At our downtown city village meeting this week, one of our newest members Josette Ferguson wrote this beautiful poem during our practice of lectio liberatio on Matthew 13:31-32, The Parable of the Mustard Seed.
The bible is a perplexing book. The proof is in the thousands of denominations that exist based on divergent biblical interpretations. Though I grew up in black denominations that held a more fundamentalist approach to the bible, I remember observing my mom’s stubborn challenge of literalistic biblical interpretations. She’d strut into those Baptist and Holiness churches with her makeup done to the “T”, a badass pantsuit, and would dare someone to tell her that tithing was a requirement given by Jesus. Before I learned to parse koine Greek and understand the “cultural hermeneutics” in seminary, my mom taught me about a biblical hermeneutics of suspicion and reading the bible through the lens of Jesus’ life and teachings.
The first day with TGNM began with a blast. I made my commute to Greensboro, went to get breakfast, and then my tire popped. In that moment I found myself wobbling on three tires hoping to get back to the lot - a safe space for towing. This event somewhat foreshadowed the challenges I would have here. Soon during my placement I too became like my car during it’s traumatic experience. I was rolling tirelessly on three wheels with hazards on, driving carefully bracing myself for roads to come. As I look back on my journey, I see that TGNM church journeyed similarly as I in this season, embracing change as it experienced storming, forming, and norming dynamics of community-building. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (MSG) portrays this image beautifully stating,
When I was younger I thought that God was a reality that was a complete and undoubted fact. As I got older I could not fathom the divinity and humanity of Jesus. It was clear to my faith community that the Bible would fill in the gaps of misunderstandings and curiosities; after all, how could anyone not understand what was written in it? It was very simple. Grab the KJV version (falsely presumed to be closest to the original translation), read what was there, and the preacher would help you process it. I learned that scripture can’t be wrong. It was presented that scripture applies to everything and the words in it are good for everyone who reads it. Growing up in the South as a young black Baptist woman meant you know Scripture, you quote Scripture, and that you’re fully aligned with Scripture.
My name is Brandy Vines and I am originally from Birmingham, Alabama. I relocated to North Carolina to continue my college education at Winston Salem State University. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Information Technology in 2012 and have been working in the technology field ever since. I grew up in a single parent home along with my two sisters and we faced a number of serious challenges. Despite the challenges, attending church was a part of our life. We grew up in the Seventh Day Adventist Church and when I was around the age of six we transitioned to a Baptist Church. Both of these church experiences have impacted my life in major ways.
I was born into the church, specifically the United Methodist Church. I was baptized as a baby, went through confirmation in middle school, and sang in the church choir as a teenager. I came to understand the church as an extension of my family - a place to gather for food, fellowship, prayer, and support. I learned about grace and how to extend it to others. I was taught that everyone was welcome and that God loved us all. My church was not perfect, but it was my home--an idealized home--where love and kindness dwelled among imperfect people.
Several weeks ago, I was asked to speak at a press conference honoring immigrant mothers, just before mother’s day. I found myself reflecting on the words of John Wesley, “I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all the theologians in England.” In the days leading up to the press conference, a friend reframed these words by asking ““How might the church and world be different if we listened to and were willing to learn from our mothers?” I have learned more about what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ from my mother and those who have played the role of mother in my life.
The Ole Asheboro city village has recently partnered with the Ole Asheboro Street Neighborhood Association to revive the neighborhood garden. We had our first community garden work day and cook out a couple weeks ago where we tilled some raised beds, shoveled dirt into a few beds, and planted a few things that we had on hand. A few folks from around our neighborhood showed up to help out and grab a hot dog or two. One middle-aged African-American man sticks out in my memory that day. He approached me first and gave me an uncomfortable hug, squeezing me too hard and even picking me up off the ground a bit. I watched him do the same thing to my friend as he mentioned how pretty we were. A bit uncomfortable, I felt myself putting walls up toward him. I asked him if he stayed in the neighborhood and found that he actually lives pretty close to us.
That is the number of children separated from their families by ICE and the Trump administration. In times like these I think about what we are called to be: a good neighbor. Being a good neighbor does not end with a specific street, a city limit, a state line or a country border-it should be without boundaries. We should be good neighbors to all.
As a Ghanaian, I was extremely ready for moving to the United States of America. I wondered if the movies I had seen on TV had done justice to what my first-hand experience was going to be like. I was super excited for this new phase of my life and couldn’t wait to get into this brave new world. Since arriving on American soil – the land of the free and home of the brave – my experiences have been life-shaping.
