Thursday, January 28, 2010

it's all in the faces

The first time I was introduced to the friends, I failed to notice the couple’s subtle communication. The wife’s face arched into to a question. The husband nodded knowingly. They grinned together. I didn't desire to see their faces.

The first time I met the mother and sister, I shook the mother’s hand. She gazed into my eyes and knowingly stated, “So, you’re the friend!” Her mildly amused but studying look was like the siren on a fire engine, announcing the direction of her thoughts and memories of past discussions. The sister simply smiled sweetly—-I dared not discover what her face held.

The second time I shook the mothers hand, I was introduced again. “You know my friend,” she was assured. A slight flicker of recognition bubbled up into her eyes and was quickly stamped out by her nearly violent jerk of the head and withdrawal of her hand. What could that be? Rebuffed. Insulted. What could have possibly changed? The memory. A difference of opinion. An earnest request. Weighty matters too painful to discuss. Denial. What does it mean when one touches their face incessantly? Of course, a mother would only defend her child. If only they knew what I know now. The tables were turned. They all discussed the matter amongst themselves, what I only vowed to discuss, face to face, personally.

The final stare. I was introduced again. Hollow eyes. Hollow cheeks. “You know my friend.” Not anymore. There’s no need. No need for speculation. No need for friendship.

The sister, now that is another matter. Her stare from across the crowded room. A curious gaze. Slightly remembering...wondering. A moment too long to go unnoticed.

A face reveals everything.

A face lies.

What is your face saying?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

when love is not a decision

When love is not a decision, all sorts of indescribable human vices are entertained...intertwined. Emotions out of control. Pain turned inward. Pain turned outward. Emptiness seeking respite. Sophistry becomes its answer. When love is not altruistic—when love is not for the ultimate good of the other and toward the glorification of God, love is simply not love.

This is a thought experiment. Is it true? I invite your comments.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

what happened in Africa.

I gave a presentation last week, speaking on my first encounter with Africa. Here is the transcript.

How can I tell you what happened in Africa? I, myself, barely understand. I’ll have to tell you what happened to me there by telling you other stories.

First, the story of the last supper. Where the Master is there washing his disciples feet. He…the creator of the universe stoops to wash the feet of his own followers. He was their guest from heaven for a short time. But he cleans them up. He cleans up their dirty lives. He does so as the dirt and the grime of the Galilean roads dirty his own feet.

He eats the Passover meal they have prepared for him. It was their own ritual. It was their own food. And yes, they served it to the Son of God, the Creator of the universe. And he ate it and he did not die. He did die. Later. Later, they killed him, with their very own hands.
But he didn’t stay dead. And that is the point.

The terribleness of their messy lives couldn’t kill him and keep him dead.

The second story is the story of the celebration of the last supper from my childhood.

Now, I’m not going to sensationalize the Amish practice of shunning that was very much present in the way my community practiced the Lord’s Supper. We all have our shunning and excommunication rituals. Every culture has them. Minnesota, America tends to excommunicate by means of indifference through the practice of silence and unresponsiveness. There are no rules written anywhere but the practice is fully enforced whenever one wishes to exclude another from the group of the included. Every social group has their insiders and their outsiders.

It is clear, unless one is simply blind or in denial, there are insiders and there are outsiders. There are those who are included and those who are excluded. In my community of origin, the included sit down and eat the Lord’s Supper together and wash one another’s feet. The excluded don’t. The excluded take their plate and eat over there at a different table. Please understand I am not passing judgment on the practice itself or on excommunication practices everywhere other than to simply say that sin separates. There are those that eat at the table and there are those that don’t.

These two stories go together. One is the story of grace the other is the story of the fall. One is the story of Christ embracing us in our sin. The other is the story of how sin separates us from the community of God.

Now, against this backdrop I go to Africa. I am a stranger among them there. I am their guest. I am their very honored and distinguished guest. And I come from the land of the chosen, where the streets are gold and the angels sing. Well, maybe not quite but Africans had some idea that where I come from, life was unimaginably better, by comparison. In America food is cooked in ovens. There are toilets that flush. The pure water comes in bottles and is too expensive for them to buy. Everything else is really sanitary.

So in the most amazing expression of hospitality I have ever seen, the Nigerians opened their hearts and arms and received me. They would have even put me up in the most costly place they could find so that I would be comfortable, like I was back home. So that my toilet would flush and so my food would be cooked “properly” in a kitchen. This was the heart of the people toward me in the most amazing expression of love, other centeredness and hospitality.

