian broke his neck about five years ago in a terrible accident out west, but you’d never know it since surgery allowed him to walk again. He said it was a miracle he didn’t die, and another miracle that they fixed his vertebra in his neck.  For a short while he was stuck in a wheelchair and realized just how little he could do.  He was drawn to work at CapeAbilities because it allows him to give opportunity for other people who are limited in the work or service they can give.  He can find work for any skill level in the greenhouse.

I was deeply moved by this experience working with Ian, and a girl named Liz who didn’t speak to me and just filled pots with soil the whole time.  I encourage anyone who visits Cape Cod to stop by one of their operations to see how growing food can change people.  They'll even give you a navy blue volunteer shirt!

All the food we eat has fingerprints on it because someone picked it at some point (something I heard from our supervisor Maggie).  It is amazing to think someone’s life was made a little better by having the chance to pick the tomatoes, peppers, and herbs we saw in the greenhouse.  Learn more at www.CapeAbilities.org

 

From left to right Alex, Audrey, Libby, Ian, Kathleen 

We also got to see my new-former pastor Rod and his wife Cathy who have retired on the cape.  He's the one who told me about CapeAbilities and gave us some lunch and dinner one night.  It was a great camping trip, and a wonderful side of food justice to experience.  



After the volunteering we visited some of the beaches and toured around a wind mill and grist mill where they used to grind grains (primarily corn) into flour with renewable energy.  Although the operation to dam up the water behind the grist mill is slightly invasive to natural plant and animal habitat, this was a virtually free, earth-friendly way to harness the energy of nature.  I was grateful to step back into the frame of mind of a slower time when folks knew how close the natural world is to our lives. A time when people knew where most of their food came from. A time when there wasn't internet to set up a last minute camping trip on the cape....

The Cape experiences seasonal poverty when agriculture and tourism die down in the winter. Many people are left without work, and wind up homeless for several of the coldest months.  Until work resumes in the summer they often can't afford rent.  There is a large amount of public assistance on the cape despite it's reputation as somewhere only the wealthiest go to their ornate beautiful beachfront property, or where they retire in a condo.  

In current events, a military base on the cape has been considered to host some of the millions of immigrant children coming across our boarders until they can be reunited with family here or sent home.  It's raised quite the controversy on the cape with much opposition.  Seemingly the ever famous pain in the butt, NIMBY (not in my back yard) mentality has folks trying to chase away people that want to do a lot of good and drop a lot of federal money in the region.  This article explains some of the opposition.  It reminds me of tense moments in local politics at home.

I was deeply  moved hearing Massachusetts Governor Patrick trying to be of help to these many children without a home.  He has quite the moving speech on this video.  It gets pretty good at 6 minutes.  Since he's not up for re-election he said a lot about his faith and God calling us to care for the traveler, orphan, and sojourner in our midst, and reminds us that we will have to answer for our "actions and inaction" one day.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out.  It's pretty evenly split in state government.   

So here I stand in the food justice league bringing you the latest from the cape in my cape.  Even the vacation spots have room for justice, and the cape's off to a great start with CapeAbilities!  


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Compost

This is a revised version of a post I submitted to the Presbyterian Hunger Program's blog a few weeks ago about one of my projects starting compost at the church in Burlington.  Read the full thing and the latest in food justice work all over the world here.  It's also a story I shared in my church's newsletter.  Please enjoy some interesting theology and liturgy of compost:



June 9 was a special day for me and compost.  T’was the day I installed a compost bin at my church in Burlington, MA and it happened to be the day I learned what other churches are doing with compost.  I saw an exciting webinar with the Presbyterian Hunger Program (the keepers of this blog) that went rapid fire through 8 awesome food and sustainability projects going on at Presbyterian camps, church basements, roofs, and yards. One of those church yards, "Sacred Greens" at Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC provided some liturgy and faith background on compost for me to incorporate into my church’s journey with our new compost bin.  I'd like to share some of my thoughts on compost as well as some from Ashley Goff at Church of the Pilgrims featured in the webinar.  (watch the entire webinar here, Sacred Greens begins around 48min.) 

Our church in Burlington hosts a weekly distribution of Farmer Dave's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).  Customers pay the farm directly at the beginning of the season and get a weekly "share" of whatever's ready to harvest.  The farm drops it off at the church, and we set it up in the playground.  The parent's let their kids play while we help them identify the veggies and give cooking ideas.  A fun time for all!  
We got the compost bin so brown leaves, carrot tops, thick stems, or other scraps that get left behind from the farm customers don't end up in the landfill.  And we are working to direct more waste from the church kitchen and from members’ homes into the bin. 

