Tag Archives: Eric Blauer

Art bridges social, cultural, generational gaps

By Contributor Eric Blauer

Pastor Eric Blauer

In East Central Spokane I’m discovering how art has the power to bring different cultures, generations, backgrounds and social classes together.

Over the last six years working in this neighborhood my church has hosted numerous artistic events designed to celebrate, educate and nurture artistry and beauty here in this community.

Poverty can often produce a chronic underlying depression, a subconscious drain on motivation, the  great “whatever” of disempowerment and hopelessness.

One of the dead fruits of such debilitating vision is ugliness.

Ugliness manifests itself in many ways around my neighborhood. Graffiti, trash accumulation and careless distribution, overgrown or uncared for vacant houses decaying from years of absent out-of-state landlords, over worked single parent homes, fear based need for guard dogs that result in destroyed yards, a tapestry of tarps draped on countless roofs, cars and buildings — cheap fixes for welfare budgets. Boarded, barred, fenced, and darkened drug dens, broken down Jalopy land are the results of little cash, no repairs and purchasing habits that reflect low-income realities and predatory auto sellers.

Then there’s ‘Pajama Pant Syndrome;’ one of the ills of welfare, unemployment and neighborhood violence. Many people live ‘inside lives’ and hardly come out into public. When they do it’s from necessity, not pleasure. Many folks around here  live isolated, lonely, nervous and secluded lives all because of poverty’s power.

On and on I could go. Lack produces an environment and mentality of disbelief and despair.

Group works on community art project/contributed by Eric Blauer

Art is one way to awaken hope and joy in communities where seeing beauty is often an act and practice of faith.

We do a lot of work with refugees, who in struggling economies and with limited education and english skills, are often living in the center or the margins of poverty.

We’ve found that creating art together is one way to develop friendship, teach conversational English, tell life stories and give back the gift of beauty to one another.

Creating art becomes a potent weapon in the fight against poverty. Teaching and learning to see goodness worth retelling in different artistic mediums is an empowering skill for those who often feel like they are imprisoned.

Last night I attended our “English Language Experience Group” for refugee kids run by three awesome women volunteers. During this quarter they are focusing on art. I was invited to come and share my art, answer prepared questions from the kids and join them in creating something together.

I talked about the ins and outs of ‘Impressionism‘, explained its impact on me and the freedom I think it gives budding artists. We viewed work from various famous and then  created our own masterpieces.

A group of refugees work on art project together/contributed by Eric Blauer

I’m reminded of the artist Robert Henri‘s scathing, but often true, critique of religious leaning souls as I think about sitting there talking, laughing, making messes, exploring new skills, practicing communicating and nurturing creative minds and hearts.

“I am always sorry for the Puritan, for he has guided his life against desire and against nature, he found what he thought was comfort, for he believed the spirit’s safety was in negation, but he has never given the world one minute’s joy or produced one symbol of the beautiful order of nature. He sought peace in bondage and his spirit became a prisoner,” he wrote in his book, “The Art Spirit.”

Last night, and through our the last six years we’ve been proving Henri wrong. Faith and purity are powerful sources of transformation.

In East Central Spokane, I’m seeing art change lives picture after picture, painting after painting, poem upon poem and song upon song.

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Finding new meaning in The Lord’s Prayer

By Contributor Pastor Eric Blauer

Pastor Eric Blauer

I have made an unsuspected friend in my missional journey of planting a church in the East Central Neighborhood in Spokane. The Lord’s Prayer has become a stable trellis to attach, support and sustain my soul in this ongoing experience.

Word’s that used to seem trite and simplistic have opened up like blooming petals and a fragrance has been released for me, which seemed to only come about through the trials and tribulations of life, work and worship in this neighborhood.

Last week I spent some time down the street where a suspected gang shooting took place, which ended up wounding a young child and young man. In the face of such violence and the complex social-economic-political-moral-spiritual realities behind these type of events, I found refugee and purpose in this prayer.

“Deliver us from evil,” was a phrase that took on newer meaning by the alley where these victims could have died as fear tried to get its grip my heart as I reflected on my own kids, wife and our home down the street.

“Forgive us,” resonated as I thought about all the brokenness and failure of our community and families and the repercussions upon the emerging generations.

“Thy kingdom come,” and “Hallowed be thy name,” became prophetic words of invocation sought to confront and transform the spiritual conflicts taking place in unseen realms in and among the streets and homes I passed.

Over these last six years I have grown quieter and smaller in prayer as I am faced with problems and possibilities that are so much bigger than I am in this part of Spokane. These situations have shaped my spirituality, or should I say whittled it down from the gregarious verbosity type of Charismatic triumphalism I had before to a more monkish contemplative posture. What I use to think represented power in prayer has been altered by the suffering of place and reborn into a form of prayer that is less in content but  has a potency unforeseen by me before.

