Advent, Day 6: Occupation

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[Right about this time in every series, I wonder, “Are people reading these?  Is it worth the time and effort? Does it matter, anyway?”  Then I take a deep breath…and write some more.]

Something we mention but rarely stop to ponder about Jesus’ advent: he came to an occupied country.  

Rome had conquered Jerusalem in 63 B.C.  At Jesus’ birth, Israel was going on three generations of Jews who had lived under Roman domination.  In 70 AD, Rome would lay siege to Jerusalem and destroy the Jewish temple.  

No one born in Jesus’ time knew a country free from political oppression.  No one in his parents’ generation had, either.  Life expectancy was not as long then, especially among the poor, so sixty years later there would be few left alive who had known the time before the Roman centurions marched into Jerusalem.  When we read the Gospels—“…and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile”–they are often shaped by Israel’s being under military rule.*

The Bible gives us these details to root us in the concrete, historical reality of the time.  “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”  These aren’t myths set in timeless abstraction.  Jesus first opened his eyes into a world in which Roman soldiers could do as they pleased to Jews, Jewish tax collectors were backed by the power of the Roman military (and thus considered traitors to their people), and Jewish “rulers” ruled at the pleasure of their Roman governors.  Thus, Herod “the Great” could do as he pleased to all the children under two years of age born within his province.  Herod could do nothing that would suggest resistance to Roman authority.  

Into this world comes Jesus.  What does this mean?  

Herod wanted to kill him because Herod feared Jesus presented a threat.  Herod feared both a king who would usurp his power and anyone who would draw the ire of the Romans.  When the Chief Priest and the council debate how to deal with Jesus, the argument hinges on how the Romans will destroy all of Israel

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all!  You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.

From birth to death, Jesus had the specter of Roman power casting its shadow.  When we read the Gospels we see that Jesus was not ruled by fear of this power and let it neither truncate his message nor urge him to violent reaction.  I think it’s hard for us, in the midst of an ongoing national debate as to whether five thousand impoverished refugees fleeing for their lives represent a threat to our country, to imagine these martial law conditions under which Jesus entered the world.  

Jesus came to bring us peace.  Jesus came to be our peace.  The prophesies about Jesus include that he will make all wars to cease.  He shall be called “Prince of Peace,” and “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace.”  We tuck this away and hope in this in a future sense.  But the angels (I wrote about yesterday) sang:

“Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Our Prince of Peace is born in this season, and this season reminds us that he came to give us peace.  He came in the midst of violence, under a violent, expanding empire, to be our peace.  I am struggling to be peaceful, to live and spread peace, in this season.  But Jesus did not live this way in a snow globe of tranquility, he chose and taught peace among a people oppressed by vicious, racist soldiers, and who in turn were seething for rebellion or revolution.  They mocked and spat on Jesus and called called him “King of the Jews”–how racist is it to bludgeon and lacerate an unarmed man and then proclaim him king of his people while executing him?  

From that position, Jesus forgave.  

I want Jesus’ coming to be for me a calling to peace, to follow our Prince of Peace into a peaceful resistance of the violence within me and around me.   I want to respond not out of anger nor fear, even to those who are angry and fearful, but as Francis prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

I need so much prayer for this.  But it is a season of miracles.  

 

 

*Roman soldiers, under Roman law, were allowed to force residents of conquered territories to carry the soldiers’ equipment up to one mile.  Thus the radical nature of Jesus’ commandment.  

Advent, Day 5: Hidden

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I don’t think you’re stupid if you don’t believe in Christianity.

I say that because I know a bunch of people who call themselves “Christians” may have expressed, explicitly or implicitly, that you must be an idiot if you, too, aren’t a Christian.

I also know you don’t need me to validate your intelligence for what you do or don’t believe.  But nonetheless I’m going to say, whether or not you follow Jesus is not a measure of your intelligence.  

I’ve had people tell me, fairly recently in fact, that I am foolish for believing what I do.  One of their main arguments against my belief is that there are so many awful people who claim to be Christians.  I’m not denying that, either.  There are.  I don’t particularly enjoy being called “foolish,” but I get it.  It doesn’t always look like it makes sense, and the way I do it probably extra doesn’t look so sensible.

Here is a mystery of our faith.  God is hidden.

I recently stated that I believe, in large part, because I have experienced God.  A friend and a slight bit of a troll on my page, like a mini-troll, immediately responded that never having experienced God is exactly why he does not believe.

Do I argue that?  Do I say, “Oh, sure you have!  You just weren’t paying close attention!”

God is real and God has changed my life, but can I point God out to you?  No.  I can point to all the changes God has made in me, and the people who have known me longest tend to agree–“Yeah, no, he was an incredible jerk, definitely something happened.”

In Advent, we’re celebrating the coming of Jesus in human form, what we call “The Incarnation.”  Today while I was driving a secular radio station played a Christmas carol and there I was singing “Christ…is the Lord.”  A verse from O, Holy Night.  You don’t have to turn on that secular station, you can just go Christmas shopping and you’re decently likely to hear somebody sing about Jesus being God (or a baby who doesn’t cry. Or both).