Food scraps such as greens and coffee contain high levels of organic matter that generate high levels of methane gas when decomposing in landfills.  Landfills are the third largest source of atmospheric methane—a greenhouse gas over 10 times worse than carbon dioxide 1.  And food waste is the largest category of waste in our nation’s landfills2.  In a small way, throwing the vegetable scraps from the farm share and church events in the trash can, we are contributing to a larger environmental problem. 

Composting can significantly reduce the amount of waste we put in the landfills, reduce the stench of trash cans, and it provides a natural nutritious soil amendment for a vegetable garden, or the church flowers if nothing else.  Consider composting in your own yard, contributing to your neighborhood's compost, or start one at your own church!   It’s a very simple process.  
But why should a church compost? Is there any theological reason for it?  Other than doing justice to our planet, I answer these questions with some help from Ashley Goff of Washington, DC featured in that webinar.  

Sacred Greens’ compost began with a verma-compost bin (worm bin) where church members could bring vegetable scraps that earthworms could transform into vibrant, life-giving soil for the church garden—which supplies some food to their weekly meals program.  Their trash could feed worms that feed some plants that feed hungry people in their community. The trash deemed for disposal and death was rescued, saved and made into new life.  Kind of like how God rescues and saves us from the death of sin, and through Jesus Christ makes for us a new life. 

This church dove more into the theology and liturgy.  They came up with what they called a “God story for the garden” with three parts: 1. Compost is an act of resurrection.  2. Growing is an act of resistance.  3. Eating is an act of remembrance. 

Compost is an act of resurrection?  Hmm?  “Dying with the old to create the new,” Ashley Goff said.  That’s what compost does to plants.  Living things we put in the bin die, rot, and decay to welcome the way for new life.  Ashley likened this to Christ dying on the cross, and being resurrected to new life so our lives become new.  We must die completely from sin, so that God can fill us with new life, His life and his spirit.  I see it as a clever Sunday school lesson or even a sermon illustration, but this church did something I never would have thought with the theology of compost and new life.  They used the compost pile as a communion table.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  Here is the story: 

During a special fall sermon series on food and faith, they had a wheelbarrow of veggie scraps at door, midway decomposed compost in the Baptismal font, and in the front of the sanctuary, the bread and cup sitting on top of a pile of fully composted compost. 

Symbolically this represented the journey of transformation we go through as Christians.  In Christ we are transformed from one thing, perhaps a bunch of scraps, into something better.  At Baptism we know this and we have started to be transformed, but we are only midway there.  Like the partially rotted compost you can still see there is work to be done before our minds and hearts are entirely God’s.  And at communion we are completely transformed, like the compost ready to feed someone else.



Photos used with permission from Ashley Goff, taken by Andrew Satter asatter.com
These images and others are shown on the PHP Webinar mentioned above.


The church sat on the floor around the compost pile and shared communion recognizing the mortality of our bodies we usually only recall on Ash Wednesday; remembering the adamah, the soil that God made into Adam.  The soil and dust we will all return to and shouldn’t distance ourselves from.  The soil that feeds the food we eat, that was once alive and is now dead but full of life.  They also shared the eternity we have through Christ that we will be transformed through him.  God’s love and spirit will become new after death.  Likewise this compost is dead, new, and ready to feed next year’s garden. 

This story of compost at Sacred Greens is featured in the Washington Post and soon to be in the Union Theological Seminary Quarterly Review. 

It’s a little weird, new and different, but it makes sense if you think about it.  Compost can be part of your life, your church’s life, or even your church’s communion.  So let it rot!!! That’s what’s been on my mind since June 9 as I encourage composting at church. Thanks for reading!

Thanks to Ashley Goff for her resources, and Andrew Satter for the images. More of his photos at asatter.com.   

  1. EPA (2014). “Overview of Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Methane Emissions.” EPA official website. Retrieved from http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/ch4.html
  2. EPA (2012). Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2012. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/2012_msw_fs.pdf

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What does the voice of God sound like?

I drive in Boston. It's warming up so not only must I dodge the potholes now exposed after the snowdrifts receded, but also all the bikers, runners, jaywalkers, motorcyclists, and scooters who come out from their hibernation.

Sunday I encountered a new variety of pedestrian.  An older lady on her walker.  Walking down the hill on Cambridge Street in Burlington, she reached a place where the sidewalk ends so she just kept her stride a going alongside all the cars.  I almost didn't see her the way the shadows ran.

When I drove past I thought of my Great Aunt Nancy who has been deceased four years now, and how much my mom would be yelling at her if she was racing the northbound Sunday traffic in the right lane of a main road in the Boston suburbs, Is this woman crazy!?  I then recalled my old Campus pastor from freshman year Kathleen Haines telling a story of picking up a woman walking a stroller with two kids in the street where there was no sidewalk.  Rev Kathleen would pick up people all the time. Then I just decided, "I'm going to offer this woman a ride."

