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The Grand Paradox

8 Feb

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Two years after Ken Wytsma published his debut book, Pursuing Justice, the pastor, educator and justice pursuer released his second book, The Grand Paradox.

I first heard from Wytsma in 2012 at The Justice Conference in Portland. The founder of the conference created an annual international event that exposes men and women to a wide range of organizations and conversations related to justice. My friend and I traveled to Philadelphia in 2013 for the conference and then to Bellevue last year to see a simulcast of the event that took place in L.A.

When Wytsma was getting ready to release his first book I was fortunate to be a part of his book launch team. It’s been two years since I blogged about Pursuing Justice, which remains my most-read post to date.

I’m excited to introduce you to The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith (Thomas Nelson). Wytsma is a genuine storyteller who pulls from his own life experiences of coming to faith at age 22 while a student at Clemson.

Wytsma is a pastor who loves the local church and uses The Grand Paradox as a way to have a frank conversation about the true nature of Christian faith.

I’ll let Wytsma tell you more about his new release in the following Q and A:

Q: How did the idea of The Grand Paradox come about?

A: The Grand Paradox was an attempt to address the tension we feel in life when we realize life is messy (messier than we think it should be) and God is mysterious (less clear and forthright than we think he should be). That tension is the life of faith — the walk where we choose to obey and follow despite the lack of clarity, presence of suffering or experience of doubt and dark nights.

The American church has a history of shading faith so we come up with false notions that everything is about me… it’s all individualized and ultimately is aimed at my well-being and blessing. Scripture, however, tells a different story. We were never promised exemption from difficulty or perfectly blessed lives simply because of our belief in God — rather, we’re promised that God is good and his ways are better despite the trials, despite the setbacks and despite the allure of sin and selfishness.

I loved the exercise of tackling most of the deep questions we wrestle with and emerging with a God-centered and joy filled answer: that faith, hope and love are possible even in the mess and in the mystery.

A side note, this book was also kind of a part two to Pursuing Justice. I discuss this in Chapter 5, but if we are going to give our lives away — show greater concern for others than for ourselves — the issue of faith and whether God will “catch me” becomes a very important one. God, if I live this crazy counter-intuitive life of love and service, will you truly walk with me and be there for me? Continue reading

The Justice Conference 2014

27 Feb
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Image from changedbythegospel.com

Feb. 27 is a day to bring awareness to the slavery of the 27 million men, women and children trapped in slavery all over the world, including our own country.

Freedom fighters will be displaying a red “X” on their hand to spread the word that slavery is very much still alive today and they won’t stand for it.

The End it Movement is less than a week after The Justice Conference 2014, which took place in Los Angeles. This year marked the fourth year of the conference, which serves to educate, inspire and connect those who share a concern for the vulnerable and oppressed.

The conference involves the gathering of teachers, leaders, artists, pastors and advocates who share what God has placed on their hearts to do in the justice movement.

I have had the good fortune to be a part of this powerful conference in person the last two years, and this year I had the opportunity to hear from the inspiring speakers through a simulcast. I think Lynne Hybels said it best when she closed out the conference stating the conference continues to improve every year. This year was no exception. WOW. The main speakers included a stacked lineup of those who work to bring justice, because it’s what God calls us to do.

Sometimes the messages were heart wrenching, sometimes they were funny, sometimes they made you angry, and always the messages were inspiring. We can make a difference when we give our life away to help others.

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Justin Dillon, CEO of Made in a Free World. Photo by Paul Kim/Kimberly Sink

I wanted to use this post to share what spoke to me last weekend from the two-day conference. Here are some highlights:

Ken Wytsma (conference founder) — justice is not a fad. You have to become less and others have to become more.

Donald Miller (author) — in reference to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll befriending gang members, Carroll doesn’t have the “I can’t change something” mentality. Turn your pain into a beautiful project to try to change the wold; not to succeed, but to find meaning.

Nicole Baker Fulgham — standing up for educational equity with The Expectations Project. Why does education matter? A: it’s a pathway out of poverty. The church is needed to raise awareness, take action in their local community and advocate.

Rick McKinley (pastor) — in a passion for justice you can become arrogant. How will you sustain the passion for people? If you believe you’re God’s beloved, He will let love extend from you to others and that will change the world.

(This was just from the first night!)

Continue reading

What I’m Reading Wednesday

19 Feb
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Girls Like Us.

The Justice Conference is almost here! And while we won’t be in Los Angeles to see it in person, we are traveling to a semi-local simulcast site for the two-day conference.

I had the good fortune to travel to Portland in 2012 and then Philadelphia in 2013 for The Justice Conference. And a thank you goes out to my friend Blaire who introduced me to the conference!