But deep in the heart of what I believe God did, there is hiddenness.  Jesus was born to poor parents, peasants, who happened to be traveling far from home–forced by laws that in no way would benefit them–and all the images that we love, that make up the parts of our “Nativity Scene,” are different ways of saying, “This happened off the world’s radar, this was not held to be important, when we say ‘born in obscurity’ we mean this.”  If a baby is born tonight to a mother who is part of the “caravan,” in a tiny little hovel on the Mexico border near, but emphatically not in, the United States, and the world keeps right on spinning without a blink, that is the equivalent of our God’s birth story.  It’s funny that we are so into this obscurity, when otherwise people in those conditions rarely pique our curiosity.

Yet having said this, the obscure, unnoticed arrival had some remarkable witnesses.  Angels sang, which I write and you read without a blink, but tell me, have you ever seen an angel singing?  “Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exaltation!” I’d love to see that.  I don’t mean I disbelieve it happened, I mean I’d love to see that!  If one angel scares the bejeebers out of people, what would a choir of angels do?

They sang, as we all know, to shepherds.  What?  Or maybe they sang to God and shepherds just got to see the concert.  But they got to see it!  I have friends who tell me they’ve seen angels–yes, I believe them–but I never have.  If angels exist, and I believe they do, they are hidden.  From our view, at least.  Except for this one special time, when a baby was born where no one saw it and no one cared–the songs revel in how barn animals witnessed the birth, no one else–yet angels “in their multitudes” appeared to bust out a rousing chorus.  Hidden, yet revealed.  Yet hidden, because only the shepherds saw those angels.  They didn’t play their One Night Only concert in Jerusalem.  They were out in–or over?–the fields.

 

Again, I believe this stuff.  I don’t always know how it fits together–the magi most likely visited Jesus when he was two years, not two hours old, but I’m not going to go around pulling those crowned figures out of everyone’s Nativity sets. I’m not describing it this way to cast doubts or aspersions.  I’m saying this is the deal:  God chose to enter the world in obscurity and hiddenness, in near anonymity, and there’s something marvelously ironic about how we all sing about how obscure and anonymous it was.  God did this wildly improbable thing, God became a human being while still God and started as an embryo, and God chose brown-skinned peasants in a tiny dot on the map but they didn’t even get to stay at the boarding house for his birth.  God’s glory hidden in human form, God’s fame hidden in obscure circumstances, God’s power completely concealed.

Why?  Does anybody want to ask “why?”

Circling back around, I don’t think you’re stupid if you don’t believe this stuff.  I don’t think you’re foolish if you do.*  I’m not going to give you a crack-the-code answer for why I think God did it this way, but more of a visceral one.

In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Jesus was a stranger.  He came to earth as a stranger and though “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”  He was a stranger.  His parents carried him into Egypt and he was a stranger.  He became a rabbi but the religious authorities rejected and then reviled him.  He was a stranger.  He loved his followers, gave his life to them in every way, and one of the men he shared everything with turned him over.  He was a stranger.  He was tried in the middle of the night, in a farce of a trial, found guilty with the help of false witnesses, and forced outside the city gates to be executed.  He was a stranger.  

This hiddenness, this lowliness, this becoming as the least is how God reveals his, or her, face to us.**

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

Maybe he really meant that.  

God hides in the face of the stranger.  

Or maybe God is waiting for us to look there.  

 

*I’m not a big fan of saying you do while disregarding or doing the opposite of Jesus’ teaching and modeling, but that’s another post.

**Jesus was a man, God the Father is no more an anatomical male than female, and the Holy Spirit is referred to as “she” throughout the Bible.

Advent Day 1: Empathy

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I haven’t written much on my blog lately.  In fact, I haven’t posted since Election Day.  

I have many reasons, including trying to focus on other writing, continuing to struggle through this transition, and the intense discouragement I feel over both the state of US politics and the widening chasm between those of differing political beliefs.  “Discouraged” may not be a strong enough word; I’m depressed as hell about it.  

And today brings Advent.  I’ve been staring at this computer for the past 2+ hours, trying to figure out what I might say.  There hasn’t exactly been a popular outcry for a return of my blog, but enough people have said they appreciate it–and I know writing it can be healthy for me–so I want to try another Advent series.  This one will be different.  

 

Empathy

God created us and God knows everything.  Jesus followers believe both of those statements.  

Sympathy is feeling bad for another’s pain.  Empathy is sharing in another’s pain.  

Put another way, sympathy means concern for another from the outside, from my perspective.  Empathy means concern for another from understanding and relating to their point of view and to their experience.  If I sympathize, I feel bad for them.  If I empathize, I feel their pain along with them.  

Among the paradoxes I find trying to know God is this:  What did God learn when Jesus became incarnate?  

Did God learn what human pain felt like from the inside?  Did God know that already from the outside?  We talk about how God is present everywhere and therefore “the outside” can’t really apply to God.  