When the noise of police sirens, conflict and cursing, speeding cars and community congestion dominate the atmosphere of neighborhood, I find myself longing to bring simplicity and silence to the battle more than ever before.

Now when I close the Lord’s Prayer with, “Amen (so be it, let it be so),” I find myself exhaling it like Noah releasing the dove, an act of hope and fait with a slight tinge of fear of the unknown world being born, yet, I continue to pray.

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come. 
Thy will be done in earth, 
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us. 
And lead us not into temptation, 
But deliver us from evil. 
For thine is the kingdom,

The power, and the glory,

For ever and ever.

Amen.

Dehumanizing the outsiders, elderly, disabled and poor

By Contributor Pastor Eric Blauer

Pastor Eric Blauer

I have been working with refugees since October of 2006, when our family agreed to host a family of five Karen refugees from Burma through World Relief, an  international refugee resettlement organization with a great office in Spokane. These were the first Karen people to come to Spokane and because of that we worked to move them right around the corner from our house. We hosted the next two families as well and then began partnering with World Relief in building a small community of Karen people here in East Central. That first year I was exposed to the opportunities and challenges refugees face.

Through my friendships with these people I began to see my faith, church and city in a new light. Some of that was so encouraging, and a lot was discouraging. I quickly became aware of the underlying racism that was present in our community, something I hadn’t experienced since most of my relationships were with fellow middle-class white people. I saw discrimination and witnessed the powerlessness of the poor and marginalized. I’ve seen the vulnerability and the victimization of those who do not understand our American life. I’ve helped them deal with shady employers who work them overtime without pay, salesmen trying to scam them, navigating schools systems, medical providers, an unsympathetic legal system and countless other challenges these new arrivals face in Spokane.

But, I think one of the most frustrating spheres of life we deal with is the medical system. The poor, elderly, disabled and refugee community face discrimination and lack of access and service in ways that often infuriate me and break my heart. Lack of information for low-English speaking people is part of the problem. The culture of liability, paper overload, disconnected systems, for-profit business and a sprawled out city that places access to medical services out of reach of many people are at the root of a lot of needless suffering. I know people who have done their own dental work, suffered with chronic health problems from lack of quality care, been denied treatment and died because of the way our systems dehumanize, isolate and put profit before people.

Photo contributed by Eric Blauer

Last week I received a call from an Iraqi refugee friend. He’s an elderly man with heart problems and high blood pressure, poor English skills and suffers partial paralysis from a stroke. He came to America as the only other option than returning to bombed-out Baghdad where he faced danger due to the political and ethnic changes in Iraq. He went from a good and prosperous life, with a beautiful home and extended family and friends to a refugee camp and then to a two-bedroom apartment in Spokane. The changes and challenges he has faced in hopes of providing a better future for his two teenage children has been both heartbreaking and inspiring to me.

He called me in a panic because his nose had been bleeding for two hours and it wasn’t stopping. He asked if I would come and help him. When I got to his house, he was dressed in sweats and had blood down the front of his shirt, on his head and was clutching a blood-soaked rag to his face. He was visibly scared and asked me to take him to the urgency care center where he had taken his daughter when she was sick. I took him there and was turned away because he didn’t have the type of insurance that covered their services. The woman at the desk advised us to go up to 57th and Regal to another urgent care she said took his state insurance.

At the next office I started filling out forms and then I was told that they wouldn’t see him either because he had to have a referral from his primary doctor. I argued with the staff with him on my arm, still bleeding and confused as to why I couldn’t seem to get him help. I was informed that I could just call 911 if I had a problem with the situation.

We left.

My friend’s nose had stopped bleeding, so as I drove him to the emergency room and called his primary doctor’s office. I had to argue a bit with someone to get a nurse on the phone to discuss what I should do. Finally I got some advice on the situation. She gave us some guidance and said if he continued to have any episodes of bleeding that day to take him across town to their urgent care.

I took him home and helped him take his blood pressure and then we prayed together.

As I reflect on this situation, which isn’t an uncommon type of experience in this town, I was deeply frustrated about how the care of people in our communities has become such a politicized issue. While people argue and debate about profits and policies, people suffer.

One nurse told me about the policies and the fear of being fined by the state if they provided services. But not once did any staff or nurse offer a clean and sanitary rag. All we got was cold, clinical care. No compassion; or action, just dead-end procedures. I was ashamed of our system.

We can argue about the debt, freedoms, liability and host of other reasons why things are as they are, but when you are standing there in an office with an old bleeding man in sweats clutching your arm and you are denied service, the problem becomes personal; more than political.

The dehumanization of the individual in our culture is chronic and at the root of much of it is the love of money. I hope young and emerging medical professionals will catch a vision for returning to urban centers to practice medicine among the poor, the elderly, the marginalized and the disabled. Our neighborhoods need doctors and access to medical services. Until we rethink the way we are living life as a community these types of ridiculous experiences will increase.

