All Are Welcome! “The ‘Welcoming’ Church/Christian”

Welcome to my blog! I welcome you no matter your political ideology, sexual orientation, gender identify, faith/religion, race, sex, age, nationality, or immigration status. Before beginning my service year I completed an amazing week long training and orientation through the Young Adult Program. A similar statement was made and it really hit me.

Typically churches/organizations don’t make this statement however, all churches/organizations are welcoming, that is not to say that all people are welcome!

I believe that it is important to make a statement of who is welcome; either to a conversation that is being had or to a service. As a person who’s two biggest intersectionalities in life  are my faith and sexual orientation this is an important statement. My past church experience (this was early 2000’s) was unsurprisingly terrible. My story is not uncommon, as sad as it is. What does make my experience slightly different is that I came back. I came back to the same welcoming and loving God however, I came back to a different community and church. Just like my last community/church they told me who was welcome…EVERYONE. This is important to myself, and I also know that it is important to folks who are not heterosexual or identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. I believe this welcome statement should be made by a church. If a person has not been welcomed in the past going back to church, particularly a new one, can seriously be a terrifying experience. This statement does not need to be a grand show you put on every Sunday prior to a service, although if you feel the spirit moves you in such a way then you do you. It can be a banner hung outside saying “All Are Welcome,” hand some flyers out/put up signs, put it in a bulletin, or some other way that people know this.

So frequently when you ask a non-church goer who goes to church you will get the response of the “righteous,” if that is the case those pews better be empty as well as the pulpit. Just gonna drop a classic here, “for all have sinned and fall short the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The House of God is meant for all; the right, the wrong, and the indifferent. It does not matter if you are white or a person of color, who you love, what gender you do or do not identify with.

What matters in my opinion is your love for God, people, and to the wonderment about the word and world of God.

Peace and Love,
Lukus Ebert

Ramadan 2017: My Interfaith Journey

This year I have been working at an interfaith organization, and have engaged in interfaith conversations. I had a co-worker who is Muslim tell me that she observes the Christian time of year Lent. Every year she makes a similar sacrifice of giving up something that separates her from God. I felt moved and empowered in my faith that someone would take the time to understand another person’s religion, their practices, and the significance of them. Then take it a step further in observing an aspect of that practice. I decided that I was going to learn more about Islam not to convert, but to understand. I read about the five pillars; Faith, Prayer, Charity, Fasting, Pilgrimage to Mecca. Fasting is one aspect of Ramadan and the one I observed, but it is much more than that.

It is the month in which the Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. As a result, Ramadan is also known as the month to recite the holy text even more eagerly and with renewed dedication to completing the task. It is mandatory for all Muslims upon reaching puberty, as long as they are mentally and physically sound. The elderly and chronically ill are exempt from fasting; however, it is incumbent upon them to feed the poor instead if they possess the financial means. The fast is not simply about denying your body food and water. It also involves arguably the more taxing challenge of avoiding ill speech, arguments, loss of temper and malicious behavior. The whole point of the fast is to demonstrate submission to God and keep the mind focused on a spiritual plane. The fasting day is book-ended by two meals: suhoor and iftar. Ramadan culminates with the three-day Eid Al Fitr holiday celebrating the end of the fast.

Now that Eid Al Fitr has passed part of my celebration is sharing my Ramadan story. I spoke with my two coworkers who are Muslim, Sadia and Imaad, on tips and what to expect. Friday May 26th was when Ramadan started this year. At 5:30am the next day my alarm sounded an indication to get up, but also the sun would be rising, it somewhat felt like a race against time. I consumed a large amount of protein and complex carbohydrates. I ate a delicious tofu scramble, dairy-free yogurt, fruit, and as much water as I could handle. The clock struck 6:30am I cleaned up from breakfast, and started to pray. I prayed for about 10-15 minutes asking God for strength, faith, hope, patience, and direction in this journey. I did some yoga to stretch and focus for the day. I picked up my bible and started reading. I looked at the clock it was already/only 8:30am. It was Saturday I had nothing going on and was rather tired so I went back to bed.

I got up everyday at 5:30am cooked, ate/drank, and brushed my teeth in the next hour, it was a true race against time. Sometimes I fell short; I didn’t get up (those were very long days) or I ran out of time and was unable to finish breakfast. At 6:30am began the rather long 14 hour fast of food and drink. I took the early morning time of the next two and a half hours prior to work by practicing my own faith through prayer, reading some spiritual text (typically the Holy Bible), and mindful walking. Much of my strength to get though some days relied on God/prayer. I don’t believe I have rested more in my life than during Ramadan. I would get off work and sleep or lounge on the couch until 6-7pm.  After a week or two in the morning I would think to myself “it has only been x amount of time” and then in the evening after I broke the fast it was “wow, it has already been x amount of time.” About an hour or two before I broke fast my roommates would kind of avoid me/keep clear of the kitchen for fear of the hanger. I only experienced hanger once, we went to a local bar for trivia and it was an hour before I broke fast. The waitress sat down waters and went to take our order I sat by while people ordered and I looked longingly at my glass as the longest hour of my life pasted me by. I got nachos and drank water however, I was still hungry and thirsty. The placed was packed so our waitress was too busy to frequently check on us. I snapped at a roommate over a trivia question, and excused myself and later apologized. My roommates and co-workers were very understanding, supportive, and helpful during Ramadan.

