Every year, perhaps since time began (at least at Trinity) the Sunday School Advent/Christmas program has been an opportunity for members to gather hats and mittens to give to those in our neighborhood who need them. A Christmas tree in the Chapel serves as the collection point. Some of the gatherers have been holding onto their hats and mittens since the previous January, having bought them during the post-Christmas sales. Once in a while Trinity kids, some of whom may not have hats and mittens of their own quite yet, fight over who gets to put the hats and mittens on the tree. By the end of the day the tree, as scrawny as it may be, is covered with warm hats and mittens, all bought and shared with love. Some are hand knit by members. It can be a colorful sight to behold.
As people pack up the left-over food from the pot-luck and the scenery for the pageant gets put away, the mittens are put in grocery bags to be taken, at the earliest convenience, to the Brian Coyle Community Center in the neighborhood. The thinking is that it would be wonderful, perfect if the hats and mittens could be handed out right before Christmas. After all, who wants to spend Christmas without warm hats and mittens? What child doesn’t love finding colorful hats and mittens under the tree?
Except for one thing. After talking with Abdirahman to find a time for me to deliver them it turns out the best time to drop off the hats and mittens is, in fact, for the Fire and Ice event on January 23rd. The Fire and Ice event is a winter safety event for people of the neighborhood, especially those who are new to Minnesota. It is a chance to learn about how dress in cold weather and how not to fall on the ice and snow,
The people attending are mostly from Somalia and Ethiopia. Many have never experienced winter before, so it is not unusual to see recent immigrants out and about in the neighborhood on a cold winter day with bare hands and wearing sandals.
They also are almost all Muslim. Which means Christmas is a non-event for them. They see all of the consumerism, the frantic shopping and preparing around them, but the day itself is not important. What is important is the event scheduled for January 23rd, where they will learn how to stay safe in their new home.
So, the bag sat in my office until January 22. That is when Abdirahman suggested they be delivered since he has no storage room in his office. A number of people who stopped in my office asked why the mittens are still there. It is, after all, more than a month since they were collected and Christmas is long forgotten. We are long past the twelfth day of Christmas.
No one was upset or angry, only surprised. It was to be as much about Christmas as it was about providing warm hats and mittens. For us. But not for the people of the neighborhood. For those who would receive them it was about the hats and mittens that would keep them a bit warmer and safer in the cold days ahead.
For over a month every time I walked in or out of my office I saw the bag sitting there, reminding me of the amazing place in which Trinity finds itself. A place where language and culture often do not mesh, where even the calendars that guide the rhythms of our lives are different. Even though the hats and mittens were a part of the frantic pace of the time-before-Christmas for us, they were simply much needed gifts for those who received them on January 23rd.
The Christmas hype and consumerism were long over with and the gifts were received as pure gifts. The true meaning of Christmas happened in spite of us, in spite of the calendar. In the midst of people who were simply grateful to have warm hats and mittens.
Original Journal entry date: 2/2/15
© 2019 Jane Buckley-Farlee. All rights reserved.
Two weeks later. Our second Tea and greeting happened as people came out of Friday prayers at ICSA/Dar Al Hijrah*. It was much warmer, near 60 degrees, which is almost unheard of in Minneapolis in February.
As we waited for people to come out of Friday prayers I watched a video (13 minutes) simply panning the folks mingling and drinking tea and coffee. It brought tears to my eyes, tears for which I do not have words yet.
This time there were 3 or 4 times as many people to serve tea. It was amazing. People from St. Peder’s, Nokomis Heights and Mt. Olivet were there. I heard one man ask if it was happening again. We all seem to be looking for a way to speak out against the current narrative of fear and hate, a narrative that is based largely on not knowing. We seem to be looking for a connection and a way to say that God is big enough for all of us.