Luke 2:52 says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”  Then Hebrews 2 tells us that Jesus became perfect through suffering and Hebrews 5 adds that Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered.*

I can more easily wrap my head around that Jesus learned obedience because it makes sense to me that obedience tested and fulfilled is more truly obedience than obedience in theory.  It’s tougher to grasp what Jesus knew and when: he grew in wisdom as he aged, like the rest of us?  He didn’t know the hearts of all people when he was, say, two?

But I’m not dabbling with “Can God create a rock too big for God to lift…” stuff here.  I’m in awe of incarnation and especially of this: the almighty God of the Universe who is eternal and knows all things, became limited, became weak, became vulnerable, and experienced our pain directly, not indirectly.  Sometimes I’m comforted when I hear “God cries with you” and “God suffers when you do.”  Other times, I think (or say) “The hell God does!  I’m depressed and insecure and feel like a failure and God may sympathize but God does not know how that feels to empathize.”  

But maybe God does.  Maybe Jesus felt depressed when folks he loved gave up on his ridiculous ideas and went back to a wiser, safer life.  Maybe Jesus knows exactly what loss feels like because he experienced more of it as a human than any of us could.  Did God empathize with us before Jesus lived and grew in Mary?  Perhaps.  I know God empathizes with us us through being born, being a poor refugee, being a beloved and despised teacher.  

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, apologetically, “I’m really excited about this but it’s such a small thing.  It’s silly.”  I’ve said it myself, too often.  But I think Jesus rejoiced in small things.  I think Jesus knows how that feels.  I think our celebration of small things–sunlight through clouds, grass on bare feet, a bite of a good apple, a cute dog–glorifies God and emulates Jesus.  Small cups of water and little children and two pennies in an offering and good wine at a wedding.  Jesus knows how important these are; Jesus feels how sacred these are.  

Hebrews says we have a high priest (Jesus) who suffered every temptation we do.  True.  He also laughed at bad jokes and ran on the sand.  He empathizes with our whole human experience.  He had both a former tax collector (so pro-government he was considered a traitor to his people) and a zealot (so anti-government he called for violent revolution) calling him “rabbi.”  

He wept over Jerusalem.  He wept with Mary and Martha over Lazarus, who would be walking out of the grave in about five minutes, because he loved them, not abstractly or from a distance, not at arms’ length, but with his arms around them, feeling them shake when they cried.  

I feel distant from God.  I do.  I haven’t heard God much since I moved back to the States.  Lots of reasons, lots of idea and theories why that might be. I’m swimming in deep water.  

But I don’t feel abandoned by God because, as Advent reminds us, God is with us.  Immanuel.  God chose not to stand outside or watch from “above” or even to know us solely as Creator; God knows us as we are from being one of us. 

God empathizes.  

 

*”Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;  and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…”

 

Clipart: <a href=”https://clipartxtras.com/”>clipartxtras.com</a>

 

A blog post on my fiftieth birthday.  

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(Non-sports fans–this is not a sporty post. Don’t bail at the first reference to ultimate.)  

I may be the youngest fifty-year-old I know.  And by that, I mean least mature.  

On Sunday, my ultimate team in our fall league finally won a game (kind of).  Afterward, we did a cheer for the other team, as is traditional in ultimate, a silly yell or song or something to congratulate/enourage/amuse the opponent.  Their team is “Tropical Stormtroopers.”  So I suggested, 

Tropical Stormtroopers/”That’s no moon.”/”I have a bad feeling about this.”/We’ll see you again soon. 

A teammate suggested the last line, which was a good rhyme/conclusion.  Then my teammates all told me they didn’t know my references.  They aren’t all fifteen.  I think a couple are in their thirties; one may be in his forties

So step back.  I’m out on a Sunday afternoon playing ultimate, of course I am, at 49 years and 354 days.  I played well.  Not what I could do at 29, not as fast as 39, but I didn’t embarrass myself.  I represented.  I’m guarding a kid who is 17 and faster than smoke.  A Big deal.  Makes me happy, keeps me sane.  

Then I reference Star Wars, the original, that we eventually started calling A New Hope or Episode IV, that was the formative movie of my childhood, with two of the most recognized quotes from the entire franchise (have you never seen a meme?*).  No one recognizes it.  But it rhymed, and after I explained it they were all, “OH! Okay!” And we did our cheer…

…and no one on the other team recognized the references.  

 

So here I am, youthful but old.  The mirror won’t let me forget that I’m fifty.  Neither will the sun, when it burns my scalp where I used to have high SPF hair.  

I realized long ago that to relate to young adults, which has been God’s main calling on my life, I need to have some clue what they’re talking about.  But I’ve seen people try to be hip and young when they’re not and <shudder> that doesn’t help.  Somewhere in between, there’s a balance.  

My Peter Pan streak helps.  It’s not like I have to try to remain immature.  That seems to take care of itself.  My friend Michael, celebrating his 25th anniversary today, just described marriage as “relentless tolerance.”  Ah, Lord, you have gifted Kim with that, and she practices it every day, and I am so grateful.  