I have never come to appreciate water more in my life especially living in Texas in the summer. Mid-morning I would be so thirsty, it would subside, early afternoon I would be so thirsty again, it would subside, right before I broke fast I would be at the peak of thirst. On the first day I practically made myself sick, I drank too much water in a period of minutes with nothing in my system. I had to rest for almost two hours before I could eat because my stomach hurt so bad. From then on out I seriously had to tell myself out loud to drink slow and in small drinks.

It was one of the most spiritual times in my life. As it was a new practice so I was very intentional and aware of many things. It was like Lent 2.0, but with way more fasting. I believe that I grew more as a Christian, closer to God, and to closer to my friends of all faiths (this includes no faith). I am very grateful for the experience and my Muslim brothers and sisters. I am lastly thankful to Allah (Arabic for God of the Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) for the strength that was provided. I believe this experience opened my eyes to live more like Christ by walking with other’s on their faith journey.

I truly encourage people to experience another person’s faith tradition at least just once. I encourage this not to change or denounce one’s beliefs. However, so we can live with others in harmony, love others, and have kindness through actions.

Peace and Love,
Lukus

Lent > 40 days

Lent has a very special meaning to me, it is a representation of the sacrifice that Christ made so I can be forgiven and given life. It is also a time to make my own sacrifice…less intense obviously. I truly evaluate my life and they way I live, and where I can make sacrifices. The most beautiful thing about lent is how it can be very individualistic in the sense of what people sacrifice is personal to them. There is a communal sense though too; church services, prayer, meditations, etc. The uniqueness of lent is amazing.

The sacrifices that I make are something more than 40 days for me. It is more than sweets, cussing, or materialistic things. If this is a sacrifice that you make, and it is how you becoming closer to God during lent that is also amazing, there is no wrong way to do lent. There is not a list of approved things to sacrifice because it is so unique and personal. Lent just like your relationship as a whole with God (no matter your faith or name you have for a higher power) is personal, only you and God get to define not another person or group of people.

My relationship with God and lent is something life-changing. Over the past few years I have really looked at my behavior and lifestyle. I think about the way I live and act to see where there are ways I can live more like Christ through sacrifice. I also evaluate my beliefs and see if my actions align with those. In past years I gave up my selfishness of time by volunteering at least three times a week for 40 days. I don’t volunteer as much as I did during lent however, ever since then I volunteer more than I did. I value service and helping others, but I wasn’t acting on it so I kicked it up a notch. The year after that I gave up my greed of money and materialistic things. I donated everyday for 40 days. This was by donating to the charity jars at stores/restaurants, giving to the offering tray at church, twice I went grocery shopping and gave the whole cart to the breadbasket that was asking for donations outside Dillons and Hy-Vee. Ever since then I give much more than I used to because I realized this is not my money or things to give these are God’s, all that I have is through God and because of God. I can’t take food, money, or other material possessions with me when I die. I have what I need and anything extra is for others. So now we come to this year.

It was a week before lent began and I still didn’t know what my personal sacrifice was going to be. I was on Facebook scrolling through, this is what I could’ve giving up, when I came across zero waste lifestyle. Here is a link to the video:  https://www.facebook.com/TheRecyclingStore.org/videos/vb.830227210415772/976738525764639/?type=2&theater
I chose to do this because as a environmentalist and advocate for living green I really looked at how I was living. I follow the four R’s reduce, reuse, recycle, rot (compost, although I wasn’t doing this as much as I should) which means everything else went to the trash. I am really no different than the average person of producing about 4.5lbs of trash per day. I did my research on ways to reduce this number to zero. Here is a picture of how I did it, and how much I had.
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The top two is how I reduced my waste when shopping I used cotton bags that I purchased for bulk items before transferring them to jars. I purchased and used reusable bags for my produce; they are breathable and washable. I obviously continued to use reusable grocery bags when shopping. The only trash I produced…receipts. The bottom two are pictures of said receipts the left just them in a pile and the second them lining the hallway in my house. Receipts ARE NOT recyclable, I’ll say it again for the people in the back, receipts ARE NOT recyclable. Two things that are commonly recycled, but aren’t actually are frozen produce bags and receipts. Produce bags have added preservatives and other chemicals that assist with the preservation process. Most of today’s receipts contain this chemical called “Bisphenol A” or more commonly known as BPA. It is that little chemical that is a bit of a hot button as it has some adverse health effects. When BPA is recycled the chemical does not go away or deconstructed to be “safe.” Don’t recycle this because it is then mixed with the other papers in recycled paper products. So what am I to do with all these receipts…art! Still working it out, but I will figure it out.