People lingered longer and talked more. Conversations went on. Pictures were taken. Everyone was again so grateful – grateful for the warmer weather, grateful for good Somali tea, grateful for new friends, grateful for an opportunity to show our Muslim brothers and sisters that someone cares, that there are Christians who want to make a difference. Some who had come to Cedar-Riverside were already asking when the next one would be.
It turns out that our first Coffee and Tea made it on the news in Somalia and was then seen by Somalis around the world. Apparently other mosques are asking for something similar. What will become of that?
The fear is still great among our Muslim brothers and sisters. The need for community coming together is greater.
Protests and marches have their place. Many different voices are needed at times like this, when one’s neighbors are not feeling welcome and safe. But, it remains true, sometimes one simple act of kindness can make a big difference.
*ICSA – Islamic Civic Society of America. Dar Al-Hijrah (Home of the Immigrants) is the mosque/masjid under the non-profit umbrella of ICSA.
Original journal entry date: 2/20/17
© 2019 Jane Buckley-Farlee. All rights reserved.
There has been a piece of weaving in the Cedar Commons lately. I wasn’t sure what it was, except that it was strips of fabric woven through wooden dowels. There is a group of Somali women and moms who meet down there every Thursday afternoon and Sunday. They gather for conversation and community. They eat and listen to music, exercise, drum and dance, and share crafts they are working on. I have seen the beautiful knitting and beadwork they are working on. And I have enjoyed their sambusas and Somali tea. I have listened to their music in person and through the floor in my office. And I have been amazed by their graceful dancing, so graceful that I haven’t had the nerve to join them, yet.
They are always so grateful when I join them. I always leave having been enriched by their beautiful creations, food and company.
But I couldn’t figure out what the weaving was. It’s about four feet high with bands of cloth woven between dowels that are just a fraction of an inch apart. I had only seen it between their gathering times all rolled up.
Last Thursday I found out what it is. The piece was unrolled and was about 15’ long. It had been in process for several weeks and clearly involved a lot of weaving, and devotion. Some of the women were working on it. Seated on chairs they were carefully weaving the different colors of fabric in and out between the dowels.
It turns out that it is a wall. For an aqal, a Somali hut. During the summer there has been an aqal in the old neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside. The women had been gathering there each Thursday until the weather became too cold. They are now in Trinity’s lower level, the Cedar Commons until warmer weather returns.
They are preparing for this coming summer, when they will resume meeting at the aqal. During the previous months that the aqal had been standing the weather had taken a toll and the fabric that had been on the wooden frame of the aqal had, for all intents and purposes, fallen apart. These women were working on the new wall for their aqal.
In warm weather they gather around the aqal for conversation and community. They eat and listen to music, drum and dance, and share crafts they are working on. And they talk. They invite anyone who is walking by to join them. The community comes together for support and for fun. This wall woven with memories from Somalia is becoming a place for their dreams of the future and for their lives here and now.
This coming summer there will be a bright, new wall.
This kind of wall I like. In fact, it is a beautiful wall. If only all walls brought people together rather than keeping them apart. The world definitely needs more aqals like this one.
Original Journal Entry Date: 1/16/19
© 2019 Jane Buckley-Farlee
On Friday, January 27, 2017 President Trump signed his first Muslim travel ban. In the days after that the streets and sidewalks of Cedar-Riverside were noticeably quiet. People were afraid to leave their homes. In their own neighborhood.
Just before I left for home the following Thursday Wali called. I’m embarrassed to admit I still do not understand everything he says. But what I caught was that on Friday at 1:30 there would be a gathering to let the people know they are welcome here as they came out of Friday prayers at ICSA/Dar Al-Hijrah. I also heard the word ‘tea.’ Wali makes really good Somali tea.
I emailed some Trinity people, Urban Hub folks, mission partners, texted a few and let them know what was coming together even though I wasn’t really sure what it was. Earlier in the week Dee from MAS forwarded me an email about the MN Council of Churches hosting some kind of plan of support, being at Friday prayers with the Muslims. She wanted to know if I knew anything. I didn’t, but I emailed Wali. He didn’t know anything either. But Wali, Mike and Imam Sharif had decided to put something together. I let Dee know and she and John joined our group.