In 2012 one of the conference speakers was Rachel Lloyd, author of “Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not For Sale.” Lloyd established GEMS: Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, to support girls and young women victimized by the commercial sex industry. GEMS is not a rescue organization, but rather an empowerment organization.

At the conference Lloyd shared her own personal testimony and her journey to stand up GEMS. I borrowed Lloyd’s book from Blaire as pre- 2014 conference reading to read more into Lloyd’s story and fight for justice.

As I read “Girls Like Us” I could hear Lloyd’s British accent and powerful deliverance while speaking of a subject she felt called to stand up to. I found my 2012 notebook from The Justice Conference to read the takeaways from Lloyd. They include:

“Be selfless.”

“There are times in our life when we have to step out.”

“I am not defined by the pain I went through. I am defined by the woman I am, the people I love.”

“What’s your role right now? What am I doing in the next three years to make a change?”

“Our role is to plant seeds, treat people with love and respect and dignity.”

You can watch Lloyd’s video from the conference, as well other videos from pastors, advocates and educators on The Justice Conference website.

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The Justice Conference 2013.

What I’m Reading Wednesday

29 Jan
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Love Does.

Simply put, love does.

I strayed from my 2014 goal to read solely from my personal bookcase this year. With The Justice Conference coming up next month, my friend Blaire loaned me a couple of books she recommended, including “Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World” by Bob Goff.

Prepare to laugh, cry and be inspired by Goff’s personal — and sometimes outrageous — stories of faith and love. In his first book Goff shares his stories like he’s having a conversation with the reader over a cup of coffee.

As I read “Love Does” I couldn’t help but think I’ve heard some of the stories before. Then I realized Donald Miller writes of Goff’s family in “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.”

Goff is the perfect example of loving as an action. Rather than just talking of injustice, Goff pursues it. The lawyer is the honorary consul for the Republic of Uganda to the United States and is the founder of Restore International — a nonprofit human rights organization operating in Uganda and India.

I appreciate Goff’s transparency as he shared his stories of failure, but of course with a twist of humor. I was personally inspired by his statement if a door closes, sometimes God wants us to kick the door down.

Goff also shared many stories of friends who loved as an action. When Starbucks launched its breakthrough VIA-ready brew coffee, I was working at Starbucks as a barista. It was hammered in our heads to sell, sell, sell to make store goals of a new product. It’s a shame Starbucks didn’t share with its partners the incredible story behind the product’s inventor, to put a face on the man who saw a need and created it.

But I won’t spoil the story for you.

There is so much to take away from “Love Does” you might as well avoid taking notes and just re-read the book again and again.

This year’s Justice Conference is in Los Angeles. And while Blaire and I would love nothing more than to be able to travel for the third-straight year to the conference, we registered for a simulcast at a semi-local church.

One Child

29 Oct

One_Child_Logo_WebMy beautiful friend Blaire has a heart for foster care. She is a foster care case manager for Tacoma Youth for Christ, which is launching their One Child partnership program this week.

I’m helping to spread the word about this program that supports local foster children, but I’m going to let Blaire do most of the talking. I asked her to share with me about why she became involved in YFC, what their new program is all about and how the community can get involved.

But first, here are some stats for Washington state:

  • There are more than 8,000 children in foster care.
  • 75 percent of kids in foster care are separated from at least one of their siblings.
  • 400 kids age out of foster care each year, without having found permanency.
  • 55 percent return home.
  • 29 percent find permanency through adoption.
  • The average stay in foster care for Washington children is approximately 17 months.

Q: Why did you become a part of Youth For Christ?

Blaire: I have always had a passion for working with children. Even as I was growing up, I always felt there was something intrinsically wrong with a child feeling lonely or forgotten or not having a home. The job opportunity at YFC came at a point in my life where I was really searching and feeling like God was asking me to become more involved in serving and loving those in my own community (as I had been previously working in other social service agencies in King County).

We have a saying for our staff here at YFC, that we are “wildly devoted,” and I definitely feel like that is something that is true for me. I feel like I am in the absolute place that God has called me to, and though it’s very difficult some days, there is a reason and a purpose that I am here, to be used to help bring hope and restoration to children and families in my community. Our purpose through our foster care program is to see families restored (children returned home to their birth families). We also believe that every child deserves a permanent home, and in instances when a child cannot return home to their birth family, we strive to find permanent, adoptive families for those children.

Q: What is One Child?

