Category Archives: Social Issues

Spokane’s religion wrap-up: Easter baskets, genealogy, Passover and Tutu

By Tracy Simmons

For kids, the best part of Easter is getting a basket filled with bunny-shaped chocolates and plastic eggs filled with coins. But when was the last time mom got an Easter basket? This year Christ Kitchen is selling ‘grown-up Easter baskets’ filled with soups, breads and other home-made goodies. You can order online.

(By the way, you still have time to get your Easter listings turned in to SpokaneFAVS, but better hurry).

Since we’re on the topic of family — are you interested in learning more about your genealogy? The Spokane West Stake will host a Family Search Symposium from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 28. It’s free and you can register online here.

Flickr photo of Passover seder by Suzie T

Let’s not forget that Easter isn’t the only sacred holiday on next weekend’s calendar. Passover begins April 7 and continues through April 13. Passover is a time to commemorate the freedom of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses, who was directed by God. Traditionally on the first two nights of Passover, it is traditional for a Jewish family to gather for a special dinner called a seder in which the story of the Exodus is retold.

In this month’s newsletter from the Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod, the director of evangelical mission writes an interesting reflection on missional leadership. Helga Jansens writes, “Being missional means worrying less about ourselves: a self-denying forgetfulness about our congregational  size and resources. It is to be concerned with what God is already doing and what God wants to have done in  the community.” She offers some ideas in her piece about how to be more missional-minded.

Finally, you probably know Desmond Tutu is coming to Spokane later this year. But did you know his visit isn’t without controversy. The Inlander did a nice job explaining this story here.

Have something you think should be included in next week’s wrap-up? Email it to

Understanding reverence

By Contributor Matt Wise

Matt Wise

One Sunday I was reminiscing about my time in Japan. I really came to love and admire parts of the Japanese culture and their small expressions to each other. I feel like the Japanese people were a good example of reverence.
There’s certain things you just don’t do in public in Japan. And there are certain things you are expected to do. While some may see these things just as customs, it seems all of these small things come together to create a sense of community and respect  people have for each other and the values they share.

After my time in Japan, coming back to America, surprisingly, I had a bit of culture shock. It was louder, more chaotic and people seemed to care less about each other and their community. While part of me always remembered Japan, after a while I slowly became re-Americanized, you could say.

It’s not that Japan is perfect, they have their own set of issues to deal with. But it really did cause me to question everything about America and our culture. But that’s the thing; I’ve come to realize that in America it’s not really a question of “our” culture but a question of “which” culture.

It’s interesting. Maybe I’m just getting older, but it increasing seems that as the music, movies, entertainment and news media get louder and louder, I’m more and more drawn in the opposite direction. I find myself enjoying more classical music, nature documentary’s and thoughtful and quit conversations.

Reverence seems like such a simple and small thing, but it also seems to affect the way we treat many things such as our body, mind, spirit, family, neighbors and community. It also seems to be connected to many valuable attributes such as humility, gratitude, awareness, discipline and ultimately love. Because of that it’s hard to put a delicate feeling or sense into words sometimes. Here is my try at it:

Reverence is realizing the delicate nature of love and life, and actually respecting and standing in awe of that delicate balance.

After much questioning I’ve found a sense of optimism for America though. I believe  many people here are willing to learn, innovate and improve for the better here. I hope for the benefit of our community’s and our future that we won’t undervalue or over look profound yet simple things as cultivating reverence in our lives and in our community’s.

Should we give locally or internationally?

By Blogger Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

I used to work with middle school students. One of the things I’ve realized over the years is many people seem to look for this age group to be immature, lazy, selfish or otherwise incapable of engaging society in a positive manner. I used to tell my students to never make it easy for others to stereotype them. Given this, you may or may not be able to imagine my frustration at a comment after an article was published in the news a few years back. The article highlighted the efforts of our junior high ministry, which had fasted for 30 hours, raised $30,000 (one of the largest amounts in the nation) for World Vision, and served alongside eight local ministries. The comment was this: why should we care for those elsewhere when there is so much need in our own community? It seemed this comment negated the importance and value of the students’ efforts.