It was cold as we stood outside of the doors of ICSA/Dar Al-Hijrah. There was some sun, but the wind cancelled out any warmth we might feel. There was hot coffee and Somali tea waiting. Mike greeted us as we gathered. We were maybe 12 of us. Judy, Matt, Steve P., John and Dee, 3 community members, Mark H. and a few others. As the men and women came out of their separate doors after prayers we were there to greet them. All we did was stand there, hand out coffee and tea and tell them that we are glad they are here. We shook hands. Even most of the men shook my hand. I wondered if it was OK because I had on mittens. Wali and Imam Sharif did a kind of mini-hug.
For twenty minutes or so all we did was stand there and tell them we are glad they are here. As the worshipers came out their surprise and apprehension were obvious even though Imam Sharif had mentioned that we would be out there. But once they understood what was happening they were very grateful. They smiled, had some coffee or tea and some stayed and talked a bit. Finally the crowd thinned as everyone had come out and gone on about their day. Someone was video taping for Somali TV. Some pictures have been put on Facebook.
It was so simple, but so powerful. I know that all of us non-Muslims felt good about what had happened. I can only hope that those who came out from prayers and found us there were able to feel welcome and safe, for at least a short time.
Original journal entry date: 2/6/17
©2019 Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.
All along Trinity’s and my journey has been that of a sailboat. The Ruah, the Wind, the Spirit blows as She will. Sometimes the wind is calm, sometimes it is a gale, most of the time it is somewhere in between. We, Trinity, go where the Spirit leads or blows the best we can. When it is a gale we hang on for dear life. When it is calm we either enjoy the break or wonder what’s wrong and worry that we’re not DOING enough. My task, my role was/is to be at the tiller and offer what direction I can, knowing that the whole journey really depends completely on the Spirit, over which I really have little or no control.
What had happened over time was that not only was I still at the tiller, I had flung myself into the water, behind the boat and was kicking my heart out against a raging storm. I had decided exactly where we were going and how we would get there and what it would all look like at the end of the journey, in my mind. And it was MY JOB TO MAKE IT ALL HAPPEN PERFECTLY.
And I wasn’t paying any attention to the wind.
I had decided that Trinity (African and American, gay and straight, liberal and conservative) would sit down and discuss theology, sexuality, and homosexuality, and at the very least agree to disagree. Or, if it all went my way, we would all agree with my position, (which is, after all, the right one!). And, to top it off, we would do all of this in time for the Synod’s open hearings in October. And I had decided that this was all GOD’S WILL.
Well, that’s not true. What I see now is that I just need to be back at the tiller.
So, this piece of our journey is looking a little different at the moment. I am slowly getting out of the water and back into the tiller’s seat. However, this is not as easy as I thought it could/would/should be. I can feel myself slowly letting go of everything I had taken such a strong hold on. But not as quickly as I’d like. (Once again it seems I have it all figured out how even this part of the journey should go!) But I can feel the letting go beginning.
Part of the letting go is redefining for myself the conversation I had envisioned.
Part of the letting go has to do with my timeline.
Part of the letting go is…is letting go of my…sin (dare I use the word?). This journey had become about me (in my head, at least). And it’s not. In my mind I rant and rave sometimes about the definitions of sin others have presented to me. They are often quite different from mine. To me they seem narrow and judgmental and so 50’s-ish. And that can afford me the opportunity to decide I just might be above all of that.
My current working definition of sin is mainly anything that gets in the way of God in my life and the way I live with others. Well, my recent jump into the water kicking my heart out seems to fulfill that definition quite well. And that screams for letting go of.