Blaire: Tacoma YFC is a Washington state licensed foster care agency, but the state provides less than 70 percent of the total cost of foster care. One Child is much like a child sponsorship for Washington state foster kids. The heart behind One Child is to enable the surrounding community to rally around these kids placed in YFC foster homes. For $15 a month, or 50 cents a day, anyone can join the movement! In return, every month you will receive the handprint and a bio of a child in care which tells the story of how your money helped him/her. Mother Teresa said, “Maybe if I hadn’t picked up the one child I wouldn’t have picked up the 42,000 others.” This is the heart of one child — every child deserves to know that they are loved, that there is hope, and that they are not forgotten.

Q: How can people get involved?

Blaire: Prayer — for our birth families who are striving to make changes, and feel like there is no hope and that everyone is against them; pray for foster children, who may feel scared, unloved and forgotten. And consider becoming a foster parent. I was at the Refresh Conference last February (a conference put on by Overlake Christian Church in Redmond for foster and adoptive parents) and one of the speakers who was talking about Christ’s command to the Christians to take care of the orphans said “I know that every Christian may not be called to foster or adopt, but I do know that there are Christians out there who are being called that aren’t responding. How do I know this? Because there are still kids out there who need homes.”

My husband and I became a One Child sponsor today. If you want to become one too, visit their website.

Digesting The Justice Conference 2013

27 Feb

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Philadelphia and The Justice Conference 2013 are in the rearview, and we are back home in Washington state with our brains packed full with history and information. I will spend the next couple of weeks going through my notes and handouts and turning them into coherent blog posts, but for now I leave you with a quick blurb of what’s to come!

So about the conference.

In one word: Amazing. In more words: having the conference in a city with so much of our nation’s history was a perfect choice. And next year the conference returns to the West Coast in L.A.!

We arrived in Philly late Thursday night and the pre-conference started bright and early Friday morning forcing us to adjust to the three-hour time difference. Lucky for us our hotel was connected to the world’s largest convention center where the conference was held. I’m not sure if it really is the world’s largest, but a million-square feet has got to rank up there!

I attended break out sessions in regard to using social media for good, Jesus, Jazz and Justice, and how to bring flesh to vision. There were quite a few people in attendance from the West Coast, including Pastor Eugene Cho from Quest Church in Seattle, but more on him later.

The main conference opened with words from the conference founder, Ken Wytsma (who by the way has a book out Pursuing Justice that I highly recommend!). I actually had the opportunity to meet him and shake his hand. Ken spoke about not just doing justice, but becoming just.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” — Proverbs 11:2

I will go into deeper detail about the conference speakers, but for now I will share one of the highlights for me: Brenda Salter McNeil, President and Founder of Salter McNeil and Associates. She is an associate professor of Reconciliation Studies in the School of Theology at Seattle Pacific University.

Brenda shared about the “messy theology of justice” and left us with a call to action:

1. Examine your theology and the foundation that has been laid in your life.

2. Think about what it means to me to see an issue that causes my stomach to hurt.

What I have written so far doesn’t even break the surface of my experience at this year’s conference. It was reiterated at The Justice Conference to reach deeper in the pursuit of justice. In that manner my blog posts will also go deeper into what I took away from an amazing weekend.

But wait, there’s more! I will also be writing about the many amazing things we saw while being tourists in Philly. So please check back soon!

Preparing for The Justice Conference

31 Jan

I started shopping yesterday for our cross-country trip to Philly for The Justice Conference 2013. I was picking out little miniature shampoos and such (all TSA approved because I’m determined to carry on my bag!) and it made me think back to our experience last year and what I learned for this year.

I compiled a list of tidbits, pointers and suggestions I took away from last year’s conference, in both traveling as well as attending the conference. Please let me know if you have other suggestions to share!

1. Pack Kleenex. We were all a blubbering mess at the conference hearing sad stories, happy stories, stories of hope and redemption and we cried through it all. I think we were always stuffing napkins in our pockets. This time I bought several mini packages of Kleenex to fit easily in the suitcase.

2. Don’t wear eye makeup. See post No. 1. I normally wear contacts but am thinking I might wear my glasses so my eyeballs aren’t dry, red and irritated by the end of the day.

3. Don’t assume your travel companions are going to pack toothpaste. Three of us traveled together to Portland last year and we all assumed one of us would bring toothpaste, which none of us did. It also  happened to be the state wrestling tournament that weekend and the high school wrestlers staying at our hotel also forgot to pack toothpaste because the hotel front desk didn’t have a tube to spare. I think someone on our hotel floor ended up giving us some toothpaste. I am definitely packing toothpaste this time.

4. Pay attention to interstate signs. Luckily this year we are flying and using public transportation, but last year we drove the 2 1/2 hour drive south to Portland (key word SOUTH). We left the conference late Saturday night and were so jazzed about the weekend and our new goals and ambitions we hopped right back on I-5 south when home was definitely north. Before any of us realized we had added about 30 minutes to our travel time.