The sacrifice for giving up waste is convenience. I really had to evaluate when shopping and eating out what containers are recyclable, what trash was I potentially going to produce and what to do with it. Unfortunately, not everyone is up on the times of no receipts or email receipts. It was important to note if when I denied a receipt that one wasn’t getting printed, frequently they automatically print one and if you don’t want it they throw it away for you. When I grocery shop I really just buy produce and bulk items (grains, beans, nuts, dried fruits, etc.), on occasion I might buy something in a jar or tub that I can reuse or recycle. I brought reusable mugs to coffee shops if I needed it to go. I took all paper trash with me (napkins, Stevia packets, receipts); I recycled the packets and composted the napkins. I air dry my hands or take the paper towel in public when washing my hands. I took everything I used with me from restaurants, coffee shops, stores, etc. I switched to bulk soap for laundry, body wash, dish wash…because soap is just soap. I switched to Tom’s of Maine deodorant as their’s is the only one that is fully recyclable as it is a plastic #5. Also, I signed up for http://www.terracycle.com/en-US/ they are a recycling program that recycle things some facilities won’t.

Even though lent in the liturgical year is over I continue to live a zero waste lifestyle. In the 40 days of lent I kept 180lbs of trash out of landfills and incinerators. If I live a zero waste lifestyle for the rest of my life I will keep over 100,000lbs of trash out of landfills.

I am an environmentalist and green living advocate because of the love I have for God and God’s great creation…you, me, and the earth beneath.

If you have questions about living zero waste or would like to try it for a bit let me know.

Peace and Love,
Lukus

Are We There Yet? Where Are We Now?

“Welp, here we are halfway through my year of service! I find myself asking the question, “are we there yet” in the sense of is the next chapter of my life starting? Although I know when my year of service will end I sit anticipating August. I know that next in my life I will be going to Seminary, finishing Seminary, getting a job in the pastoral field, with some other things sprinkled in between.  And as I wonder when the next part of my journey in life begins or my next calling is I find that I can miss the chapter that I’m reading and just get caught up in the excitement to figure out what’s next; whether that be the next job or starting Seminary next year. It’s a delicate balance of are we there yet and looking around to see where you are right now. It is like looking ahead but at the same time being present in moment. You don’t want to look too far ahead that you’re not living for the right now, but you also don’t want to be in the moment so much that you’re not seeing what’s next…so it is difficult to say the least.”

I have the first part in quotes because my journey feels like it has come to a stop or at least a slowing down of sorts. It came on Sunday March 19, 2017 I received a call that Barb Mather had passed away. Who is Barb Mather? She was an integral part of my life for as long as I could remember. She gave me advise when I needed/wanted it. She could give you a hug that rivaled even your grandmother. She cared for me and treated me as if I were here own son. I frequently referred to her as my second mom, and would on a occasion call her “mom” because she took on that role at many times in my life, particularly after my dad got custody of my brother and I. Barb was there when my parents got a divorce and was my grounding place.When I received news of her passing it was as if someone had told me that my mother had passed. The only thing that gets me out of bed currently is coffee, a fake smile, and the strength I find in knowing and loving God. “Cause me to understand the way of your precepts, that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds. My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” Psalm 119:27-28

When I think about the journey of life I remember last summer when I helped with vacation bible school (VBS) at my church back home. I was the imagination station leader, and one of the activities we did was drawing out the journey of life. We started with what we wanted to be when we grew up, and drew a straight line there because that is how the journey is imagined or at least hoped for. Even though we have this idea of the journey ideally be straight there we know that there will be twists, turns, loops, and dips in the journey. Although, I have experienced some major twists, turns, loops, and dips in my journey death is different it can be a break in the paper; the pen lifted or just stopped there for a bit. It is different then the car overheating, flat tires, spills in the car, running out of fuel, etc. it is like the engine just fell out at whatever speed your going if you were on a road trip. Although I can look ahead and see the next part of my journey still, a passenger in my car is gone. I know that I will heal from the pain I currently feel as I have before, and so have others, that is not to say that there will not always be a slight sting where she was. As the healing continues I will seek my strength and hope in God and His living word.

Don’t forget to stop and look around, and ask “Where am I now?”

Peace and Love,
Lukus

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncomfortable Seating

The day had finally come that I had been waiting a couple of months for, I was going home. I was nestled comfortably back into the the Flint Hills in the lovely city of Manhattan, KS. I went to my favorite places to eat, got to see friends and family, and enjoy other local things (Bloody Mary’s with Kevin on Thursdays). It was like nothing had changed, but I had. When I moved from my home answering a call from God to serve I knew that I would experience life-changing things however, I didn’t believe that I would be ready to leave Manhattan when I returned.