Over the past 13 years I have engaged in regular work with impoverished and marginalized people. In a lot of places: Spokane, Seattle, Bremerton, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tijuana and Northern Kenya. Locally, I have been a part of organizations with long-standing relationships with Cup of Cool WaterUTF (Under the Freeway), Mission Community PresEn ChristoAlberta HouseUnion Gospel Mission and Catholic Charities.  I have worked with World Vision International and their United States division in a variety of ways. I have succeeded and failed in implementing local service opportunities for teens and their mentors, researched local and global disparity and the systems that enable it to continue. I am eager to see a decrease in the opportunity gap everywhere.

Why am I bringing this up? To shed light on my background before I raise the following question: Why is it that seemingly every time I raise issues of global disparity one of the first responses is a reminder that poverty exists here in Spokane (or wherever else I was living at the time), often with the suggestion that local needs should be prioritized above all else? Is it a perceived need for fair airtime, or something else?

Women struggling with poverty in India/Flickr photo by s_w_ellis

Personally, I don’t get it. I don’t get the comparative statements; I don’t get the advocacy that says here is better than there, or vice versa. I’m being sincere when I say that I would like to learn from other viewpoints. To answer my question, some have pointed to the progression of Acts 1:8 as if there was some normative sequencing or priority to sharing God’s love with people based on location confuses me. The statistics for both areas regarding growing disparity in nearly every part of the world point to resource distribution, levels of involvement and apathy that are disgusting and unnecessary. They are still only statistics, however. Stories drive action. Stories provide a connection point.  I have been with people as they garbage pick for dinner in Spokane, Seattle, San Francisco, Tijuana and Kenya. I can’t say any of those experiences was more palatable for my psyche than the other. More importantly, I can’t say one person’s suffering and stolen dignity has less value than another, near or far.

I suggest there is a responsibility for those of us with the ability to access this post. We have a responsibility for local service and global impact. Yes, both. We cannot escape the globalization of our local living, which means that we are complicit in what is occurring beyond our region, state or nation (if you believe those human boundaries are still applicable). Likewise, we cannot live with integrity if we care for “the world” but ignore the needs of our local community.  Actively loving others, whether distant or local shows us that we are connected to and responsible for one another.

It seems for students, at least, getting them out of their comfort zone and away from the familiarity and distractions of their daily lives allows them to engage with others in a whole new capacity. For some, this can be a one-time foray into the world of the underprivileged. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the summarizing thought, “I’m just so grateful for how blessed I am!” As if that is the intent of the experience. For me, these experiences serve two goals: first, a milestone that points to a location and moment in time that God is real and at work in human life. Second, a training event that shows students what they do in one location can be continued on in their lives. As we prepare to leave we begin the work of bridging the context. Bringing them home and pointing to avenues that we might have overlooked earlier; places where we can connect and learn and contribute.

I must engage poverty and disparity. I must decrease the opportunity gap. There is an element of this I can touch: local people, local ministries and local political systems. There is an element that is more distant: people, ministries and political systems. These arenas have different needs and different solutions, and that must be respected. Some will be drawn closer to one arena than another based on their experience and their connection with the stories of others. But, I’m curious, is it unreasonable to expect action in both?

Church should help those who “can’t play the game”

By Contributor Rev. Alan Eschenbacher

Rev. Alan Eschenbacher

In an effort to get my head around all the things happening in the world, the United States, Washington State, and right here in good ol’ Spokane I have re-examined our primary purpose as a gospel bearing community of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I looked at what we have in our church mission statement.

All Saints Lutheran makes community and relationship building its primary purpose.

At All Saints:

  • People can explore their idea of Christian faith in community.
  • The Holy Spirit is called upon to enliven and support, especially in relationships where there is weakness, mental illness or with any person living on the margins.
  • We share in joys and pains of our All Saints family and the community at large.
  • We reach out to the “mainstream” for support and partnership.
  • Building a new, faithful, sustainable community for all is our mission.

I have been working with and making friends with the homeless and mentally challenged community here in Spokane for last eight years. I have found a very different group of people than I expected.

There is a substantial link between the people who live on the margins of society and the financial results of the way our economy operates. Our economy is a game, and how you are equipped to play the game means everything. My work in the financial field as a salesman gave me much insight and knowledge of how people think and act in society, especially in relation to commerce and capitalism.