City buildings and churches

By Contributor Eric Blauer

A worship service is an act of organized religion that consecrates the place in which it is performed, making it a church” – Judge Pierre Leval

Pastor Eric Blauer

I disagree with this judge’s ruling and statement. As pastor of a church that currently meets in a city building, the East Central Community Center, in our neighborhood, I find the recent ruling  in New York to be extremely troubling. For a judge to make such an erroneous theological statement in relationship to his ruling, pushes this civil debate into murky waters with unforeseen consequences. Martin Bashir of MSNBC recently weighed in on the issue and his thoughts are worth hearing. Well known, NYC pastor Timothy Keller also had something to say as a pastor from that area.

As the courts of our nation wrestle more and more with matters of secular versus sacred legislation and policy that touch issues of faith and practice for millions of Americans, one must be vigilant in staying current in the public debate on these matters that will affect us in the days to come. Our own city is cutting funding and our neighborhood community center is under the budget knife, which could eliminate many important social services to this neighborhood. Our church leases space and runs a community resource center for refugee resettlement on the second floor of the East Central Community Center. We primarily work with the marginalized and low-income people and these cuts will potentially impact our services and community work in this neighborhood.

I hope the local and national electorate, especially the religious part, will work hard at maintaining their presence, voice and vote in the public arena. It is important because the America many of know and love, continues to be reshaped by neo-constitutionalist secularists who would like to expand beyond the original intent and meaning of the founding father’s ideas regarding separation of church and state.

Nibbling on Life’s Moments

Pastor Eric Blauer

There’s this strange season in one’s life where the constant stretching forward to reach something, begins to spin around and you find yourself fumbling to hold on to something you don’t want to let pass.

Every step forward feels like one step away from a life you didn’t realize you were going to have to let go of. This holiday season things are changing around our home. This will probably be the last ‘just us’ Christmas, with everyone in the home and this shift is difficult to make.

This is the same emotional vortex of getting older, when you realize that the life that has passed is becoming greater than the life you are gong to live. This knowledge of the number of our days should birth in us the pursuit of wisdom…which compels us to discover the true life within our remaining days.

This wisdom helps you see the little things that used to annoy you or that you didn’t value as much take on a sacredness they didn’t once seem to hold. The older you get your natural eyesight may dim…but your spiritual vision opens more wide than the heart sometimes can handle. You begin to see moments as holy and the practice of your life becomes an act of worship in ways that before you could never understand. You see the gift of life and it’s fleeting opportunities in the fading dusk much more warmly than in the rising dawn.

These ‘revelations’ in life are sweet and bitter…much like the Apostle John wrote about:

And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter.” -Revelations 10:10

Like John, we too nibble on the moments of our lives and they taste so good going down and that goodness mellows the soul in ways few other things do. But there’s an aftertaste that’s bitter like the numbness of your hands after making snowman or the brain freeze you get from devouring ice cream to fast. The pleasure and pain of being is a confusing tension to learn to walk within.

Our days are scattered with small happenings and they are gifts that bring sprinkles of joy and yet, also produce an ache of sorrow. It’s a dual natured beast this thing called living and the ability to balance those moments is a difficult thing to absorb. Especially  because the pace of it all increases beyond the heart and minds ability to savor it.

This Christmas I am trying to feast on the ‘little scrolls’ of the season, even though at this time in all of our family’s life, trying to find ‘together time’ is near impossible. So, I’ve just done my best to make better moments with each family member that I get a chance to be with.

So this year…Kona (my dog) and I put up the Christmas lights together, I straddled that life threatening tipping point between paralysis from a potential ladder fall and frost bite outside stringing lights and she barked at everything that moved, while following me around like I was lost. Austin and Micah and I set up the Christmas tree between sibling fights, Skyrim distractions and the lack of a mother’s wisdom on just how and where to set up unending boxes of decorations. I squeeze my daughter as she rushes off to her multitudinous number of Christmas events and try to catch up with my firstborn through his Facebook posts, breathless recountings between concerts, work and band practice. Crammed in between church, jobs, taxi duties and holiday events my wife and I try to string together the happenings with more of a dazed look of exhaustion than twinkles of lives being well lived…but what is one to do?

This is the conundrum of time…it’s always better experienced in memory than in the moment. Learning to reverse this trend is at the heart of true spirituality to me. Capturing the light of the day and holding onto it like a gift from an Angel and slowly consuming it and the revelation it gives on how to live the ways of God in the times of men.

This is not an easy task…if you think about it for awhile but this is real living, and I hope to celebrate with the heavenly hosts this Christmas, basking in this wisdom, even if I do it with…a slightly sour stomach.