But I quickly became almost angry as I recognized the other voices whispering through the people despite the people’s good hearts and arms loaded with hospitality. There were social structures and evil overlords and the all important colonists who were speaking also. There were people from the past, people from the present, sitting in high places in Abuja, Lagos, Washington DC or wherever.

Wordless things were being conveyed.

In the village I was preparing to eat the food that came out of the pot sitting on three rocks with the firewood underneath. They said, “No our food will make you sick! It might even kill you.” You must go to the restaurant where your food can be cooked properly.

What were they saying? Were they excommunicating themselves to their own humble table? Or were they excommunicating me also, as I sat alone in the restaurant situated inside high walls with barbed wire and a guard at the gate. This is more than excommunication! It was as though I heard, “Here, sit in this prison and eat, while we sit down at our own table to eat the terrible food that we have prepared for ourselves that even kills us, according to the official sanitation codes.” Who’s codes were these? My people’s sanitation codes? I read them half-heartedly on the plane trip over: a thick stack of documents that the Travel Clinic gave me in preparation to travel.

Excommunication works both ways it seems.

As I prepared to live and sleep in the village where the dirt floors were swept clean and the animals and the bugs ran freely. They said, “No, you must stay in the hotel in the city where there is electricity and your toilet flushes and everything is sanitary. You can’t stay here with us in our terrible situation. It will kill you. A mosquito might bite you and you’ll get malaria and die.”

I said to myself, “Ah. Ah!? Who has done this to these good people? Who has made these people believe this about themselves?” Your food is amazing and I don’t care if the toilet flushes. Get me out of this whitewashed prison!

The Master said of his mission, “I come not to be served but to serve and give my life for others.” The creator of the universe says this.

If your food kills me. If your viruses kill me. If living with you in your country kills me. So then I will die and it will be worth the dying. And even if I die. I will not stay dead. And that is the point.

So, I ate their dinner with them. And we sat at the same table. And we washed our feet in the same bucket of dirty water. And as you can see, I did not die. And the people saw and were amazed. They said to each other, “Ah, Ah!? Who is this who has come to eat with us and sleep with us and walk the dusty road with us? And the terribleness of our messy lives did not kill her.”

How can I tell you what happened in Africa. I, myself, barely understand.

Monday, March 31, 2008

amish spring break 2

Since I so recently did a post on Amish Spring Break, I must share with you another commentary on Sarasota, the Amish-Mennonite retirement capital of the USA.
It is appropriately entitled, The Prodigal Beachy.

Here are some enticing excerpts.

Now when the two brothers had Come of Age, the younger brother, Jake Beiler, said to his father, “Verily, Father, now that I am Come of Age, I want to journey to Sarasota, Florida, on vacation, and since some of the youth group is going down over the same time, it could be a great bonding experience.” His father did not think too highly of this idea,

And Jake journeyed to Sarasota to sojourn for two months. And when his youth group was come unto the place, and he saw their manner of attire, that it was not Beachy. Then said he in his heart, “Yea, is this not the manner of Sarasota? For verily, I can come hither, and wear all manner of T-shirts and shorts, and get a full body tan, and the bishop can say nothing to me, for I am a stranger and pilgrim in a different land. Oh, what fun!” And so Jake went to Wal-Mart and stocked up on many shorts and every manner of striped and checkered and flowery T-shirts, and said in his heart, “Now no man shall know that I am Beachy.”

Thursday, March 27, 2008

respecter of persons

This is a coined phrase that sticks in my memory from childhood. It comes from the King James language of Acts 10:34. Peter stands up and says, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons. But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” This was the pronouncement of Cornelius’ acceptance into the present work of Christ.

But the story I remember hearing as an example of a situation where one should not be a respecter of persons was from James 2:3, where two types of people come to you, one is rich and wearing nice clothing and the other is poor and wears tattered clothing. In our little Sunday school we were instructed not to treat the rich person with more respect then the poor person.