So, I’m working on it. I suppose I shouldn’t be impatient with myself or with the Spirit’s working in me. But, I am not only impatient, I am also amused by my humanness in all of this. That in itself is a letting go.
And I can’t help but notice that it is water that I had jumped into in this whole thing - there are just too many baptism connections to comprehend at the moment.
More reflections to come, I’m sure.
Original journey entry date: 6/5/08
© 2019 Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.
It was January 1st, 2014 I walked into the Brian Coyle Community Center in Cedar-Riverside around noon. At first glance it was like all of the other times I had been there before. But this time was different. This was not a community celebration or a neighborhood meeting; this was because of the devastating horror of an explosion and a fire that was still burning. Several groups were huddled in conversation, mostly in Somali, fire fighters and police officers were resting and warming up, the Red Cross was setting up to help and the Salvation Army was serving all beef hotdogs. Victims’ family members were beginning to arrive. And the news media was scrambling to get a story even though very little was known yet.
Everyone, it seemed, had a job to do or a task to complete, except for me. I was there to be a presence, a Christian presence in a predominantly Muslim community at a time of profound grief. But what does that mean when the community is known as “Little Mogadishu,” the largest concentration of Somalis outside of Somalia?
So often, as pastors, in difficult situations like this, we can fall back on what is familiar to our people and to us: words of comfort and hope we’ve said and heard many times; prayers we’ve prayed time and again; a pastoral role that is somehow understood by everyone in the room. But when the language in the room is Somali, when the women are wearing hijabs and some of the men are wearing thobes; and when the concept of “Christian” is not always a positive one, that is not necessarily so true.
What does it mean to be a Christian presence in a neighborhood where Christians are clearly in the minority, aware that the dominant message in the world these days is that we should be enemies, knowing that the conversation in which we are engaged is a fragile conversation?
I’m not sure and I have been at this a long time. But I have come to know a few things. Being a Christian presence in Cedar-Riverside means being here and often feeling inadequate and not particularly useful, and being ready to feel inadequate and useless for a long time. Being a Christian presence means letting go of any expectations and dreams of solving problems and fixing everything. It means letting the community lead and listening for ways we might, just might, be able to help. It means quietly realizing that being present and listening may be the real help that we can give this community. It means knowing that partners like Augsburg College, Fairview and the U of M, are also working to make our neighborhood the best it can be. Many thanks for their contributions.
But, mostly, it simply means that we are here, for the long haul, with no agenda other than to be here. It means trusting that somehow God is working through all of us in a way that is bigger than anything we will ever be able to comprehend. Accompaniment is the word for it these days.
And, then, at a meeting after several meetings, in the midst of all of the messiness and uncertainty, Imam Sharif calls me sister, and I know I am where I am supposed to be.
Original journal entry date: 1/1/14
©2019 Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.
In 2004 Trinity called Pastor Alem (Alemseged Asmelash). Alem was born in Ethiopia and grew up in Sweden. He not only comes from the area of the world that many people in our neighborhood come from, he knows Scandinavian languages and culture. Both of these are natural connections to this congregation of Norwegian beginnings in this neighborhood of people from East Africa.
One of the first things we did when he came was to make our worship more inclusive. We began looking for hymns that are in English, Amharic (the main language of Ethiopia), and Tigrigna (the main language of Eritrea). We found ten.
After finding the hymns we translated several parts of the liturgy into Amharic and Tigrigna.
Once we had worked out the details of printing all three languages in the bulletin it was finally time for me to give it a try. I listened carefully and practiced speaking the words with Alem. He gave me pointers and assured me I was doing a great job. I was not reading the actual Amharic and Tigrigna, but together Alem and I had written all of the parts in our English alphabet.
The Greeting that we use at the beginning of the service is, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
And so I began. First, the Amharic, then Tigrigna, ending with the English so we would all know where we were at. I looked up and saw some appreciative nods. And several people giggling. The same giggles continued to happen in the weeks to come. But no one was saying anything.