My eldest, Rowan, recently expressed that life seems to expect mastery after only two rodeos. That’s a small number of rodeos.Image result for know everything by my second rodeo

I agree wholeheartedly.   I’m fifty and every day I feel like I’m winging it, trying to pick up cues from the people around me how this is supposed to work.  But at fifty I know–most other people feel that way, too.  Maybe not as often.  

There are so many things I don’t know at 50 that I thought I’d know by now.  I know so much more about myself than I did at twenty or thirty, but I still baffle me.  The line about “I’ll feel like I’m an adult when I’m…” sounds like a joke to me now.  But the lack thereof no longer stresses me out.  

At fifty, I am a pastor and a writer. How do I know?  I pastor people and I write stuff.  Will I ever make money writing?  I hope so.  It would make life easier and would sure be nicer for Kim.  But titles have no bearing on who we are: many people with the position of pastor do not pastor at all (far too many, tragically) and wherever I go and however I get paid (or not), I pastor.  God made me to be this.  Likewise, the words always flow and someone reads them and tells me they relate or that it helps or I made them laugh or think.  Will I ever have the title of “pastor” again?  I don’t know.  But on my birthday, having the people I’ve loved and invested in recognize the impact I’ve had in their lives?  Priceless.  

Several different mentors have stressed to me, “Doing flows from being.”  I get this now.  I do these things because this is who I am; I do these things from who I am.  

Maybe I can say, fifty years in, I know who I am.  Not that I always understand why I behave in certain ways, but I know who I am. I know who God made me to be.  Living from here, whether a year or another fifty, is not trying to figure that out but trying to live it faithfully.  

So how do I faithfully live being immature?  

I’m asking that half seriously, half tongue in cheek.  I tell the young people I mentor that one indicator of maturing is learning to recognize my emotions and then choose my response, rather than having my emotions dictate my response.  By this measure, I have matured phenomenally…and still have some ways to go.  

There’s an entire series to be written about spiritual maturity and I would need some guest writers to help with that (*makes mental note*).  Take this not as a summary but merely a glimmer: spiritual maturity involves being the message we speak.  In this sense, hypocrisy is the opposite of maturity.  I hope, and fervently pray, I am maturing in this.  

But as for US common measures of maturity…I don’t know where my phone is.

And a part of me hopes I don’t find it.  

 

 

 

*”That’s no moon meme” comes up second on the Google search autofill.  Yeah.  

Things That Are Going Well

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This transition has been severely stressful.  Last weekend, Kim and I were in a septic tank.  Not symbolically.  That may tell you all you need to know about the challenges.

It struck me–or God nudged me–that many things have also gone well and I’ve been blessed and encouraged a lot.  It’s easy to focus on how bloody difficult it all has been, how, in many ways, it hasn’t gone as we’d hoped, and how transitioning to the US after seven years in Nicaragua is just plain hard, no matter what.  

But in that ever-elusive balance between being honest and choosing to focus on positives, it’s time to remember, and recount, the good stuff.

We’ve been back since late June.

Friends gave us a car.  It’s hard to express how much that helped.  Financially, of course, and practically–the only thing of more practical help than a vehicle right now is a place to live–but also morale-wise.  It showed me that God is in this part of our journey, which hasn’t always been abundantly clear to me.  They felt God led them to give us the car.  Assuming they were right, that’s some pretty cool watching out for us…and some pretty powerful listening to God by them, too.

My friend Tim gave me and Corin tickets to a baseball game.  Slightly less pragmatic gift than a car.  But it also made me feel tremendously loved.  I’d screwed up with Corin and this redeemed what was otherwise going to be one of those low moments of parenting. Going to a baseball game, or not, doesn’t seem such a crucial thing in the big picture.  But in the midst of our chaotic transition it gave us a chance to spend a day together, just be together, shout our fool heads off, and stop worrying about whether the house will sell or middle school will ever get better.  We were about twelve rows from the field.  We received lavish generosity.  One of my favorite memories with my father is a trip we took to see a baseball game together.  I hope my son says the same.

We are living with family, with my in-laws, Ben and Celeste, and their two-year-old son.  The most practical need God is meeting for us right now is this place we live.  I don’t get the sense from them that they are doing us a big favor or putting themselves out–which they are and they are–and, in fact, they seem to like it. Either they have fooled me mightily or this has gone very well.  On my end, I’ve enjoyed this extended family time so much I will miss it when we have our own home.  I consider that rave reviews.  We passed three days, and then three months, that a guest should stay,* and I’ve started to wonder whether we have missed the boat in our culture.  Nicaraguan culture practices versions of this model of family everywhere.

A funny thought: practical needs are food and a home.  Worldwide, a car is a luxury item that feels like a practical need in US culture.  You know what another actual need is?

Sleep.

I’m sleeping here.  Last night I slept 7 1/2 hours straight, without waking up once.   I dreamt deeply.  I woke up feeling rested. 

After years of insomnia, I wake up feeling like I’ve experienced a mini-miracle.  I tried not to be too whiny about my insomnia–Yeah, who am I kidding? I complained incessantly about it.  I’ll offer only this defense: it sucked.