5. You’re going to want to write stuff down. I bought a small notebook I could feverishly record notes during the pre-conference sessions as well as the main conference sessions. After the conference I re-wrote my notes so when I looked back on what was said I could actually read my own handwriting.

6. Don’t be shy. There are going to be A LOT of people crammed into one location. They all have different stories but they all share a passion in the pursuit of justice. When you’re sitting a table eating lunch strike up a conversation with the people at your table. Find out where they’re from, what they do, what they’re passionate about. You will find connections and you will also learn about things you didn’t know about.

7. Bring business cards. You’re going to want to stay connected with some of the people/organizations you come across. Start ordering now and they should arrive in time for the conference. There are some really good online deals to order a box for about $10.

What did I leave out? What would you suggest to someone who is attending their first Justice Conference?

Inspiring Justice: In Allie’s Words

29 Jan
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Allie working with the Global Aid Network in Zimbabwe in 2009.

Inspiring Justice is a blog series that features people who are headed to The Justice Conference 2013 in Philly. The goal is to continue to inspire, educate and connect in a community that shares a concern for the vulnerable and oppressed. Please contact me at somerbreeze8@hotmail.com if you would like to participate.

Meet Allie. She is traveling to The Justice Conference from New York.

Q: How did you first hear about The Justice Conference?

A: I first heard about The Justice Conference through a close friend who wanted to attend, and knew that I would be interested as well.

Q: Why is the conference important to you?

A: I went to this conference with the intention of learning more about what I can do to make an impact on the injustices of this world. The Justice Conference is so important to me because I learned so much in the two days that I was there last year, about both social justice and how it correlates with what Jesus has called us to do. It is so crucial for everyone to know what is going on in this world, and that they can make a difference! It’s too easy for us to simply say “that is terrible” and continue to go on with our daily lives.

Q: What are you most looking forward to at the conference?

A: I am looking forward to learning more about modern day slavery and what I can do in my everyday life to not spend my money on products that support or use slavery in their production (i.e. coffee, clothes and chocolate to name just a few). I also look forward to the exhibition hall. It will be filled with organizations that are working hard to make an impact on this world, which provides attendees with opportunities to join what they are doing!

Q: What do you do or want to do to aid in the justice movement?

A: I am currently a full-time student at The University at Buffalo, but in my spare time I do what I can to impact my global and local community. Right now I am spending some of my afternoons in one of the more impoverished areas of Buffalo, doing homework help with kids, which also provides me with a great opportunity to invest in their lives. I also have plans in the works to return to Africa and spend three months in Uganda with the organization Childvoice International. I will be holding art therapy sessions for girls who have been victims of war violence and sexual abuse. I hope to one day work for a non-profit organization and use these passions that God has placed on my heart to impact this world in anyway that I can.

Thank you, Allie! See you in Philly!

Do Justice.

23 Jan

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I met Shawn Manley, president and CEO of Rooftop 519, at The Justice Conference last year. Named after Luke chapter 5, verse 19, Rooftop’s mission is “healing the sickest kids in the world in the name of Christ.”

Rooftop was founded in October 2010 and aggressively pursues solutions for children who desperately need medical attention.

Artists Inspiring Action partnered with The Justice Conference and Rooftop 519 for something truly special at the conference Feb. 22 and 23 in Philly. They are curating an interactive art installation in conjunction with the conference with the intention to encourage people to “do justice.”

The art piece will represent eight justice themes: war, slavery, homelessness, hunger, health, sanitation, education and family.

Those attending the conference will have the opportunity to participate in completing the art piece by hand painting a pre-printed canvas and filling free-form areas with their own contributions.

The second part of the project involves producing a book which highlights the stories of people pursuing justice.

To learn all about this project and how you can contribute please visit the project’s site.

What I’m Reading Wednesday

15 Jan

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The Justice Conference founder Ken Wytsma was the opening speaker at last year’s conference in Portland. He told the crowd they were at a “conference to die to yourself” and were “among 4,000 people who believe it’s better to give than to receive.”

Ken spoke about giving our lives away for the betterment of others. As the conference kicked off he said, “I hope you get crushed this weekend.” Boy, did I. My friends and I left the conference different than when we arrived. And there was one sentence he spoke that has stuck with me since and is what this blog is named after:

“We may not be able to fix the world, but we can change it.”

As soon as I started to read Ken’s first book, “Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things,” I was back at the Portland Convention Center listening to empowering and encouraging stories about justice, faith and finding true joy in giving ones life away.

