Love in the Time of Refugees



I’m in love.

I was fretful and anxious, but now I’m in love.

The context for my emotional bi-polarity has been the Syrian refugee crisis.

In my anxious phase I posted a great number of guilt-inducing refugee photos on Facebook. I sent money overseas to worthy causes. I applauded the heroic efforts of volunteers and the inhabitants of Lebos.

But most days I wrung my hands and felt ineffectual and therefore sad and worried.

But then the Halabi* family arrived. The Syrian refugee crisis took on flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood (to tweak a phrase from Eugene Peterson).

To be accurate, the Syrian refugee crisis took on flesh and blood and moved into the guest quarters on our community farm.

This is what the big scary refugee crisis looks like up close:

Hospitable. As I write, I look out my window and into the kitchen window of the Halabis. There I see Asna, who has been cooking constantly for two days. She’s cooking a feast of stuffed peppers, eggplants and zucchinis for each of the six families that call this farm home.

The guests have become the hosts and we are the beneficiaries. I can’t walk within sight of her door without being invited in for a cup of Arabic coffee (personally imported by Asna herself from a Jordanian market near the refugee camp in which she lived for three years. She brews the stuff so strong I can feel blood vessels popping in my head as I drink!).....


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The Long-Haul Goodness of Community


“So, how’s the commune?” asks the man with floppy brown hair. I can tell by his smile he thinks he’s being original.

“It’s great,” I answer. “But it’s not a commune. It’s a community.”

He laughs. “Can’t fool me. Lots of people. Organic gardens. Shared living spaces. Sauna. You’re a commune.”

We’re not! I want to protest. And then I wonder, Why am I feeling so defensive? Why do I so NOT want to be identified as a commune?

I’m sure it has something to do with the most popular caricatures of communes. First, the hippie variety: places roiling with free-love, utopian ideals and hairy-legged women. Or, second, the fundamentalist variety: places rife with rules, head-coverings and dour expressions.

Happily, Kingfisher Farm, my home and the home of 24 others, fits neither of these stereotypes.

Here’s the backstory: About five and a half years ago my husband and I gathered some friends, a few of whom we barely knew, and asked them if they wanted to buy a farm together. (A farm that had formerly served as the A Rocha Environmental Centre we helped start.) It’s a big decision–buying a farm—and even bigger when you’re doing it with people with whom you share no blood ties and, in some cases, very little history. Therefore, we met as a group bi-weekly for about five months to discern. Together we explored if a) we liked each other well enough to live together b) Shared enough vision and values to make this place more than a glorified playground for our kids and c) did we have enough money to make it work.

On one particular rainy night, we discussed our creation care values. A man in the group (we’ll call him Ralph) argued for environmental standards for our little farm. He chose dish soap as his case study. We would all need to agree to use bio-degradable, earth-friendly dish soap, no exceptions. A few of us balked. We had nothing against biodegradable dish soap per se, we just didn’t want our kitchens legislated.

Ralph was flummoxed.

Rick (his real name), gave voice to what the rest of us were trying to articulate. “What the world needs,” said Rick in a thoughtful tone of voice, “is not people who can live united to a high standard. What the world needs is a group of people who can get along, despite their differences.”

Ralph left the conversation disappointed. So disappointed, we later learned, that he hardly slept that night. At our next meeting he announced that his family would be pulling out of the process. They were sorry, it was a very hard decision, but they needed firmer standards. The soap conversation was, evidently, just the tip of the iceberg.

“Peace takes time,” wrote Stanley Hauerwas.

This is why I live in community. There’s no walking away from an annoying friend when his signature is scrawled next to yours on the mortgage documents! A commitment to my 24 farm mates over the long haul has created a stability that has opened possibilities to grow in love and forgiveness. We have indeed held each other to our higher ideals, but not in a preachy, finger-pointing way. I have been encouraged, for example, to resist North America’s dominate narrative of consumerism and individualism because I’ve watched my farm mates shop at Value Village and volunteer with refugee claimants and grow vegetables without pesticides or herbicides....

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The Slow Sacred Texts of the Dying

photo credti: Macia Pevey

My sister sits daily at the bedsides of the dying.

She is a hospice chaplain. This is her job.

On a recent visit to a private residence, my sister was greeted by the 80-year-old daughter of a 104-year-old dying woman. The daughter, white-haired and stooped, opened the door and in a sing-song drawl called over her shoulder, “Mama, the preacher’s here,” a pronouncement that had my sister rubber-necking over her own shoulder looking for “the preacher” who had snuck in behind her.This geriatric announcement, “Mama, the preacher’s here,” while so funny on so many levels, is also so true. My sister is a preacher. She preaches from the slow, sacred texts of the dying’s last days.

This is what she preaches:

We need to fearlessly affirm. The dying shed all inhibitions. My sister, middle-aged and of normal attractiveness, has been told she’s beautiful by more patients than she can count. The approach of death has not affected these people’s eyesight; it’s affected their inhibition, shattering the veneer of decorum that has kept them from voicing their true feelings and thoughts. The words come forth in childlike innocence and honesty and are therefore the furthest thing from flattery because they are offered by those with nothing to lose or gain. My sister receives these words like the benedictions they are.

We need to connect at all costs. On one particular visit, my sister entered a hospital room to find the patient’s children hunched, each in his or her own chair, paralyzed in isolation and anxiety at the decline of their mother. My sister sat with them, holding their mother’s hand. Gently, she suggested that the patient’s 60-year-old daughter place her hand on her mother’s leg.It was a simple act, but in touching her mother, this grieving woman broke the spell that held her apart from the one she wanted to love. Soon she was massaging her mother’s feet as her siblings swapped stories from their childhood. One truly hilarious story involved a rabid squirrel, a garbage can, and a baseball bat. Soon they were weeping with laughter, the beauty of their connectedness restored by physical contact and their shared stories............