People need sleep. Sleeping, it turns out, helps. A lot.  I would be tempted to complain about the cold–who am I kidding, I’m complaining a lot about the cold because I’m already freezing my patootie off–but I’m pretty certain colder temps get much of the credit for better sleep.  I can’t say I feel less stressed here, but I definitely traded one type of stress for another; perhaps this version doesn’t keep me awake at night.  I’ll take it.  I’ll take it and rejoice.

I’ve thought a lot about relationships since I’ve gotten back.  I find it impossible to weigh what I’ve lost against what I’ve gained (back).  I’m homesick for Nicaragua, certainly, and that mostly means for my friendships there (and fresh tortillas across the street).  There are people here I missed horribly; mostly, I tried not to think about how much I missed them.  Yet I’m very lonely, thus far.  Weird.  In the midst of that, a few people have bent over backwards to help us with preparing to sell our property and  with our move.  I’m profoundly grateful for their love, shown through lifting boxes and fixing broken stuff.

Lastly, and as a parallel, I miss our daughter, Annalise, though I feel tremendously proud of her for choosing to return to Nicaragua and invest her heart in kids there.  I also love having time with our eldest, Rowan, which I had not been able to enjoy these past three years.  I can’t weigh the gain and the loss on a scale, but I’m glad for both of our children and grateful to be their dad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have more things going well than this; I opted to describe these in more detail, rather than make one of my Thirty lists.

I still don’t know what it all means, but I can see glimpses of God’s faithfulness in the midst of it.

 

*”Fish and guests smell after three days.”

Brain Damage

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Here’s the thing:  I have a really good memory.  I mean, an excellent memory.  Not a great memory for facts or figures, but for anything relational.  That’s my framework and thus I always have somewhere to hang those memories.  My high school friends get a little frustrated that I can recount in detail what happened when they (sometimes) can’t remember the event I’m describing at all.  

Here’s the thing: my memory doesn’t work right now.  It’s working for skubula, and that truly frustrates me.  It feels like brain damage.  The only brain damage I’ve experienced directly is suffering concussions.  I remember nothing of my accident, for example.  It just isn’t in my memory bank.  Right now, neither are significant things people I love have told me.  I cannot stress enough how much this pisses me off.

Because here’s the thing:  Much of what I do works because I care about people and remember what they tell me.  I joke sometimes that I have no job skill, I’m just good at being friends. I’m only half joking.  All of my ministry, in every form it takes, relies on relationship, which in turn relies on my knowledge of the people in whom I invest.  

The worst example of what I’m describing:  a truly dear friend, a guy I’ve mentored for years and years, once closely, now as more of a peer and occasionally, told me his significant other was expecting and he was going to be a father.  That is huge news.  You might argue none bigger.  In fact, he told me way ahead when few others knew.  I was honored.  

And then I forgot.  

I forgot so completely that when he was describing his life, it threw me that he kept referring to his baby.  I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa–what?!?”  Which would be an appropriate response if I hadn’t been told the news.  

But I had.  

Now, I know several of you are lining up to tell me I’m getting old and this is a natural side effect.  I’m going to have an increasingly difficult time arguing against the first point, but I reject the second.  I’m not gradually having a harder time remembering things; at some point in the last 6 to 9 months, I just started dropping things, major things, with no warning.  Nope, don’t say “Yes, that’s how it works.” I’m not buying it.  

Here’s what I think, self-diagnosing as any good pastor/teacher/coach who knows little to nothing about how the brain functions must do:  some combination of grief, stress, and long-term impact of insomnia has monkey-wrenched my memory.  

Now, in order for this not to sound like I’m feeling sorry for myself–because believe me, I’m not doing self-pity, I’m angry–I know that A)I am not going through what people with serious brain damage do, B)most likely this will be temporary.  I’m fortunate and blessed in so many ways I couldn’t write a blog long enough to name them all, much less describe them.  I know that.  

But I feel strangely disabled right now.  I don’t know what to do with or about that (other than to vent about it on here, and pray…not in that order).  I have been isolating too much during our transition, and certainly this is one reason why.  It’s not just major relational things, of course.  It’s all the things.  Today I screwed up by forgetting what I told one of my kids I would do.  Kim will ask me to do something and I’ll forget she ever said it.  Yes, we’ve all forgotten to do something our spouse asked us to do.  But usually when this would happen to me before, there would be some glimmer that we’d had the conversation.  Now, like I said, it’s just a black hole there.  It’s like trying to remember when the Prado ran into me.  Nothing.  

I have no great conclusion about this, other than to repeat that I believe it will be temporary and, as with all such things, it teaches me empathy if I’ll accept the lesson.  I’m trying.  

Also, if you asked me to, you know, officiate your wedding or baptize your child or keep your darkest secret, you might want to remind me.  Except maybe the secret thing; you might be safe there.  

 

PS I am not a hypochondriac, probably the opposite, and no, I do not believe I have a brain cloud. 

PPS Bonus points if you can name the movie I just referenced there.  