At home and in the daily life of my faith community in rural Minnesota, there were plenty of chances to work this out. We were not a minister’s family. We were not the model citizens of this community. In fact we had trouble being model citizens. I remember being the odd one out most of the time. To this day, I still catch myself thinking, “I don’t have any friends.” I have a few counter responses to that one now. But over all, this status in that community provided me and my family with an opportunity to practice becoming people who are not respecters of persons. Often, we would host people who were even more rejected than ourselves. Some of them would come over and we would watch as my dad would sit in the living room with them and listen to their rambling or ranting for hours. We all knew it wasn’t very pleasant to be in my father’s position. But we learned from him. He would treat them kindly. My mother would cook for them. And we would all eat together. Very seldom would we hear my father complain about these rejected folks that came over. He only ever said enough to confirm our own judgments. These folks were lonely and because of their rejection and isolation among us, they’d become a little crazy. Everyone becomes a little crazy when loneliness sets in. When there are people who have become crazy as a result of isolation it is no reflection on their own person, it is an indictment upon the society that contains them.

To this day, I often feel more comfortable with folks that hover on the edges of social groups. If they stand a little to close when they talk. If they talk incessantly about something mundane and uninteresting. If they don’t understand the blatant cues your giving them about your boredom or your need to move on or get to work. These are the folks I feel at home with. Urban ministry has made great use of and given me a place to further practice treating everyone as equals.

The most surprising thing for one of my roommates to find out was that I was bothered by a number of people’s behavior or even their personality, but I still hung out with them. I can only credit it to my parents that I am able to embrace the outcasts, because otherwise I would be very picky and judgmental about the sort of folks I was with.

Inevitably, when I give witness to the grace God has shown me in my upbringing on the topic of preferring some above other people, people self-consciously ask, “Do I bug you”? Do you just hang out with me because you want to overcome your natural aversion to me?

So what if you are. You are loved anyway. You are accepted. This is the point. Soon we’ll all forget what our aversions were.

Friday, March 21, 2008

witches and pagans among us

Around 5+ years ago, I made a concerted effort to hang out with witches and pagans. There was a ministry or two that did that sort of outreach but most of them didn’t last long. I don’t think they understood the depth of the spiritual forces they were dealing with and approached their audience in the typical Evangelical Christian Modernist way. I don’t think even I had a full grasp of it, nor if it is possible for anyone to have a full grasp of the mysterious dark forces, nor should they. Often in my quest I was with a lot of young punkish types and ravers, as well as Goths and new renaissance types. I didn’t have much success with long term relationships, although I had a few sinister offers and enough “visitors” at the witching hour to realize this was serious business.

I wanted to penetrate the darker circles—the ones which served another god and were to some degree aware of it in their rituals. But it must not have been my time yet. Last night however, I happened to be invited to a women’s group meeting at a local co-op. My friend didn’t tell me much about it but it sold itself on the themes of women’s empowerment and initiative in business etc. In actuality, it was a full blown pagan ceremony for the evangelization of more women into the serve another god sort of life. It was like Alpha but with an emphasis on ritual instead of an appeal to the intellect.

I knew something was a bit witchy when I walked into the space and there were rich red fabrics everywhere and then this get-up in the corner of the room with goddess and fertility symbols. Some nice ladies greeted me and offered me food to keep me company till my friend showed up. I noticed a tattoo on the daughter of the “high priestesses” neck of an ancient fertility goddess, arms outstretched with the dagger for sacrifice in hand. The meeting was to start at 7 sharp and the doors were to be closed at that time and the “meeting” was to begin as the equinox occurred at 7:07. We stood in a circle on a Persian carpet. We were welcomed and key people in the circle introduced. Like Alfa there were the leaders and the undercover helpers. As we began the ceremony we were given a candle and it was lighted by a leader or a helper. My phone began to vibrate as my friend was arriving and hoping to have me let her in. I broke from the circle, which is a significant desecration to the ceremony. I dallied with her outside hoping to avoid the ceremony but wishing to stick with my Christian friend and wanting to know what the rest of the empowerment meeting was all about. We came in, joined the circle and our candles were lit for us. Mine kept going out. Guess I won’t be going out from that place to spread the light of spring, as they suggested we do. We were urged to place our candles on the alter before beginning the creative project, which was just like Summer Vacation Bible School.

What’s my point? I don’t think I’ll really put a strong one out there. Perhaps I’ll simply say that we are called to evangelize. I do think it significant that I kept messing up the ceremony and the candle wouldn’t stay lit. It was an evangelistic demonstration of some sort. As Christians, we do interrupt any darkness in the works. As for fear, some of you may wonder--shouldn't I be afraid? Experience has taught me, fear is one of the worst temptations to entertain in the presence of evil. It stands next to blatant unbelief.