As a result of all those years working with people and their money and my experience working with those on the margins, I have an unusual view of the economic situation in which we find ourselves as a country. The economic situation as it stands now is, simply put, the result of greed. We don’t need to look any further; greed answers most problems in the economy and many problems involving government programs. Obviously it gets more complicated in the detailed explanations but the root cause is the love and worship of money and materialism.

Why do I tell you all this? Tell me something I don’t know, you say. First, I needed a good rant, but more importantly I am convinced the future of this country is tied to how we deal with this crisis. The Occupy movements around the country and the world have gotten us off to a good start in the last year or so, keep up the good work!  The way people think about money must change, the new buzzword needs to become “enough.” But what is enough? When have I reached the point where I can say, “I have enough”, push back from the tough, and then be able to give to another who does not have enough. The age-old arguments — everybody has to “pull their own weight” or “if you don’t work you don’t eat” — have limited merit and lead to a totalitarian idea that we must apply across the board. And, if we are honest, we all know it does not apply to everyone.

Flickr photo by graywolfx47

There are, have always been, and always will be those in society that cannot “play the game.” These may be the homeless, those with various disabilities, addictions and mental illness, in other words, those on the margins. What, as society, do we do with those who fall behind or through the cracks and wind up in desperate situations and in need of care of some kind? That becomes the crux of the situation and impacts all other things, especially financial considerations. Take taxes for instance: you can’t tax me, because that will discourage me from using the gifts I have, and then I won’t create business and jobs and everyone suffers. We are back to greed, if we could rely on people to be generous with their gifts and talents, as indeed some are, but alas, we cannot.

When times are difficult economically giving goes down, that’s a fact. When times are good giving only sometimes goes up. It often takes years for charitable giving to return to previous levels after an upswing in the economy. My tirade goes on.

I think I know the solution, but so do many others. The only thing that will cure our national greed is the understanding of what “enough” is, followed by community building and relationship forming amongst the classes.

Currently at All Saints Lutheran

Our feeding program is in its seventh year, a meal on Tuesday evenings and a food bank that is open Monday-Thursday.

We are a member organization in Spokane Urban Ministries (SUM), a low-income housing consortium. SUM owns a 47 unit low-income housing development called Walnut Corners. This housing development is in two buildings on the corners of Walnut and Mallon and Walnut and Broadway in Spokane’s West Central Neighborhood. The Broadway building has 18 units devoted to chronically mentally ill homeless folk; there is a live-in manager and office space for counseling. It also houses The Book Parlor, a full service bookstore and gift shop, as well as Indaba Coffee, a now 2-year-old business that has espresso and sandwiches and pastries. These two businesses have become a vital gathering point in West Central; a place where diverse people meet and share coffee and food, books and ideas.

All Saints Browne’s Addition location has a community garden for last five years. This provides some local residents a space to grow their own vegetables and it also provides donations of fresh produce that are used in our meal program. The garden is a safe space for varied folks to gather, grow, talk and develop community.

A new development is the Spokane Mental Health Chaplaincy. Still in its infancy, the chaplaincy will work with local mental health professionals, churches, hospitals, the police department and other government agencies to provide mental illness training to the public. The end result will hopefully be a “companion” for some of the mentally ill here in Spokane. Companions will be volunteers that are trained to assist, befriend and work with people suffering from brain illness. The goal is to provide more stability and to hopefully decrease the use of emergency medical facilities and jails in favor of less costly alternatives. The economy doesn’t cause brain disease, but the difficulties of competing in and playing the game are, for some, cause to drop out and remain on the sidelines. What happens with these brothers and sisters who have dropped out or cannot play the game?

All Saints is a worshipping community of old and new Christians coming together to study and worship in a mostly traditional Lutheran setting. We take comfort in the consistency and love found in the liturgies used and in doing this together as community. The worshiping group is diverse with ages 0 to 102, from all walks of life, the homeless and mentally ill are welcomed and loved by our open family mindset. The future is being created as we go. If we are faithful to the now God will bless our tomorrow. I would love to see the Spokane Mental Health Chaplaincy get off on the right foot and begin to provide much needed help for those with brain disease. I would hope to have the funds to hire a chaplain and to raise awareness for this need, not just for the indigent that are mentally ill but also for those elderly and children who have brain disease and need help. The time is now for training many more people to recognize and to be able to help others in this area. We have many opportunities and we now need workers, financial supporters, prayers and love to make it happen!