Disneyland?

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Imagine you live in Disneyland.  You’ve spent your whole life in that park, except for a few short trips to Anaheim to watch the Angels play or In-N-Out to get the world’s best burger.  You see Mickey and Snow White every day.  

You know you live in Disneyland.  You don’t believe Goofy is a real dog nor Donald a real duck.  You’ve watched the movies and understand that Ariel is representing The Little Mermaid and Mulan is an actress wearing a costume.  You understand that other places don’t have Space Mountain or Splash Mountain.  You get that the Haunted Mansion isn’t, either one.  

No one knows better or more intimately than you the shortcomings of “The Happiest Place on Earth.”  You know that some of the staff fight.  You know that a lot of kids–and adults–throw their trash on the ground.  Someone has to pick that up to keep THPoE from becoming a dump.  Maintaining happiness takes work.  You also know that being in THPoE doesn’t magically make everyone happy, Magic Kingdom though it might be.  People still scream at their children.  You’ve seen children get hit.  You’ve seen children run away.  

In other words, you know the limit of the Magic.  

So you’re neither naive nor immature in your view. 

You are, however, limited in your perspective.  Like all of us, you tend to default to believing what you’ve experienced is what others experience.  You say things like, “I know not everyone lives in an amusement park,” but you’ve only lived in an amusement park, so you don’t know exactly what that means.  You can guess.  You’ve seen pictures.  You’ve heard news reports.  But there are many aspects to life outside The Park that you can’t quite picture.  

 

No analogy is perfect and every analogy, if stretched too far, will fail.*  I’m not trying to insult anyone with this one.  I’m not suggesting that suffering and tragedies we experience are less real.  There were ways life felt richer to me there than here.  

Being back in the U.S. after living for so long in Nicaragua feels to me like living in Disneyland.  This place is extraordinary, and extravagant, and has so much that strikes me as facade.  

Every school, every public school I see in our area, has facilities vastly nicer than any but the wealthiest private schools in Nicaragua.  I’ve seen poor schools in the United States.  I know they are here, too.  But even those have much more–of almost everything–than public schools in Managua.  

I’m experiencing some of the typical reverse culture shock.  Grocery stores have So. Many. Choices.  But I’m not deadlocked or paralyzed.  I get how this works.  It’s Disneyland.

Every car on the road is nice here.  I know, people drive around some serious wreck here.  Except they don’t, not really, not in comparison to what stays on the road in Nicaragua.

Where does Nicaragua get its buses for public transportation?  Most of them are “retired” school buses. Why did they retire?  You know why.  They were too old.  Too many miles.  No longer considered “safe.”  So someone got them to Nicaragua where they were wired and welded and puttied back together, then jampacked with riders such that some literally hold onto the rear door and hang out the back.

This is Disneyland. 

I’m not saying it’s without problems.  You could argue that some of our national problems are worse than those in many developing nations (not Nicaragua’s, since April 18).  But I’m returning to a life assuming lawns and lattes and golf courses and lawnmowers.  If one assumes all of those as “normal,” a world without any of those…

Okay, some people want to debate whether you can get a latte or find a golf course in Nicaragua.  Yes, and yes.  It’s not a perfect analogy.  But golf courses and lawnmowers and even the luxury of grabbing lattes are as far from most Nicaraguans’ experience as a loudspeaker playing “Zippedy Doo Dah” and Jiminy Cricket singing “When You Wish Upon a Star.”  

Don’t believe me?  Our neighbor, Mileydi, who became a sister to Kim, had never seen a microwave when she first came into our kitchen.  I once tried to explain to my friend Tito, when he asked me if I owned a car, about car ownership in the U.S.  He told me, matter of factly, that he would likely never own a car.

Have you ever owned a car? 

I know, some people in the U.S. can’t afford cars.  Can anyone you know personally, anyone you are good friends with, not afford a car?  Ever in their life?  

Do me a favor.  Next time you are at church, or a grocery store if you aren’t a church-goer, just pause and look around the parking lot.  Don’t look to see who has a nicer car than you, look to see how nice the cars are there and what the sum value might be in that one parking lot, in that one church or grocery store, in your one city.  

I’m trying to adjust to Disneyland.  

Again, I’m not trying to be frivolous with this analogy.  I’m trying to convey how wildy vast and staggering our resources, our wealth, is here.

 I say this with all humility: I consider it a privilege that I lived in Nicaragua and now the world looks different to me. We were able to do that because a lot of people and some churches (i.e. groups of people) shared their resources and helped make it possible.  It cost us, too:  years toward retirement, a whole lot of hair from the top of my head, whatever the ongoing cost will be for seven years of insomnia.  

I feel responsible for that privilege, especially in how I use it to impact others. 

So here it is.  We live in Disneyland.  I live in Disneyland.  We live so differently than how the vast majority of the world lives that it’s like Disneyland by comparison.  I’m not making value judgments on us individually; I’m not saying we don’t work hard. Neither am I demeaning Nicaragua and certainly not Nicaraguans.  But if we won’t see this, or if we convince ourselves that we deserve (or earned) being born where we were, I believe we deceive ourselves.  

