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A Gathering of Soles

Several years ago theologian Stanley Hauerwas allowed me to come and visit with him at Duke University. Our conversation covered several topics and a few of the things he said stuck with me. One thing he said was this: “Jim, the point of a book is to start a conversation.”

While I am hesitant and wholly unqualified to interpret Hauerwas for anyone, I took that to mean the formation and deepening of friendships around a book are as important, if not more important, than the content of a book. Or, to put it another way,  books invite sharing; implicit to the value of a book is the community that grows up around it.

That certainly squares with something one of own professors used to say: “Jesus did not leave us a book; Jesus left us a community with a book”.

I am thinking that what those wise professors said applies to shoes as well. “The point of a pair of shoes is to start a conversation.” “Jesus did not leave us with a pair of shoes; Jesus left us a community with pairs of shoes.”

I have been hearing anecdotes about people shopping for shoes for the “10,000 Pairs of Shoes in 10 Months” Shoe Project for Remember the Children. One mom posted on her Facebook status line that buying  shoes with her young daughters prompted a great conversation about poverty and geography.

A nurse I know shared the story about the Romanian boy standing in the snow wearing flip flops with her co-workers in the surgery recovery room of our local hospital.  The next day her co-workers brought in shoes.

Another woman wrote me these lines:

“Some of my coworkers and I decided to go farther afield than usual for lunch last week. As our route would take us by Target (which is inconvenient from my regular commute), I asked the person who was driving if she’d mind to drop me there to check out shoes on the way back to work. As it happened, my coworkers went in with me too and each donated a bag o’ shoes to the cause! Another coworker found another shoe sale over the weekend and brought me more shoes. And my parents had me pick up some extras on their behalf while I was shopping. You’re right — this blessing thing is contagious!”

The students in a fifth grade class in Virginia have come together and created posters about our shoe project (some featuring the picture of the Romanian  boy) and taped them to the walls of their elementary school. They are in the midst of collecting shoes and money for the project. Their aim is to present what they have collected to Andy Baker of Remember the Children in March.

A book is not just a book. Embedded in the book is the opportunity for forming and deepening friendships.

Shoes are not just shoes.  Nested in the act of buying shoes is the  possibility of forming and deepening friendships.

A community of souls lies hidden in a gathering of soles.

‘You’ World Central

There is a Zen saying: “Before enlightenment, the mountain is just a mountain. During enlightenment, the mountain is not a mountain. After enlightenment, the mountain is just a mountain.” When we see the extraordinary in the ordinary we never see the ordinary in the same way again.

The Mountain is Just a Mountain

Take something as ordinary as a status line. Some of us drop a few words in there everyday and think nothing of it. Sometimes we report on what we are doing. Sometimes we make a joke. Sometimes we advocate for a cause. Most days we see it as a little space to fill with something, anything. The mountain is just a mountain.

The Mountain is Not a Mountain


Every so often we become aware of what it is we have at our fingertips. We wake up and see we are given this little space which, with a few key strokes, we could change a heart, start a movement, or contribute to solving a grave problem.

Before the bit of white space that is the status line we are given a choice, what will we write?

One Wild and Precious Life

The poet, Mary Oliver, describes a day spent idling in a field, a day in which her attention is narrowed down to the chewing of a grasshopper. At the end of her poem, The Summer Day, she asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I am reminded that a couple of minutes of my “one wild and precious life” is lived before the status line.

‘You’ World Central

This morning my wife, Linda, asked me to help her with something. She said, “Do it before you get on to another of your projects!” I laughed and joked: “Baby, my life is one big project. I sit in the middle of Jim World Central.”

I was just kidding. First there is a mountain.

Then, I realized: I do sit in the middle of Jim World Central! Then the mountain is not a mountain…..

You sit in the middle of ‘You’ World Central.

Technology puts you in the middle of it…and that for free! You are not the consumer of information. You are the publisher of information. You are not a donor. You are a relief agency. You are not a part of everyone else’s story. You are the story teller. You sit in the middle of ‘You’ World Central…

So tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life, your one wild and precious moment, your one wild and precious status line?

Resources to Help in Haiti

I have listed below a few of the humanitarian ministries and charities I’m familiar with.  I highly recommend any of them.

In some cases, I have also recommended some reading or other media that you might consider using.

I encourage everyone to give what you can and also to use this time of crisis in Haiti to educate yourself about the desperate plight of people in Haiti and around the world, as well as the great work these and other organizations are doing.

We are among the most blessed people on earth.  However, we are blessed to bless, given life to enliven.

“Freely you have received; freely give.”  ~Jesus

Thank you!

Jim Street

World Relief Highly recommended by my good friend, John Houchens.  John worked for World Relief and saw the great work they do “up close and personal” all over the world.