In “Pursuing Justice” Ken uses the gospel, life experiences, history and various works of art to explain what justice really looks like, and how it’s knowing God as much as it’s serving God.

Here is my Q and A with Ken:

Q: You’re a pastor, a husband, a father to four daughters, the founder of The Justice Conference, President of Kilns College and a consultant and creative advisor to non-profits (did I leave anything out?!). How did you find the time to write “Pursuing Justice?”

A: Much of the book is what I have been living, learning and teaching for over the past decade…the rest of the writing was motivated by deadlines!

Q: How did the idea come to you to write this book?

A: I’ve felt called for sometime to try and get something out that would redeem the word justice and also show it’s relevance to the rest of the big questions: God, life and happiness. Much of what is out there either leaves people feeling guilty, over idealistic that we can “fix” the world or thinking that justice is about certain causes like Human Trafficking. In the end, justice is bigger, deeper and more central than all of that. It leads to joy (it truly is better to give than receive) and surfaces the need for grace both to cover us and sustain us.

Q: Why did you feel it was important to share your story with this book?

A: We all have a story. Mine is inextricable from what I’ve learned. Insights and lessons have come from both people and experience. Showing where that comes from will hopefully make the book more real and also help people to look at the voices and experiences in their lives that will teach them to see the world through bigger and more sensitive eyes.

Q: I enjoyed the format of the book with your words as well as inserting poems and other written works titled “Interludes.” What was the idea behind the format?

A: I’m a big fan of the arts and part of the lesson about justice is that it needs many voices to flesh out. I decided to include what we called “interludes” as a way of working in art and a greater larger cast of people into the conversation.

Q: While dialoguing, researching and writing this book, did you learn anything you hadn’t already heard or known before?

A: I think humility is the big lesson I’ve been stewing on. Justice is about standing up (which is so very necessary), but humility (which is about sitting down) is also so very necessary for us to see what we don’t see, recognize our flaws and be willing to celebrate others rather than trying to be the hero ourselves. The role of humility in justice is one that I continue to chew on and think about even now. It is an under explored facet of justice.

Q: What advice do you have for people who feel pursuing justice feels like a chore?

A: If pursuing justice feels like a chore then someone probably hasn’t connected it to proper motivation (delight and joy rather duty and guilt) or hasn’t found the outlet that fits their gifts or calling. When we connect justice to proper motivation and proper calling it will wear us out, but not burn us out. As Paul said, “I am being poured out like a drink offering.” In other words, I’m being emptied out with labor, but it is my spiritual act of worship. A phrase I often use to describe Paul’s statement is that the sweet spot is to fall in bed exhausted and empty, but with a smile on your face.

Q: This year marks the third year of The Justice Conference. What was your original vision for the conference when you founded it, and has that changed over the years?

A: The vision has always been to explore theology of justice in addition to talking about specific issues of justice. The hope is that in connecting justice as a necessary component to our knowing and being known by God that it will lead to deeper, more lasting and more satisfying engagement than if we just whip up group excitement about flashy causes. With the conference we are looking for lasting change and a unity between justice and Christian belief and practice.

In addition, we hope conference goers will be able to network and be exposed to hundreds of organizations, schools or movements leading to collaborative endeavors and engagement that, without the conference, might not have been possible.

Q: For those who are headed to Philadelphia in February for the conference, what can they expect?

A: I think Philly will be a lot of excitement as well as deep and meaningful talks sure to spark reflection, heart change and motivation to continue forward in pursuing God’s call to justice in our individual lives. The amount of pre-conference sessions and main conference speakers is far greater than any previous conference and is sure to be worth its weight in gold.

Lastly, there is something about the solidarity of thousands of people coming together for a weekend who share the paradoxical vision giving our lives away on behalf of others is where we’ll actually find true life.

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Pursuing Justice Quote Board

“When we act justly — when we give our lives away — we have the best chance of glimpsing what grace truly is and experiencing along the way, what Jesus calls ‘complete joy.'”

“If it is impossible to change the world, God wouldn’t have told us to try.”

“Justice is a thread running throughout the gospel.”

“Just as Jesus entered the world to give his life away, so too can we.”

“Every blessing is an opportunity to be grateful. Every blessing is an opportunity to give.”

“What will we decide to do with the time and opportunities we’ve been given? It isn’t enough to say we want to change the world — part of changing it is learning how.”

“Not only will the world not flourish if we aren’t giving our lives to it, but neither will we.”

“Justice is a necessary part of God’s call in the Christian life.”

“We don’t always need to see where the road leads — we simply need the faithfulness and commitment to take the next few steps in front of us.”