I’ve just been comparing U.S. life (mine, at least) to “normal” life in Nicaragua.  The violence and brutality unleashed on the Nicaraguan people by the Ortega goverment–attacking and killing unarmed citizens, firing randomly into crowds, murdering children, denying all responsibility–drives this analogy deeper.  Yesterday I heard a “bang” that sounded like a gunshot and my brain whirled to place myself.  Literally, it took me a moment, standing on our property in the mountains outside of Wenatchee, to remember I wasn’t somewhere I might be in danger from gunfire.  

I don’t think I’m traumatized.  I didn’t dive behind the brush pile I was clearing.  I am readjusting to not feeling in danger.  

So if my analogy is at all accurate, then what?  

 

 

*Snap like a rubberband, I wanted to say.  But that doesn’t exactly describe it. 

Turn, Turn, Turn

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Okay, here we go.  Last night I twisted my ankle when playing ultimate for the first time since I got back to the states.  I haven’t had an injury that’s made me miss more than a couple weeks of ultimate in…years.  I’ve been tremendously lucky at this age.  But now I’m limping like crazy when I need to be going up and down hills to get our property ready to sell (and I mean hills).  Then, as a special bonus, my son vomited spectacularly at 3AM.  

I’ve got some heavy posts about transition and following Jesus in our current climate that have been swirling in my brain, starting to take shape.  But I think I need to write a different post first.

I got to do Alex and Jameson’s wedding in Austin seven days after I arrived back in the States.  They flew me to Texas, put me up and treated me to a glimpse of their city.  It was one of the best ceremonies I’ve ever done–and I’m pretty out of practice these days–for which I give all credit to God.  It was a blast. I’m not in my mid-20’s nor a newlywed, but it restored my hope in being young and newly married, because they rock and will have an incredible, God-saturated life together, spreading the love of Jesus and learning to live by grace!  

Our friend Erinn is visiting from Maryland.  Erinn and Jeff were our best friends in Nicaragua (in a series of best-friends who-then-moved-back-to-the-US*).  I’ve got I-don’t-know-how-many friends from the US whom I’ve never seen in the US.  We’ve been introducing her to our world here.  There’s something odd but satisfying about bringing disparate parts of your world together, even as it reminds you that your life is so scattered now it will never come back together. Certainly not here.

At the beginning of the week, our friends J and A gave us a car!  I’ve got to say a few things about this.  First, moving back to the States is incredibly expensive.  It’s a great chance to see God’s faithfulness because it appears that a ladle is dipping money out of a very small bowl, very rapidly, but somehow the bowl doesn’t end up empty.  We gave our van to our friends Juan Ramon and Amada.  We were told we could probably get $2,500 for our van.  J and A were asking $2,500 for their car.  Then she felt God told her to give us the car.  

Doing what we’ve done–I would say following God’s calling the way we’ve understood it–we decided a long time ago that when people choose to share with us, we receive it with gratitude.  It’s not very self-made-and-autonomous U.S. Archetype Man of us, but missionary life wouldn’t work if we could’t receive.  Likewise, returning-from-missionary-life.  It’s humbling, but not in a bad way. 

They gave us the car in response to a request I made to borrow a car while we tried to buy one.  We got six different offers to borrow a car in addition to the Toyota Camry we were given.  Six, in 24-48 hours.  

This move is hard, and my heart still feels torn not to be in Nicaragua, but our community here pounced on the opportunity to share with us.  That helps.  I don’t know why I’m back, but I feel loved and welcomed back.  And I see God providing, even as the bill to replace the hot water unit so we can sell our house costs more than the car we didn’t buy (Man, that’s a big ladle!).  

One more thought on that, especially if you read the above and thought, “I would never take a car from someone!”   We’re able to be generous because we know God will provide for us.  I mean, we were able to give seven years of our lives because we knew God would not let us or our children go hungry.  One reason we came back, probably my least favorite but a legit one nonetheless, is to reenter working toward retirement.  As Jesus followers, we walk in faith and trust God while using discernment and acting wisely with what we’re given.  Wise doesn’t mean, “Mine, all mine!”  Neither does it mean, “I don’t need to worry about my bills!”  I think wise means we walk close to God, with open hands, giving when we see opportunity, receiving when we see opportunity.  

Finally, as I’m trying to let myself be here, not wishing I were back in Nicaragua, not questioning or arguing with God or even forcing the inevitable grief and culture shock that I’m still waiting to engulf me,** I’m reminded that God meant it about “For everything there is a season.”  I loved being in Nicaragua–I mean, after I got over hating being there–and that makes it tempting to cling to what was.  I don’t know what this new season is yet.  I don’t even know why this new season is yet, though I could explain the reasons we moved back, at least somewhat convincingly.  I simply know this is a new season and that means God has purposes for it, most of which I can’t yet see.  I could feel guilty for being back here where so much is easier–life works easier here, in so many ways.  Instead, I’m choosing, and I mean minute by minute here, to walk with my hands open for this season itself.  I don’t know what God is giving us.  I don’t know what we’ll be giving, of ourselves and what we have.  