They say summer is a time of less work and more play. Pastors know this all too well. The pattern seems universal in most congregations: lower attendance, virtually no young people, and very little if any willingness of everyone that's left to commit to anything more. So I was in my feelings as I struggled to figure out next steps following a leadership transition at the beginning of this summer. We were "losing" Joey Lopez and Patricia Perkins at the same time, two founding facilitators and just all around wonderful human beings. And I couldn't shake the nagging question of whether or not we had developed "enough" direction and momentum to sustain the downtown city village through the summer. Scarcity mentality held me captive. I should've known better. After all, I can articulate the toxic norms of empire culture with the best critics. What I strive so hard to fight externally was showing up inside of me.
(Joey is a leader of the downtown city village. He read this statement at the Greensboro City Council meeting on May 15 in solidarity with the Homeless Union of Greensboro, a new homeless-led group advocating for housing and other forms of justice to eliminate poverty in Greensboro.)
My job gives me the ability to work from anywhere in the state of NC. I chose to live in Greensboro because of the values of inclusiveness and hospitality that have been evident throughout Greensboro’s history. As a faith based community organizer working with Faith communities that affirm and welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people into their congregations, this ordinance is quite alarming to me. LGBTQ people experience homelessness a higher rate than their straight or heterosexual counterpart. As a young queer latino, I chose Greensboro because I thought I would feel safe. However considering ordinances like this make me wonder if others in the LGBTQ community will feel as safe as I have.
In Genesis 1, we witness God forming, shaping, naming, and creating. God makes the distinction between land, water, vegetation, and bore fruits (1:9-13). There is beautiful creation of the moon, sun, stars, and seasons (1:14-19). God further creates sea creatures and birds, blesses them to multiply (1:20-23). Lastly, there is creation of more wild animals, animals to live on land and humankind (1:24-31). The creation story is a story that some might consider a rudimentary introduction of the book; however, this story is oftentimes used to serve as evidence that God is real and visible in nature. This passage and process of God’s creation shares insight to the creation metanarrative of The Good Neighbor Movement (TGNM).
On Dec. 4, 2017, I stepped back into full-time teaching in a high school classroom after being out of full-time teaching for over 4 years. The FINAL opportunity to pay a loan through years of service (specifically service in teaching) thrust my plans for returning into the classroom forward about six months. The decision was to re-enter the classroom now or have a whopping $20,000 added to my loans towards the American Dream (that is, educational debt). What a transition—for my boys, for Brandon, for me. I felt like I was losing so much on Dec., 4, 2017 (truth be told, I still feel this way). Because, to be honest, I was—I still am.
I thought I had it all - two kids, healthy family, good job…. But I was not a very spiritual person. Then things started to change. My ex (the kids' birth mother) took the kids away from me. This devastated me and drove me away from spirituality. How could God allow this to happen? I threw myself into work, trying to fill the voids in my life.
This past week has been a full one for us as we added a second son to our little family. We are blessed enough to have the boys’ grandparents (both sets) live nearby so they were able to come stay with us or bring us food or watch our 2-year old so we could get used to our newborn. Our house was full, both literally and figuratively- full of love, support, food, laughter- all ordinary, divine moments. As our weekly city village potluck dinner arrived only four days after our son was born, we felt we had room in our hearts and home for more. It was our week to host the meal, so we did.
Erica and I woke up around 6am last Saturday morning. We needed to get at least some of the pile of dishes and clothes washed so we could stay afloat the next week. The window of freedom was closing on us. Our sons were with my mom for only another 24 hours. How in the world were we going to pull off housekeeping, a neighborhood prayer walk, a training in nonviolent fusion moral direct action, and a date night in 24 hours? I wasn't feeling too spiritual to lead the prayer walk in less than a couple of hours. I managed to come across a passage of Scripture in Isaiah:
Hi! Thanks for visiting us online. On behalf of the people and communities of The Good Neighbor Movement, we welcome you! The Good Neighbor Movement seeks to be one expression of the re-founding of the Jesus-movement in the church in America through demonstrating radical hospitality and solidarity among diverse neighbors in local neighborhoods. A movement that returns to a vision of the local church as networks of small covenant communities that follow Jesus’ way of life in the neighborhood.