Disparity is everywhere

By Blogger Daryl Geffken 

“One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.” – Josef Stalin

Daryl Geffken

Statistics numb our sensibilities. They eliminate personality. Author Richard Stearns says, “Statistics can become just another way to look away from the faces of the poor, just one more way to walk by on the other side of the road.” Research confirms this. Studies performed by the University of Oregon and Carnegie Mellon show that the story of one child in a crisis situation compels others to action far more than statistical portraits of disparity and global mortality rates. Why is this?

The human race is filled with passion. Story telling draws people in. It transforms our lives by inspiring and bringing people together in shared experience. We are intrigued by the story of others, quite possibly because we constantly discover ourselves within the tales told around us. When encountering art, we find a face in a mirror. And it is our face. We are confronted with a reality that holds context. In art, a statistic finds its place in a real world. A world of flesh, sweat, blood, challenge, heart. Art can lead us to evaluate who we are.

Disparity in the world is a catastrophic problem

“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’” (Matthew 25:45, The Message)

A young boy in Haiti drinks dirty water/Tracy Simmons -

The statistics associated with poverty and hunger are staggering. Often times the numbers are too large to truly comprehend. For example, in the last 50 years, 400 million people worldwide have died from hunger and poor sanitation. This is three times the number of people killed in all wars fought during the 20th century, yet the coverage is minimal at best compared to conflict, according to One International.

In 2010 the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimated more than 925 million people in the world suffer from hunger. In 2005, the most current year from which data was available, 1.4 billion people in developing countries were living  in extreme poverty . Over 178 million children under the age of five experience irreparable effects due to malnutrition. Every year, nearly 10 million children die before their fifth birthday; most from preventable or treatable causes such as measles, diarrhea or malnutrition. Approximately 358,000 mothers die each year from complications during child birth, and tens of millions more suffer from pregnancy related illnesses and injuries, according to researchAfrica’s child mortality rate is 20 times that of the United States and its maternal mortality rate is 65 times that of the United States.

These statistics are bad enough. Further statistics show that there is an even darker side. Researcher David Livermore shared shocking numbers: The wealthiest fifth of the world’s people consume an astonishing 86 percent of all goods and services, while the poorest fifth consume 1 percent. In fact, the world’s three richest individuals exceeded the combined GNP of all of the least developed countries combined (a population of over 600 million). Four-fifths of American adults are high school graduates, while one-fourth of the children worldwide have to go to work everyday instead of school. More than half of the world lives on less than two dollars a day, while the average American teenager spends nearly $150 a week. Forty percent of people in the world lack basic sanitation, while 49 million diapers are used and thrown away in America every day. Lastly, the U.S. spends more on trash bags annually than nearly half the world does on ALL goods (all these stats come from Livermore’s research).

Christian author and pastor Rob Bell has stated America is an empire. It is clear from these statistics that there is a vast chasm fixed between the poor and the wealthy in our global community. Disparity and injustice have reached colossal proportions.

Looking at disparity in my life is very hard. I see things, pictures, statistics, webcasts, concerts that all implore me to stand up and take action. I charge people within my sphere of influence to live differently than they currently do: to give up some of their standard of living in order that we may spread our wealth to others who are fighting for their survival. But I just went to Disneyland for five days. In fact, I own a timeshare on that property and intend to use it until the lease runs out in 2060. I wrestle with the feeling that I am a part of a system that promotes infantilism and consumption. I am unwilling to give up certain things that I cling to. I am not nearly as willing to challenge my manner of living as I am to argue for others to live up to a standard I myself find excruciatingly difficult.

The challenge for me has become more acute lately. Seeing suffering children has become a very agonizing thing for me since I’ve had kids. I respond with great emotion when I encounter the results of disparity in the world. I want to see these children live. I want to see them flourish. I want them to have every opportunity for life, just like my sons. The crass reality I have discovered, though, is that I want my sons to have more. I want my sons to have the best life possible. I do not want them to be lacking in any area. I desire for them to have opportunities for joy and fun and respite that most others do not. I want him to be aware of his privilege and work for others’ care, but I do want him to be privileged.