Finally, one of the youth pulled me aside and others gathered around. He explained that I was saying one of the words in a way that gave it a rather different meaning than was intended.
The Amharic and Tigrigna word for ‘grace’ is ‘tsega.’ The problem was, the way I was pronouncing it made it sound like the word for ‘meat.’ I had been greeting the congregation with, “The meat of our Lord Jesus Christ…!”
Once I knew what I was actually saying I asked for help.
Me: “So, how do you pronounce it?”
Lidia: “No, tsega.”
Sam: “No. Tsega.”
It all sounded the same to me. The problem was that my ears could not even hear the difference. And, clearly there was one.
After a good laugh they assured me that everyone appreciated my feeble attempts and that I should continue.
However, it seems I will never pronounce a word central to Lutheran theology correctly in Amharic or Tigrigna. Each Sunday as I stumble through. I shudder to think what else I might be saying.
But, after all is said and done, Grace abounds.
I like to say we have an incarnational theology at Trinity.
© 2018 Copyright Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.
We are making our way through Advent, three of four Sundays have passed. For those of us of the liturgical branches of the Christian world, it is the beginning of a new year. In many ways it is a new beginning.
Advent is considered a season of waiting and a time of preparation. We are waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ. There are two layers to our waiting and preparing. We are waiting and preparing to celebrate the first coming of the baby Jesus some two thousand years ago, Christmas. At the same time we are looking forward to the second coming of Christ in completeness sometime in the future.
I like to think of the church year as more of a circle or an ascending spiral than a straight line. As we move through time we come to the same place, same holy days each year. At the same time, it is one year later; time has moved on. It’s more of a mystical kind of tracking time, a mystical way of looking at things – the past, present and future, the beginning the end all come together somehow and yet move on. It might not make much sense, but then it seems God does not make much sense either sometimes.
In fact, there’s a lot that doesn’t make sense. And for various reasons most of us are ready for a new beginning.
Let’s be honest – the 2016 election is one of the reasons many of us would not mind a new start. It has been a real struggle to see good in much of what is happening. I can’t help wondering if even some of those who were happy with the outcome wouldn’t also appreciate a new start.
I have tried to understand all that has happened and what is developing. I’ve heard and read all kinds of theories and commentaries. I have kept my conservative Facebook friends. I’ve worried, gotten angry, blamed this person and that group. I’ve processed with trusted friends and mentors. And none of that has helped, really. We just don’t know what it all means yet.
But we are entering a whole new church year. That has to count for something. We’ve been in Advent before, but this one somehow feels different.
Something has been unleashed. Even though I’m pretty sure I’m on the “right side of history” on this, I also have a fear that I’m missing something, that I might be wrong somehow. No matter how just and inclusive and fair and free I think I am I’m pretty sure I haven’t gotten it all right.
Then I think of all the people I know and respect and love for whom a new level of fear is very real and for many continues to grow – immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQA family and friends. That makes it real for me, too. And I wonder what I can do.
I don’t know yet. Except that one thing I can do is take care of myself as best I can so that when an opportunity presents itself I can see it, hear it, and respond in a healthy and helpful way.
And so, this Advent we watch and wait. Again. We ponder how to prepare the way - remembering it is, after all, a new beginning.
Original journal entry date: 11/28/16
© 2018 Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.
Advent in Little Mogadishu
They say that ministry is contextual. I believe that is true; it certainly was for Trinity last Wednesday.
Church calendars said it was the First Wednesday in Advent. Many “good Lutherans” were in church that evening, participating in worship of various kinds, preparing for the coming of God’s reign.
I suppose you could say Trinity was preparing for the coming of God’s reign in a different way. Dar Al-Hijrah (mosque) was having an Open House on Wednesday evening. An invitation had gone out to the neighborhood and when I talked with Imam Sharif the week before he made sure I knew about it. I explained that Wednesdays were hard for me with the Wednesday Night Supper and Confirmation. He said that even if I only came for the last 30 minutes it would be good.