I was back for 15 days, 10 days too long. I was so happy to see everyone when I returned and got all the hugs from clients at Big Lakes, shared memories and stories with friends and family. After five days of being in Manhattan I was ready to go back home to Austin. When I first thought to myself “I miss Austin” after being home for only a few days I was shocked. It wasn’t just because of the weather either. So the next 10 days flew by and I continued to think what is it about Austin that I missed. What is it that I would rather be there and called this new place “home” over the place where I was raised for my entire life; made friends, had family, went to school most of my life, and started a very fulfilling job. I talked to friends about living in Austin and reflected on the few months that I had been in Austin. Then I realized what it was; I was uncomfortable back in Manhattan. I was uncomfortable because it was so comfortable. I left my bubble that sheltered me from the real world, everything was so other to me. The hurt people experienced, the natural disasters, and the injustice people endured that I saw was from a screen. I was aware of the reality of the world, but it wasn’t in Manhattan. I donated monthly to causes, shared an article and volunteered as much as possible. The people who are in need in Manhattan either have services to assist in someway or are out of sight of the public for the most part. I am not nor do I want to make sweeping statements that Manhattan is this little utopia where everything is perfect and nothing bad happens or there isn’t hurt there.

When I think about my (un)comfortability in Austin I think of two situations: I have a pretty set schedule for Sunday mornings. I walk to church after going to the ATM to take some money out for those who ask for money on the street, attend a great service, then go to wait for the bus after church. So really the 30th of October was no different, it was another warm “fall” day in the heart of Texas. At noon on the last Sunday of October it was already a warm 80° and was going to go up and settle at a heat index of 90° . The metal of the bench that I sat on was rather warm, but this is not the uncomfortable seating. A man with disheveled hair, dirty clothes, tore up shoes, and a tattered bag, walks in my direction; a sight that I see almost everyday since moving here. The man walks up to a trash can, reaches in and is looking for something to either eat or drink, and he pulls out a to-go coffee cup and begins to drink the last few drops of the drink before putting it in his bag. I reach into my wallet and take out the last few dollars I have left, and call out to him “sir, here is something for a coffee or food.” He turns toward and looks at me with a look that I will never forget; a look of shame, sadness, and defeat. He shakes his head, turns, and walks away. The bus pulls up, I get on, find a seat, and sit in my uncomfortability.

In Austin there is a “no sit/no lie” ordinance, it is unlawful to sit/lie on the sidewalks in the city, but sleeping on benches legal. The reason for this law is that it “obstructs pedestrian traffic” so to “help” they put up more benches however, businesses complained that people were sleeping outside their business and the city removed most of them. I have seen this first hand shortly after moving to Austin. A man was laying down on the sidewalk on Guadalupe, a street I travel frequently, and there were two officers attempting to remove him from the sidewalk, I slowly walk by. Officer 1: “You need to get up and move, you already got a ticket. You want to be arrested too?” Man experiencing homelessness: “Come on I don’t have anywhere else to go. What am I supposed to do?” Officer 2: “Get up and try to get a job.” My heart beat races and blood boils; I want to go over and intervene however, “I don’t want any trouble.” I was uncomfortable with everything this man’s situation and how he was treated, the officers’ response, and my lack of response. I continued to walk trying not to cry or throw-up at what I just witnessed.

Anytime I see an injustice and do nothing for whatever reason; I don’t want any trouble, I don’t have time, I don’t have money, whatever unacceptable reason I give; I think of “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” “30…Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” Luke 10:30-35 I have not been in a situation I perceive to be as drastic as this however, there have been situations such as the one listed above that I had a similar response as the priest or Levite in the parable.

When I read, recall, or find my truth in the parable I have to remind myself that there are a number of situations in our lifetime that we are given a chance to help someone and it is our calling to help someone out. In this opportunity we are given the chance to help or stand-by, no matter what we do we take an action. Since leaving Manhattan there have been a myriad of chances to help others. This can be at work, at home, in my faith community, and/or when interacting with strangers. It is important to realize the opportunity given and to utilize it to help.

I have been thinking about churches and their response to the need in the world and communities. There are plenty of communities that are in need of help and advocacy as we are seeing lately. I see churches and Churches taking action and do the “Christ like” thing; I define this as standing up for those who need help being seen and heard as they are pushed down by the privileged. However I see the flip-side there are churches who sit idly by and watch the injustice happen. There is a church that I walk by frequently and they have two signs laminated and posted on their doors; “No sitting, no loitering, no sleeping” and “All items found on property will be thrown out.” These signs are meant for those experiencing homelessness, instead of welcoming all and helping people these statements say “you and your things are not welcome here.”

It is one of the reasons why I chose the statue of the homeless Jesus sleeping on a park bench. I find myself uncomfortable everyday, it is how I stay woke with everything that is happening everyday in this messy broken world. It forces me to find courage, anger to use in a constructive way, compassion, hope, and love for God and people.