I don’t think I’m alone. I want security and safety and fun for my children more than I do for others. I want to be tied to those who need my defense and resources. I have come to the point that I realize I must do something. I must serve others. I must sacrifice my own status for the sake of others. Yet, I am a reluctant leader. I struggle to believe that I am worthy of the mantle of leadership due to my weakness.

Sometimes, change must start small. We must identify roadblocks and remove them one by one. Most people cannot just dive in, it would seem. Certainly I have a difficulty with this. I find myself thinking, “I wish I didn’t know what I do,” because then I would not by culpable for my response or lack thereof. I wouldn’t have to deal with my fear of letting go of the life I lead and the love I have for my sons growing up in a privileged manner.

This is the first in a 3-part series.

Why Jesus loves rugby more than football

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

Someone I admire thinks the demise of traffic safety was ushered in with the Anti-Lock Brake System. In fact, he goes so far as to suggest each car should have a knife affixed to the steering wheel, tip pointing straight at the driver. His reasoning? Cars have become too safe, too able to correct for our carelessness; our lack of responsibility. Extreme? Perhaps. But he gets his point across.

I would suggest many of us have made our environments too comfortable; too safe.  Eighteenth Century pastor Jonathan Edwards is most famous for his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. However, he made no distinction in Christian duty between saving the poor in spirit and the poor in material wealth and status. In a less cited, but equally powerful sermon, Edwards demanded, “Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms, and in a more peremptory urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor?”

Author Tim Keller argued that Jesus’ teaching was clearly understood by his audience as demanding the sacrifice of one’s social position and material well-being.  Keller explained that Jewish culture during the time of Jesus relied heavily on a patronage system. Social networking was founded upon the material investment of wealthy people into others, who would in turn provide favors and protect the interests of their patron. These networks were often created and maintained through lavish dinners, and though the initial investment was substantial, the return was well worth it.

It was within this context that Jesus made the following appeal: When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind (Luke 14:12-13).

According to Keller, a challenge such as this would amount to “economic and social suicide” for those hearing Jesus’ charge. It contradicted the standard practice of establishing networks with rich and powerful benefactors in favor of creating relationships with the poor and marginalized. Jesus expected his disciples to give without the expectation of being repaid in any way.

In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus’ basic economic view is simply that we take care of each other, friends and enemies alike. This is driven by compassion and empathy founded upon the Golden Rule of Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This may be dismissed as impractical idealism.

Pastor Brian McClaren stated, “Christian discipleship is training for apostleship, training for mission. From this understanding we place less emphasis on whose lineage, rites, doctrines, structures, and terminology are right and more emphasis on whose actions, service, outreach, kindness, and effectiveness are good.”

A scrum during a rugby union game between the Crusaders and Brumbie/Wikipedia

I just watched the World Cup Rugby Sevens Match. Don’t know the rules? Imagine hard-hitting football without pads.  Show of hands: who ever played Saturday football? I did. We didn’t use pads.  There was this one kid (I use the term loosely, because unless he was in a Sumo Dojo, there is no place where would not be in the top fifth percentile of size).  Whoever quarterbacked his team, would run one play and one play only: handoff up the middle. I remember trying to stop this guy. Correct that: I remember up to the point I tried to stop this guy. Then I remember grass. The next time he came at me, I wasn’t sure the risk was worth my broken body.

When you are close to pain, how you risk and what you risk changes. My fear is that many of us have so insulated ourselves from pain and real risk that we make decisions without considering the ramifications. Perhaps many of us think we are pseudo invincible? Perhaps we don’t realize the reality that if we have a privileged life, someone else by necessity is underprivileged. Maybe someday soon, you could invite some people over for lunch that could never repay you.

BRIEF: Union Gospel Mission to host annual banquet in April

By Tracy Simmons

On April 25 Union Gospel Mission will host its annual banquet “Impacting Lives Together.”

The event will be at Mirabeau Park Hotel in Spokane Valley. The lunch banquet will be served at 1:30 p.m. (doors open at 11:30 a.m.) and the dinner banquet will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Reservations can be made here. Table sponsorships are also available for $250.

For details visit the event website.