The news surrounding the Somali community has not been good lately. There has been several news items involving Somalis in Minneapolis and around the United States. Perhaps as a result of all of that there was extensive vandalism at the Somali Mall on 4th and 16th , right next to the Cedar-Riverside LRT station. Cam Gordon’s (Cedar-Riverside’s city Council member) email said the authorities suspected that the vandalism was anti-Somali. This seemed like an important time to show our support for our brothers and sisters.
I had hoped to go to the Open House if I could cover the Wednesday Night Supper and Confirmation. Jon and I had the idea of the Confirmation kids going, which Alem supported. And at Quilting that morning, on a whim, I mentioned it. Trinity ended up with 14 people at Dar Al-H
Everyone was so pleased to see us there. They all made a point of coming over to welcome us and thank us for coming.
The evening began with a Somali meal – wonderful food – which was followed by a program, including speakers from Dar Al-Hijrah, the Islamic League of Somali Scholars in America, a presentation by the Youth Director and a youth, and a chanted recitation from the Koran by a 17-yr. youth. Pretty much every speaker emphasized the peaceful nature of Islam. They all condemned the violent actions of the few Somalis who have made the news.
A few things struck me. How important it was to the people and leaders of Dar Al-Hijrah that we were there. Their generosity and warm welcome. Their humble, yet earthy sense of humor. Their sincere interest in our idea of Trinity having a similar Open House (they asked to be sure to be invited).
But what really brought a smile to my face was the realization that we were in a mosque on the First Wednesday in Advent. Advent is about preparing for the coming of God’s reign in its fullness. God is big enough for everyone. We all – Muslims, Christians, Jews, nones, dones and all the rest – will be a part of God’s kingdom together. That being true, we were surely doing the First Wednesday in Advent well simply by being together. We were preparing for and we were being God’s reign together already right there at Dar Al-Hijrah. That’s what brought a smile to my face.
They say ministry is contextual. Trinity’s context just keeps getting bigger, even in our small, dense neighborhood. And there we were, at Dar Al-Hijrah, ushering in God’s reign, one Open House at a time.
Original journal entry date: 12/6/10
© 2018 Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.
Trinity’s dear friends at the Islamic Civic Center of America, ICSA/Dar Al-Hijrah held their first fundraiser last week. Five of us from Trinity were able to attend. It was a wonderful evening with great food, conversation, and friends old and new.
Several weeks before the event Wali Dirie, the Executive Director, asked if they could borrow our plates and chairs. They knew we had them. In 2014 and 2015 they had used our lower level, Augsburg’s Cedar Commons, for a year and a half while their building was being repaired after extensive smoke and water damage from a fire in the building next to theirs.
Asking to use our plates and chairs might not seem like a big deal. But it is. They have supported us and we have supported them in various ways over the years. We have worked together in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood on a number of initiatives. They have hosted us at annual Iftars and other gatherings and we have invited them over number of times, including a Fat Tuesday pancake supper with all the fat you could want before Lent. We have even prayed together.
While chairs and plates are nothing special, to me they are a symbol of the relationship that we have been building together. In a world where we are supposed to be afraid of each other and suspicious of each other’s beliefs it seems to me that asking to borrow chairs and plates is a big deal. It is a downright neighborly thing to do and speaks of great trust and respect and friendship.
It turned out that they did not need our plates. But I saw our chairs there, some of them held together with black duct tape. And as all of us ate together with our friends at ICSA/Dar Al-Hijrah some of the guests were sitting on our chairs!
It’s not about theological debates or arguments. It’s not about having the same name for God or proving that one’s belief system is the right one. Sometimes it is just about simple chairs and plates. It made me smile and I can’t help thinking that God was pleased as well.
Original journal entry date: 10/5/18
© 2018 Copyright Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.