Peace and Love,
Lukus

Awake in Mexico

11/01/2016:
The time is 6:30pm I stand hand-in-hand with about 30 people in a circle around three white wooden crosses. The cool evening breeze, smell of car exhaust, and the sound of border patrol dogs barking doesn’t drown out the reality of what just happened.
The 30 of us walked about a quarter of a mile and took turns yelling out the names of the over 260 people. A wooden cross to represent each of them before laying their cross on the side of the road as we walked toward the US/Mexico border. These 260 plus people were found died in the desert in Cochise County, AZ since 2000. That is more than one death each month in this one county trying to reach freedom. We cross the border and have dinner while I try to process what just happened and the dozens of people who’s cross say “No Identificdo” “Unidentified.”

11/02/2016:
I bounce up and down in the back of a dusty Honda Odyssey driving through the desert. Mountains on all sides of us and a rust colored wall ahead. We stop at two blue 55 gallon drums under a tree that are filled regularly with water for migrants traveling through the desert into unknown territory in hopes for a better life. A man named Raúl talks to us about the desert and a migrant’s journey. Then it’s time…time for us to make that journey.

As I walk through the desert I see footprints of migrants ahead of us who have walked this same path. We keep a look out for snakes, scorpions, cacti, and other harmful things. We jump across washed out paths, and walk down in a washed out path 4′ by 6′ in some places. The washed out path opens up considerably wider and we walk under some trees, we see food wrappers and empty bottles. Raúl explains that these are areas where migrants have camped out typically for 1-3 days before continuing. We come around a bend in the washed out path and there it is a towering rusted giant. The border wall. It takes my breathe away.

I approach the wall slowly with an outstretched hand and touch the mighty beast. It is rough to the touch and has slots just big enough to sick a hand through. I peer through the fence to “freedom.” I reach through carefully not to scratch my hand on the barbed wire or pull the cord that is the sensor alert so the border patrol knows that migrants 20161102_133506are there. I pull my hand back and walk away with tears in my eyes as I think about all those names we yelled out not 24 hours ago. I think about the thousands who will die and the countless who already have. I sit down looking out at the vast desert landscape thinking about nothing and yet everything at the same time. The group walks back together, but not talking about what was seen or felt. I sat numb for the rest of the time. Time is a bit of a blur until dinner.

We sit in a circle listening to the Director of CAMA (a migrant shelter). The patrons are those going to the US and/or those who have been deported and waiting to see where God is calling them. Five of us sit at a table with a short man with a kind smile. He shares his story of his migration thus far. He has been beaten and left for dead before, and has traveled a long way to reach the US. He has reached out to a coyote (a smuggler of illegal immigrants) who tells him it will cost 5000 pesos (over 275 dollars) to cross. Which he can not afford. However, no matter the adversities he still holds strong to his faith in God.

He then ask us a question that takes me by surprise. “How are you feeling right now?” I realize I haven’t been processing feelings so much as information. But there I sat now dealing with my emotions and not information. The only one I think of is “overwhelmed.” He then asks “why?” “Because I have taken in these experiences, information, this joy, this sadness, this everything, and I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know how to help.” He smiles again in a very understanding way and then responds. “Pray. Pray to God for strength. Pray to God for migrants and their families. Always pray.” We leave shortly after that.

11/03/2016:
Today was the least emotionally draining day so far. The good thing was there wasn’t much new and trying information. Unfortunately, I continue to put off processing what I have experienced thus far. Which I didn’t mind, as I needed a mental health day. We volunteered at a local community garden.

We later had dinner with the woman who had made breakfast for us everyday while we were there. We all sat together with her and her five children (ages 3-16) and ate tostadas, laughed, and chit-chatted. After dinner and fellowship the children and the young adult volunteers played outside with a soccer ball under a street light laughing and smiling…a universal language.

11/04/2016:
We sat in a park talking and hanging out while we waited to talk to a border patrol officer…to say he was honest is questionable. We drove to the wall where we prayed and then drove two hours to Tucson to see one of the most disturbing things I have every seen.

The U.S. Federal Courthouse in Tucson is a towering building where “justice” is served. You know when you’re really hungry and you cook/heat something up, but it is not quite cool down and you burn yourself…that is what “Operation Streamline” is. “Justice” so quick you don’t realize it burns. We step into a quite courtroom there are 70 defendants all awaiting trial. Their crime? Not crossing the border at a port of entry to receive proper inspection. These 70 people get a lawyer who is assigned to about 6 of them at the same time. They get about 30 minutes with their lawyer; who has to explain the process what they’re being charged with, what it all means, and guide them to take a plea deal to only receive a misdemeanor and not a felony.

In groups of 6 they go up at a time, each one has their name stated by the judge, asked if they plead guilty, given a sentence amount (30-180 days) which they will serve before being deported back to their country when it is convenient for the US. All of these people have crossed within the past few days, about five of them where arrested by Douglas, AZ where we yelled the names of the deceased. That means they were in the same area I was just days ago in the same desert at the same time, and I didn’t even know/think about it.

11/05/2016:
We watched a heart-wrenching movie “Locked in a Box” which documented immigration detention centers. We talked with “Casa Mariposa Visitation Project” and wrote cards to all those at the Eloy Detention Center in Eloy, AZ.