I didn't hear a voice from the clouds like it was Monty Python and the holy grail, or even something crazy like a burning bush.  Just a split second decision to do something about this unsafe unnecesary act while recalling the examples of kindness I'd seen from previous chapters of my life when rides were given.

I turned around and pulled over.   It was awkward, the only place I could stop to wait on her was an intersection where a guy trimming bushes gave me funny looks for just idling there.  And I stayed in my car waiting for her to continue down the busy street to where I was, praying no one hit her while I just sat there.  It's crazy with vehicles, on short mistake and that could be the end.  As she crossed the side street in front of me I asked if she needed a ride somewhere.  She said "you can take me back to my apartment right down the hill here."  I helped her in the passengers seat and folded the walker.  I really felt like I was with Aunt Nancy or going to lunch with someone from Sunnyside assisted living home during my college days.

As we drove down the hill I said, "just tell me where to turn."  She said, "I live in ____ Apartments on Birchcrest street. it's right down the hill here." Still being unfamiliar with the neighborhood, I thought I'd just keep going and wait for her to tell me where to go.  We kept going, she told me she passed this store, and these buildings, and that one, and it's on her side just up here.   At almost 2 miles from where I picked her up I realized--and she realized--she was lost.  We drove back to the town common near where I picked her up to try and maybe ask at the town hall or police station for directions. But it was Sunday so that's all closed.

From what I gathered she got to the town common, a large park and got turned around and was walking down the wrong side street from the park thinking it was hers when I saw her in the road.

Oh Boston.

I drove her to my church and found Steven, the doorman, head of Sanctuary Security.  He told me where her apartments were.  I asked if she wanted to stay for church. She laughed.  I took her home.  She said to say a prayer for her.  The end.

I share that story first of all to say, I';m pretty sure I'll be a nasty mess to take care of when I'm older.  Friends, just shoot me when I get old and daffy.  Just hit me when I make it to the road in my walker.
wind up racing grannies
Image retrieved from http://www.racinggrannies.com/

Second I want to reflect on what may or may not be an experience of calling.

When I passed her I said out loud, "that woman is on a walker in the middle of the road what kind of place is this?" then those thoughts of Rev Kathleen picking up people in Harrisonburg, VA then I just turned around to ask.  No "voice of God" just a memory and the realization I could do something about this thing I saw wasn't right.

When she was in the car I thought it would be just one straightforward task, but I was just as lost as she was.  I don't know my way around Burlington very well.  I looked through my car and didn't have a map.  I had to make a lot of problem solving decisions.  Who do I call, where do I go, who should I ask???  Was I the best person to pick her up?  Thankfully, being Sunday, I had a congregation of long time Massachusetts residents at church to be a living GPS for me.

If I say this was "the spirit moving" like some people from church told me it was, I want to let you know that sometimes we may be pretty confused doing what the spirit wants.  And that's ok, just go along with it.  Sometimes God gives us the heart for something but maybe not a roadmap.  Maybe you'll be confused a lot of the time. The Bible tells us God provides (Philippians 4:19) .  But when it seems like God doesn't provide (you can't find the map) you see that God gives us community, other members of his body to recruit for help.  Other people are such an accessible resource.  Weather in a church, school, or just asking a random guy on the sidewalk for directions, God will give you all the resources you need to help.  Trust that.  God says, "I will never leave you nor forsake you"

If it wasn't the spirit moving...then what do you call the time lining up that I was late leaving the house and hit the right number of red lights so that I saw this lady at the one block where there was no sidewalk and she was in the street.  And I'm not one to pick up people often, it just kind of happened.  I even wanted to stop that day for some groceries on the way, but just felt like I should keep going.  If we don't call it the spirit, what else is there?  please answer that for me in the comments section.

Afterwards I wonder if I hadn't picked her up how far would she have walked along that street before asking for help or realizing it was the wrong street?  Who else would have stopped to pick her up that may have known the city better?  What other driver texting or changing the radio wouldn't see her and hit her?  You can go down the wild road of  scenarios on how the events would have played out otherwise, or how I could have done it better.  But it happened this way and I hope she's in a better place for it.

Is this the work of God? Is this just Alex doing something nice so he can write about it?  Does the motive even matter?  How do you tell the difference between your gut and the holy spirit?
In my attempt to answer these questions I acknowledge I don't have a seminary degree, but here's my best guess.
1. "Follow your gut and follow your heart.  God's in both of them"  My friend Hannah told me that.  2. If it is a voice telling you to show love, grace, and/or compassion it's probably the holy spirit.  Do it. That's my answer. 1 John 4 sais it pretty elequently.
"do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the spirit of God; every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God.  This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming and now it is in the world already.  Little children, you are of God and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world...we are of God.  Whoever knows God listens to us and he who is not of God does not listen to us.  By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

All deep questions I think about in my spare time.  When did you respond to a voice from God? or a gut feeling to do something Godly?