Partners in Health A great medical relief organization that has done some incredibly innovative things in Haiti.  If you want to read about this great organization, try Tracy Kidder’s book here. The organization, which is now on three continents, started offering care in Haiti by establishing a network of medical facilities.  Dr. Paul Farmer it is said is a “road map to decency”.  I highly recommend the 60 Minutes interview that was done with him back in 2008.

Samaritans Purse A lot of you have participated in their Christmas Shoe Box ministry.  Franklin Graham’s ministry.

Food for the Poor An organization that our ministry “4:4 No More!” has partnered with to dig wells in Haiti.   Really good folks; highly regarded.

Compassion International A great ministry.  If you want to hear a fantastic talk by the President of CI, Wes Stafford, and I mean a talk that will really knock your socks off, go here .  (It’s about a 90 minute talk. If you push the time marker up to 5 minutes you will pick up where he begins.  A great way to spend 90 minutes..trust me.)

World Vision Super ministry highly regarded and well known.  If you haven’t done so, I encourage you to take this Haitian crisis and use it as an opportunity to reflect upon the needs of the poor in our world.  You can’t beat Richard Stearns The Hole in our Gospel along those lines.  He’s the President of W.V.

Bread for the World Usually thought of as an advocacy group in connection with world hunger issues but they have provided a nice list for those who may want to give through their denominations.

CNN Impact List I know not everyone is a fan of CNN but they have done a great thing here listing top charities/ministries by category.  Already vetted.

Charity Navigator Top of the line evaluator of charities.  I encourage you to always turn to CN to get the inside story on the financial stewardship of charities/ ministries.   An excellent way to make the best use of your gifts and also a great way to avoid being ripped off.

Just Give A site that trades on social networking to not only allow you to give but also to invite your “circle of influence” to join you.  Great resources on giving as well as creative ideas to enhance your giving.

I thought I had seen it all.

The other night, Linda and I went into PetSmart to replenish our supply of training pads for our 15-year-old deaf, demented, and incontinent Jack Russell. We turned down the appropriate aisle and there, in a quilted blanket in the child seat of a shopping cart, sat a down jacketed miniature Doberman wearing pink, zippered boots.

We stopped and complimented her Highness on her choice of footwear. She looked at us as if to ask: “Well, what did you expect? That I would go out barefoot?”

“I guess when dogs go shoe shopping they always pick up a couple of pair,” I said to Linda. “Lucky dogs,” said she.

We picked up the training pads for Grandma Mosey and headed home.

The next day I, along with some of you, noticed that Andy Baker had posted some pictures of his latest trip to Romania on behalf of his ministry Remember the Children. I was stunned by what I saw: an 8 or 9 year old kid standing in the snow in flip flops. When I wrote Andy and asked him about it he said, “He’s one of the lucky ones. I saw a lot of kids out in the snow with no shoes at all!”

I was stunned by that. I know there are millions of kids in the world who have no shoes. I always thought of those kids as being in Africa or in Latin America. It had never occurred to me that there could be children in cold climates who have no shoes and no way to get any! (I blogged about that here.)

The other night I was chatting with Buzz Lance, another friend and former student at Milligan College, about my little project. Buzz observed that he had just seen an ad for an American Girls Doll and that even she had shoes. His comment reminded me of our little family forays into “Build a Bear”. In the good old U.S.A. even our stuffed bears are well shod. Later, I remembered that stylin’ miniature Doberman with her two pairs of zipped, pink boots.

We live in a country so wealthy that our dolls and dogs and stuffed bears have shoes while real, live honest-to-God children in rural Romania run around in the snow barefoot?

The more I thought about that the more outraged I became. That kids run around in the snow barefoot is an outrage, especially when you or I could go and buy a pair of decent shoes at Payless for $7 to $10 on sale, give them to Andy, who will be more than happy to deliver them.

But then I got to thinking: Why stop at 100 pair of shoes? Why couldn’t we get together 10,000 pairs of shoes in 10 months to send with Andy over to poor, country, gypsy kids in Romania?

I know that sounds like a lot but it’s not.

Follow this:

 Could you buy one pair of kid’s shoes for $10 or less?

 Do you know 10 people you could ask to do the same thing?

 Could you ask them to ask 10 people?

 Etc. etc.
4 generations of just 10 people buying one inexpensive pair of shoes would provide over 10,000 pairs of shoes.

If we really set our minds to it, we could do that in a month but, so as not to get haughty about it, we’ll take ten.

It just seems to me that something so simple, so doable…well, it would be shameful for us not to do it.

But then I thought about poor old Andy…

What would he do if we shipped him 10,000 pairs of shoes in 10 months?

So, I dropped Andy a line and asked : “Just for the fun of it, how would you handle 10,000 pairs of  shoes?”

“With joy”, he said.

So, I say we slam Andy with shoes.

Will YOU help me do this?