11/07/2016:
Kelly, Jake, and I drive for 15 and half hours back to Austin, TX; sometimes talking and sometimes sitting in complete silence.

Those were my journal entries from my week at the border delegation.

What bothered me most at the border delegation:

  • I always feel close to God in nature. Away from the sights and sounds of towns, cities, civilization…whatever you want to call it. However, walking in the desert in nature away from the sights and sounds I felt completely alone, I didn’t feel God’s presence. It was a terrifying feeling, my personal hell.
  • When we returned things were different my eyes were opening to a new reality and truth.
  • We have heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine” it is why I love laughing, smiling, and making it possible for others to do the same. However, there was nothing fun or funny about the places I went to and the feelings I felt this week.
  • The hardest thing about it is for once in my life I couldn’t help or provide for others like I am so used to. I help and provide for my family, friends, co-workers, and community yet this time I could not. I felt helpless and hopeless.

What I learned I can do:

  • Talk about my experience and teach others.
  • Journal about what I am feeling and thinking.
  • Write letters to law makers to change things and to detainees to give them hope.
  • I can pray for those who are in need.
  • I will continue to educate myself on immigration laws and issues
  • I will learn how to minister and help others

I want to close in a prayer:

¡Dios mío! Les pido que estén atentos a los migrantes en el desierto, a sus familias y que los mantengan a salvo. Oro para que tu mundo roto sea sanado, y que yo siga siendo fuerte y ayude a otros. Amo a toda la gente y te amo, por favor no me dejes perder el amor y la esperanza en un tiempo oscuro.
Amén

My god! I ask that you keep watch out for migrants in the desert, their families, and keep them all safe. I pray that your broken world will be healed, and that I will continue to stay strong and help others. I love all people and I love you, please do not let me lose love and hope in a dark time.
Amen

Peace and Love,
Lukus

Me, You, and the Space Between

I stand front row at a concert, the music of the Cold War Kids rocks through my body. The volume so loud it vibrates the walls and the audience…just the way a concert should be. It was one mass of people smashed together forgetting about personal space and popping all the personal bubbles. After the concert I sat waiting for the bus to take me home as I watched everyone get in their cars and drive home.When I got home I laid in bed thinking about the idea of space, not “the final frontier,” our physical presence and how much space we take up. In this blog I will be addressing a few topics in relation to space. How much space we, as a nation, take up. How much space I personally take up, or try not to. Lastly the privilege of mobility and moving through space.

As a nation The United States takes up WAY too much space for what we need. We take land from natives for resources we “need.” We force ourselves into areas of the world to take things that again we “need” looking at you our Middle East oil supply and countries who provide cheap labor. This exemplifies our constant demand for taking up unnecessary space. Then again according to Republican Nominee Donald Trump “we should have taken all of the oil when we were there,” even though I heard him say this during the debate just one of many times, I am sure he didn’t say it. The thing with oil and other fossil fuels is they don’t last forever, much like the organisms that made the fossil fuels. Green energy is the best way for us to continue to live comfortable. It can power our beloved cars, buses, trains, and other modes of transportation. Solar energy can even power our roads relaying less on the materials needed for asphalt and concrete check out what I mean by following the link “http://www.solarroadways.com/“. By no means will/can this happen overnight nor is it free. However, you can pay for this by redirecting the funds for current fossil fuel based construction/uses toward green energy and technology. Also, fun fact green energy takes people to make happen *hint, hint, nudge, nudge job creation.

I have been keeping up daily with the Syrian Civil War, I don’t know if I suggest it to many people…it can be rather emotionally draining. If you were to do a word association with someone who is somewhat aware of what is happening, one word that would come up would be “refugee.” Before I continue further I want to give you a frame of mind; the state of Missouri is almost the same size as Syria. Population wise Missouri is just shy of 6.1 million people according to “www.census.gov” while Syria had a population of 22 million prior to the civil war which began in 2011.  Some other numbers for your consideration; the UN has identified a total of 13.5 million Syrian’s who need humanitarian assistance. Out of the 13.5 million over 4.8 million Syrians are refugees that have been displaced to outside of Syria, and another 6.5 million have been displaced within. Unfortunately, with almost every world crisis, children are one of the hardest hit. In this case half (6.75 million) are children. They are ripped from their homes, have been physically injured by the warfare, lost a parent, are food insufficient, don’t go to school, and/or don’t know where they are going to be in the six months to a year. Over 12 countries have opened their space to those who are fleeing and are in need. If you’re wondering how many the United States have taken in it is a total of less than 15,000 compared to Germany a fairly equal country in many respects hosts 600,000. Looking at size Germany is close to the size of Montana! And that number doesn’t even come close to Jordan, which is ranked 3rd on the list of countries taking in refugees, at 1.2 million. This isn’t just the case for the current refugee crisis with Syria in general poorer countries are hosting refugees, a great article to learn more is “http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/10/ten-countries-host-world-refugees-report-161004042014076.html“. I ask myself why the US doesn’t take in more refugees in hopes that I forgot the reason,  but then I remember “terrorism.” At least that is why some citizens and politicians don’t want to, because every man, woman, and child is a terrorist or knows one according to many. Before I get pushed off my soap box I would like to state that by no means am I an economist or someone else working for the government to fully understand the full logistics. What I am asking for is to truly look at why we as a nation can not take in more and/or help with other humanitarian crises?