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Postcard from Portugal (so why the cranes?!)



Every spring and fall, the North American prairies host a remarkable event. It’s called kettling. Migrating Sandhill CranesGrus canadensis pause en route to come together and ride the thermals. Their numbers reach hundreds of thousands, all aloft, all rising and soaring in a mysterious symmetry. I’ve stood below such a spectacle of swirling flight and marveled. What calls them to come together? Why not just set off in their individual flocks, as efficiency would dictate? I am not an ornithologist. I’m a storyteller and so my anthropomorphized version would go something like this: the Sandhill Cranes come for a family reunion of sorts – swap stories of the past season, make plans for the next, and encourage one another for the next leg of the journey.

I’ve just come back from a similar sort of family reunion. It was seriously lacking in the plumage and spindly legs of the cranes’ gathering, but we did come from varied flocks to fly together for a while in Portugal. A Rocha leaders and other participants from over 20 countries, on every continent but Antarctica (we’re still waiting for the penguins to send a delegate) came together for a five-day gathering that occurs just once every three years. We sang with gusto in at least three languages and were challenged by the wise words of biblical theologian Ruth Padilla DeBorst. But most of all we were encouraged by the incredible stories shared − stories of saving forests in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya, stories of opening the eyes of children to the wonders of creation in New Zealand, the UK and Uganda, stories of significant conservation research on elephants, storm-petrels, and plovers.

They were good stories. They were bolstering stories.

Would you like to hear one?

This one comes from Mwamba, A Rocha’s field study centre in Kenya, on the Indian Ocean coast and was told to me by Jaap Gijsbertsen who, along with his family, spent a year and a half helping lead the work.

He was asked to provide a retreat and teaching for Erisata, a community development organization in the Masai Mara reserve. Jaap happily agreed and put together a one-week course that included the theology of creation care as well as practical application, with plenty of time spent getting up close and personal with habitats and creatures surrounding the A Rocha centre.

At the end of the week, the A Rocha team took the Masai participants out in a glass-bottom boat over a coral reef reserve where they conduct their conservation research. None of the participants had ever been in a boat, let alone swum in water. As herdsmen, living 700 km from the ocean, learning to swim is completely irrelevant and even going into water is seen as dangerous and irresponsible behaviour.

Therefore, when Jaap offered these dignified Masai land-lovers snorkels, fins and masks, they balked. But with a bit more coaxing the village headman and pastor showed his leadership by accepting Jaap’s offer.

After strapping a flotation device around his waist, he took the plunge, and proceeded to float face down over the coral reef. He floated so long, without coming up for air, that his fellow tribesmen began to grow restless. Just as they were arguing about who should go to the headman’s rescue, he shot his head from the water. His face broke into a wide smile as he shouted, ‘Halleluiah! God is truly amazing! You will not believe what is under there!’

His amazement at the beauty of what he had beheld was infectious and almost all the other participants went in as well, each emerging with his own wonder-struck expression.

The week came to a close and the participants left transformed. They left not only with a fuller biblical understanding of God’s love for all of creation and their responsibility to actively care for the Masai Mara, but with an awe-inspiring first-hand understanding of a world they never knew existed.

And because, as leaders of A Rocha National Organizations, we came together and heard this story we left transformed as well – transformed in the knowledge that creation care begins with wonder.

Creation care begins with wonder and is sustained by gathering in friendship, song, wisdom and the sharing of stories.
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Becoming the Woman in the Mirror

Every time I look in the mirror I receive a jolt. Who is this woman staring at me through eyes marked by a spray of smile lines, with hair the colour of antiqued pewter? It’s not the signs of age that shock me—it’s the overall effect. The woman in the mirror looks mature in all senses of the word. She certainly doesn’t match the image I have carried of myself through most of my life—the image of someone young, a child even. Someone who giggles and speaks in a sing-song voice. Someone gentle and mistake-prone and completely lacking in authority and wisdom. 
But the grey hair and smile lines have started to dupe the outside world. Apparently, they think I have something to say, as evidenced by the number of invitations I am starting to receive to share “my wisdom” at conferences and gatherings...
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Daring to Love Your Neighbour


I share a farm with five other families, a few singles, two cows and lots of chickens. Our farm balances on the crest of suburbia. As in, across the street from our muddy fields lie 600 cookie-cutter homes, almost all built within the past five years.

Back in December, as an expression of neighbourly cheer and communal togetherness, we decided to go Christmas carolling in this brand-spanking-new neighbourhood. We put up flyers on neighbourhood mailboxes and invited them for hot apple cider before and after the wassailing.
The first two homes we approached proved very promising. We belted out Frosty the Snowman with gusto and the children laughed and the moms’ eyes sparkled.

This was such a good idea! We would be like pied pipers spreading neighbourly affection! This was sure to become a cherished neighbourhood tradition and all our neighbours would sing our praises because we had started it!

The next string of houses proved not so promising. People opened their doors a crack and then slammed them shut. Some peeked out their front door windows and then walked away without a smile. The saddest moment came when we met a woman on the sidewalk. She emerged from her car, donning party clothes and had a gift in hand. As our paths crossed, someone in our group started singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas and we all joined in. In response, this woman tucked her chin into her chest, stared straight down at the ground and sped past us, ducking into the house without a glance or smile. Our voices died out like a record player that had been unplugged.

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