Here’s how…
(1) Send a cash donation to Remember the Children and let them buy shoes.  You can donate online or, if you prefer to send a good, old fashioned check in the mail send your donation to

Remember the Children
2611 W. 16th St.
Bedford, IN 47421

(for: Shoe Project)

(2) Buy a pair of shoes (or more than one!)  and send them directly to the address above.

(3) Conduct a shoe drive in your church or with your friends and send a bulk load of shoes to Andy.  (Ditto on the note…)

(4) Network: 10 x10 x 10, etc. and send shoes to Andy

(5) Use your ‘voice’. These social networking technologies allow us all to become “Ants with Megaphones”. Use a blog or Twitter or Facebook to tell others what we all are doing.

For about $10 and with a little effort and the use of your own voice, we could easily send 10,000 pairs of shoes to the poorest of the poor in rural Romania.

Remember: Somewhere a miniature Doberman is admiring her shoes…all 4 of ‘em!

Barefoot in the Snow

Every morning I check Facebook. I do it to see what is going on with friends and to look for the latest updates from some of the writers and thinkers I follow. Yesterday I came across an update from my friend and former student, Andy Baker.

Andy is the Founder and Director of Remember the Children, a ministry that provides assistance to the church and impoverished in Romania. Andy makes several trips to Romania every year and delivers needed supplies to families, children, and ministries. He just returned from delivering Christmas shoe boxes and other supplies last week.

Andy’s update on Facebook included pictures from his journey. I flipped through them to see dilapidated houses that lined the muddy roads as well as some of the children who received gifts from those who sent them via Remember the Children.

Dilapdated houses. Click. Poor children. Click. Mud and snow. Click. Poor children.

Andy’s pictures featured Roma children whose dark features hearken back to their ancestry in northern India. As I flipped through the pictures, I noted the children’s all-but-black eyes, the dingy clothes they wore, and the brightly colored packages they held. Many of the children had no coats.

Some of them wore layers of clothes.

Poor children. Click. Poor children. Click. Poor children.

I wondered whether Andy had included comments with the pictures. I scrolled down a bit so I could see the comments with the pictures and clicked through them again. There were comments.

A group of adults. “The team in Tinca, Romania…”

Click.

Dilapidated houses. “Living conditions are beyond belief.”

Click.

A smiling boy in a pink sweat shirt holding a gift box. “Thank you friends who sent boxes.”

Click.

A boy standing in the snow and holding a gift box. “We need to take shoes next year!”

I glanced down at his feet.

Flip flops!?!

I had not noticed my first time through the pictures.

Poor children. Click. Poor children. Click. Poor children.

Like you I’ve glanced at pictures of poor children for years. Sometimes I have seen them and like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan, I have passed them by. Sometimes, I have looked but have not seen.

“The poor you have with you always” you know.

On my second time through the pictures I saw this boy. I mean I saw him.

I cannot say that my first feeling was one of compassion or of sorrow. My first feeling was one of outrage. I felt outraged by my blindness, outraged by my apathy, outraged by my Christmas ho-ho-humness.

The word “absurd” popped into my mind and I remembered reading Henri Nouwen, who pointed out that the word “absurd” is from a Latin root that means “deaf”.

“Deaf”. Click. “Blind”. Click. That’s me.

Maybe that’s us, priests, and Levites on our way to the mall, to the Christmas Eve service, stopping by to gaze at a crèche at a half-naked child wrapped in swaddling clothes.

I caught Andy online and sent him an Instant Message.

Me: “Flip flops in the snow?”

Andy: “Shoes we gave them last summer.”

Me: “That’s all they have?”

Andy: “I am more bothered by the children who have no shoes at all.”

I swiped the picture of the boy.

Click. Save As. Click.

I am going to print it today and put it above my computer monitor, the porthole through which I gaze out upon the world.

I am also personally committing to sending at least 100 pairs of ordinary, everyday children’s shoes to the Roma next year by way of Remember the Children. I will be shopping after Christmas children’s shoe sales and spring time children’s boot sales in the Spring. And I will be bugging friends and family.

I would love for you to help me, help Andy, help them.

Can you add one more item to your after Christmas sale list?

Drop me a note and let’s make this happen!

It is patently absurd that these children, the least of these,  go barefoot in the snow.

The Viruses We Spread

We all know that we are only six handshakes away from anyone in the world. I wonder how many of us know how far our influence spreads. When you bless one other does your blessing only extend to that one or does your blessing spread beyond that one to others? And, if it does spread to others, how far does it spread?

Fascinating research in the study of social networks suggests that, on average, we have Three Degrees of Influence. The good you do for the one ripples beyond the one to his friend and his friend’s friend. What that means is that the good you do for this person has a positive influence on people you have never met, may never meet and who have never and may never meet you.