Now to take the heat off everyone and just put it on myself because the shade is making it too cold. Prior to moving and living in an intentional manner the way I lived was less than green. I drove almost everywhere in my personal vehicle. Shopped almost whenever I wanted for things I didn’t always “need.” When I did shop I pretty much bought everything new. Threw almost everything away unless it was convenient for me to recycle it. This past year I have definitely gotten better at recycling, however wasn’t were I needed to be. August 22, 2016 was the last time I drove my car, since then I have driven twice. I haven’t purchased anything new aside from food since being here. All clothing, books, small household items have been used. I would say 90% of the time I take the bus or walk when I personally need to get somewhere around town. I recycle everything, like seriously will hold on to things until I get to a recycling bin. I pick up trash/recycling when I am out and about, I am sure I look like a weirdo. However, I have realized something, I am okay with looking like a weirdo because at least I am a weirdo who cares about Mother Earth.

Which brings me to my last point of moving through space, and really the privilege of mobility. The nearest grocery store to me is a half mile away which isn’t bad at all…now for the catch. It is a co-op which is great for the local community however, if you don’t have a larger income it can be difficult to shop there regularly. It is about twice as much as the local H-E-B (the equivalent of a Walmart grocery section, Kroger, Publix or other low price grocery store in your region). Alright so I need to go to H-E-B then for groceries…it is a mile and a half walk according to Google only 30 minutes…without carrying anything. Well let’s take the bus it is only a 5 minute walk to the stop and 10 minute walk from the stop. You get to make this trek twice, once there and back, on the trip back you also have about 40-50lbs of groceries now. So it is biggest pain in the ass to do this…just once. The privilege continues, I don’t have to do this (thankfully) I have roommates with cars that take me there.

When I opened this blog post I mentioned waiting for the bus to take me home as I watched others drive home what I didn’t mention was it took a total of an hour to get home (between waiting for the bus and all the stops) for less than five miles to home. That is 50 minutes longer than if I had driven a personal car. The added frustration with the bus can be the time in between arrival times of the bus and start times of where I am going. Church for example, I can arrive about 20 minutes early or 10 minutes late for service. This would be similar if I had appointments around town, and needed to take off work for so much extra time. This is not to say I would stop taking the bus to take a fasten or my own personal car if I had one. I don’t mind this personally I feel like that I am doing the environment a very small favor by commuting via public transportation.  It is really the least I can do for all the benefits we get.

So what the hell is the point of this long rambling blog?!

I want you/us to think about the limited amount of space we have on this earth and how much are you/we taking up?

Peace and Love,
Lukus

Where is God?

WHERE IS GOD?

I don’t know how many times in my life I have asked this question. I do remember the first time I asked this question though. I was 10 years old and my parents told my brother, sister, and I that dad was “moving out.” I immediately was angry, hurt, sad, scared, and pretty much any other negative emotion one can have. I prayed to God to make my parents love each other again and let my life go back to the way it was. I got nothing. Fast forward five years I had to begrudgingly tell my mother I was gay. I had an immense fear that she would reject me. My fear was validated when my mother started crying, and when I asked her why she was crying, since this wasn’t really about her. She responded and crushed my world, spirit, and faith in God with just one sentence. “I am sad because you don’t get to join the family in heaven when you die.” I sat stunned for what felt like an eternity before asking my mother to leave me alone for awhile. When she left the only thing I could think to do was pray to God. I prayed for God to tell me what to do, to comfort me, to change my mother’s views. I prayed so much to God to CHANGE ME, make me “normal” so my mother, my church/pastor, and other people who turned their backs on me would love me again. I waited, and waited, and waited for a sign or an answer. I didn’t feel like I was asking for much I didn’t need a burning bush, shoot I would take a smoldering stick. Again I got nothing. So I was done. I left the church, threw my bible away, and I lost all love for the world that day. I kinda gave up on God because where was God when I was in need? Where was God!?

Despite this giving up I continued to do “check-ins” with God mostly just out of habit, and a little bit out of hope. I quit praying for my life to return to some sense of normalcy again. I quit being angry I just became numb. A couple years later I was walking on the Linear Trial in Manhattan, KS, and doing one of my “check-ins.” I told God I was done fighting and arguing , done being numb to the world, and done caring about the thoughts of others toward me. I was gonna let my life go wherever God lead it. After saying that I immediately got chills and then this sudden sense of calm and inner peace washed over me. At that moment I was back with God, but in a stronger way than I was prior to coming out. My love for God and the world came back with such a powerful force the only thing I could do was cry and thank God. I now always pray to God to give me feet like Christ to go where God calls, eyes like Christ to see the need in the world, a heart like Christ to have love for God’s world and for people, and lastly hands like Christ to do the needed work to healing broken people in a broken world.

Let’s jump ahead about 8 years to September 8th 2016. I was walking with one of my housemates downtown in Austin and on one of the blocks  I had seen something I was definitely not used to however, I had seen something similar in South America. There were a few blocks where the homeless population tend to congregate, and for more than a few this was their home. They were outside two shelters waiting for nighttime to come in hopes that they would get a bed.

So frequently when “we” (people who have much more privilege than others) see sad pictures of people in poverty or war-torn countries we ask ourselves “where is God” or make a statement like “if only they believed more in God or in the ‘right’ God they wouldn’t be there.” Here is the deal puddin’-pop that is not the right question or statement. It doesn’t matter the person’s level of belief or what they believe ALL people deserve love and compassion. It is not where is God, but where are God’s people? As a Christian (if this applies to you) or just a global citizen it is our responsible to care for one another. It is not God who put those people in their situations. It was people. It was leaders. It was a system of oppression put in a long time ago that we allow to continue. The homeless people downtown close enough to the Capitol that you could see most of the dome, just blocks away. In South America the slum was right next to the Capitol. These places are supposed to make laws to care for its people, but here we are. Why should they care though right? I mean if that person begging for money or help would just “pull themselves up from their bootstraps” and/or “get a job” the problem would be solved, right? Here is the problem with this ideology. A person who isn’t eating much or healthy can’t think about getting a job. A person who doesn’t have access to shower or laundry facilities can’t shower or have clean clothes for a job interview. So no they can not “pull themselves up from their bootstraps.”

I will tell you where God is…God is everywhere. God is in everyone, we just have to do the work. So I ask you where are the people?! Where is the person volunteering at a local soup kitchen/charity? Where is the person giving up a few of their dollars to a person asking for help? Or where is the person demanding change and care from the leaders?

WHERE ARE THE PEOPLE? WHERE AM I? WHERE ARE YOU?

Peace and love,
Lukus

The Squirrel and The Creek

Today started out in a somewhat predictable way, in the sense of I knew the schedule; I showered, ate a quick breakfast, grabbed a bus to a new destination, slammed a large coffee, and went to a beautiful place called Barton Springs. I opted out of the swimming and took a walk to reconnect with nature and talk with God. I was walking silently when I heard some squeaking like I had never heard before. I went to investigate and I found that there was a squirrel clinging to a rock (I can only assume he fell from one of the trees hanging over the water) and squeaking in distress as water rushed around it. I quickly threw my shoes and socks off, and started to shuffle across the moss covered ledge as water rushed across my feet and around me, a three foot drop to my left and to my right. I got off the wall and waded to the bank to get a branch. I got back on the wall, shuffled quickly back getting the squirrel to get on the branch, and lifted the branch above the water and headed back to the bank. After wading one last time through the waist deep rushing water, I got the branch and the squirrel back on dry land. The squirrel and I rested for about five minutes before he scurried up a tree, and I continued on the path on the other side of the water from where I started, but wait there’s more. The side that I ended up on was completely fenced off…so back across the rushing water and slippery ledge.

Why do I share this story? In hopes that you think of me as some Squirrel Saving Saint? No, although, that would be cool and unique. I share this story because as I walked back to the entrance of the trail I was thinking about that squirrel’s life and its recent events, and how I can relate to that feeling of what life can feel like. It can feel terrifying, overwhelming, and sometimes like you might drown. Over this past six months I have had several life changes some intentional, and others not. I recently followed where God was calling me, which in itself can be overwhelming and terrifying. I moved to Austin, TX. I left a place I called home my entire life. I left behind friends, family, my church family, my car, an apartment, 95% of my worldly possessions, and the most stable job I have ever had. I have found myself trying not to slip on the moss covered ground as water rushes around me and over me. I have the occasional twig bumping into me, avoiding quickly moving branches, and stones lying in the way. All of this to get to another side that is completely uncertain and unseen. So frequently I find myself in the squirrel’s place, clinging to a rock as water rushes by me and splashes me, and all I can do is wait and hope for rescue. Thankfully my rescuer isn’t some guy who is freaking out cussing most of the way as he almost slips I don’t know how many times. So who is this amazing rescuer of mine?!

My rescuer is God! Yes, I have friends and family who also rescue me at times. God though is always there even in my doubt and fear. It was my faith in God that helped get me through my year and a half of homelessness, got me clean of a terrible addiction, and despite failing out of college my first year got me through to graduation 5 years later and with a GPA over 3.2. And now I have faith in God that I will complete this year successfully. Although this year will have its rocks and branches on this slippery moss covered path called life, as will the rest of my life, I know that if I keep my faith in God and continue to love God, love people, and love the world this little squirrel will make it across to the other bank.

Peace and Love,
Lukus