For example: Before lunch I ran into Buffy, who was disappointed that a project of hers did not get approval. I encouraged her. Buffy felt better. Buffy went to lunch with Biff who was lifted by her good mood. After lunch, Biff talked to Bubba and Bubba felt happier than he did before he saw Biff.

Of course there are many contingencies in this claim, actually too many to list. (How expressive are these people? How centrally located in a particular network?)

Also, in network-speak we are nodes in many exchanges. Good influences and bad influences ripple out of us and into us and through us all day long. (Maybe they cancel each other out!)

And the positive effect will diminish with each exchange. (Bubba will not feel as happy as Buffy or Biff and Biff will not feel as encouraged as Buffy.)

However, none of that takes away from the truth that the good (and the evil) we do to the one resonates beyond the one even to unknown strangers.

If nothing else, the notion of Three Degrees of Influence stirs my imagination and helps me to think about my moment-by-moment contribution to the general pool of communal well-being. I like to think that the good I do goes even further than the one for whom I do that good.

I think there is also benefit in thinking about the implications in terms of the kinds of people with whom I regularly associate. While we cannot avoid the toxins in life (Jesus said this: “It is impossible but that occasions of stumbling come into the world.”), we can certainly limit our exposure to them.

While I am open to the good and bad news- the truth, no matter how painful, is always friendly and always welcome- I limit my exposure to the outpouring of hatred, suspicion, and “snarkiness” that others seem to feed on.

I cannot imagine why I would expose myself to pundits who are always angry, always paranoid, always suspicious, and always fear-mongering. I don’t want that kind of emotional influence in my life and I sure do not want to spread it to others. We get to breathe enough toxins without subscribing to their regular delivery.

If nothing else, this idea of Three Degrees of Influence makes me mindful that I am a carrier of the good and the bad, the life-giving elixir and the death-delivering toxin. To know that I influence even people I may never meet reminds me to be careful of the kinds of viruses I unleash into the world.

In Our Brief Span

A few days ago I was walking on a trail beside the Chattahoochee River and came upon a beautiful granite bench that had been placed as a memorial to someone who had died only a few months ago.

The back of the bench had been engraved “In Loving Memory of Carla Mitchell Roberts”. The lines beneath her name included her dates of birth and death and then this epitaph: “Most Beloved Wife, Mother, Grandmother, Sister, Daughter, Aunt, Mentor, Caregiver, Volunteer, and Friend to All”.

I stood there a moment or two and wondered about who this woman was and how it was that the bench had been placed there. I wondered about how many people contributed to her epitaph. I could not help but think that a group larger than her immediate family had added their thoughts.

I envisioned a conversation where one person spoke about who she was within her family and another chimed in about who she was as a friend, and another volunteered what a great mentor she was and another reminded everyone how much time she volunteered. The bench, I surmised, must have been a community project.

I walked away from the memorial with the thought that  the essence of a life well lived is not to be found in the in the number of projects we get done or the amount of money we make but in the quality of friendships we create during our brief span of time.

This morning my friend, Paul Blowers, noted on Facebook that he was missing his dad, Russ Blowers, who died two years ago today. All day long friends have been commenting under Paul’s status line about what his dad, a pastor,  meant to them.

No one mentioned the numerous projects Russ  completed or the number of church buildings he built or the size of the congregations he served. To the person, those who knew Russ spoke about how he enriched their lives, blessed them, made them feel valuable. One person summarized everyone’s remarks: “He was everybody’s best friend.”

I came away from Paul’s Facebook Wall with the same thought I had down beside the river the other day. The essence of a life well-lived is found in the quality of friendships we create during our brief span of time.

This past week-end Jim Henderson, founder of the Off the Map  Idea Lab, was interviewed by Ira Glass on NPR’s “This American Life”. The theme for the week was “Bait and Switch”, which, for some strange reason, brought evangelistic Christians to the minds of the good folks at “This American Life”. (One of the staffers on that show shared with Ira Glass some of the techniques he employed as a part of Campus Crusade for Christ.)

Ira interviewed Jim because Jim has spent years trying to convince Christians to give up peddling Jesus and  just create and foster friendships with and among people. Jim’s reasoning is that when you become friends with people each person’s interests, values, and convictions just come up. Opportunities to talk about Jesus, and everything else, just emerge between friends. Whatever the outcome of those conversations, the friendship continues.

I have friends who love to hunt. I don’t hunt. They talk about it. I listen. I don’t take up hunting. So what? We continue on as friends. I am blessed by their friendship. I hope they are blessed by mine. How hard can this be?

Friendship is a way of life, an end in itself and not a means to an end. It is through our friendships that we reveal our true nature, that is, that we are created in the image and likeness of the God who is friendship.

A bench by the river, reminiscences of a pastor and friend and the words that ride upon the airwaves remind me: the essence of a life well-lived is in the quality of friendships we create during our brief span of time.

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