I just know seasons change.  

 

*Jacques and Amanda, Jeff, Jeff and Aaron.  

**As someone who deals with depression, I’m daunted that re-entry is a phase in which most people experience depression.

Running Out

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I’m running out of time.  I’ve got one day left in Nicaragua.  

I’m running out of food, running out of ways to feed myself–the stove and fridge have been gone for a week–running out of shampoo and soap and now, it seems, running out of functioning keys on my laptop.  

Today was, on balance, a marvelous day.  I had one more ultimate game with the Chiquilistogua guys, who I have come to like so much.  Even though I’ve  never played in a tournament on their team, they’ve completely made me a member.  Today they gave me a disc they had made with a photo of their team stamped on it which they all proceeded to sign.  It will be one of my favorite remembrances from Nicaragua, a trophy not of winning, but of connecting.  After Sunday’s game they went around and shared with me what they’ve appreciated about me.  I’m etching those words on my heart.  Whenever I doubt my years here have been well spent, I’ll read them over again.  

I said “goodbye” to my friend Pastor Bismarck tonight, though of course we said “Hasta Luego.”  We”ll see each other again, sooner or later.  He told me a story I’d never heard.  We knew each other for a month when he helped me buy my car, since he is also a great mechanic as well as a servant-hearted friend.  The car cost $8,100.  We had to pay that in cash, which we did by giving him the money to make the purchase.  The man selling the car was shocked.  

“Why would they trust you with that much money when they don’t know you?”  

“We’re both Christians,” Bismarck told him.  “They trust me because we know God.”  

The man, on the spot, asked Bismarck to pray for him to become a Christian, too.  Then he invited Bismarck back to his house, told his wife, and she also become a Christian right then.  

I’m not sure why I’d never heard this before–Bismarck isn’t exaclty reserved with his storytelling–but he told to me as a “look what your trust did” story.  He lifted my heart tremendously, which was timely to the Nth, because my heart has been dragging on the floor lately.  I hate leaving this country I love that is suffering and daily watching the government kill its young people and then claim they’ve done nonthing wrong.  I don’t just want my spirits boosted while this misery falls all around me, but I do want to believe that my time here has meant something as I watch it tick away.  

I’m running out of space, too.  Out of weight that I can pack, which means I have to decide which things I’m not taking with.  I’m not really into things, but there are a couple of extreme exceptions, the biggest of which is books.  I’m not going to say it’s killing me, but it’s wrenching away one of my biggest sources of comfort–if that makes no sense to you, you’re not a bibliophile, and if you ask one, it’ll make sense to them, I guarantee.  

I’m almost done in the house, which is fortunate because I’m down to the last coach.  It’s the only piece of furniture to lie or sit on left in the entire house.  I deliver it to a neighbor tomorrow.  Our dog, who has been my faithful companion during this stretch since my family left, also goes to where he’ll be staying tomorrow.  Kim loves him the most but I’m going to miss him.  

Obviously, all these things need to happen.  This is moving.  It’s a countdown.  It was my idea to stick around a little bit longer, to try to have good closure.  Because of my choice, it’s been like pulling a band-aid off a little bit at a time for ten days.  Not the best way to do it.  More time doesn’t change leaving.

I’m still glad I did.  I believe God has good things for me back in Washington.  I get to go back to some people I really love, in a place where I can see God clearly and smell pine trees (kind of the same thing in my book).  I’ll be happy to be back, even as I work through this grief, and at some point I’ll see what God’s got for my next gig.  I’m looking forward to understanding a little better.  

And having said all that, it’s been worth figuring out how to keep eating without refrigeration or conventional cooking.  It’s been worth the figurative hair on my arm getting pulled, hard enough to hurt, for ten straight days, so I could tell some people I love them and thank you, eat a little more Nicaraguan food (Thank you, Emma!), preach a couple more times, play just a little more ultimate, and give what little I can in the face of this horrible, bloody crisis.  

The only things I’m not running out of, it seems, are words and prayers.  Zeke and César, Andy and Byron, Gerald and Jeremias, Samuel, Andrés, and Adán, Juan Ramon and Bismarck, Mileydi and Juan Carlos and Dora, I will miss you all so much.  Lord Jesus, put an and to this violence and raging injustice, to the lies and manipulation and self-deception.  Shine your light so the darkness here cannot hide any longer.  Raise up the leaders to move this country out of this night into a day of restoration.  Bind up and heal the wounds of the grieving and the broken hearted.  

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for caring about my small story in the midst of all this, my ridiculous life where I hope God’s grace pours through.  Please pray for my friends who are suffering now and will still be suffering when my time here has run out.  

#Nicaragua crisis in numbers: 285 dead. 1,500 injured. 156 disappeared. 72 detained (currently). 201 liberated. 4 people killed /day. Average “This is just a preliminary report. We wish it were the final report. That will come when social peace returns to Nicaragua.”- Alvaro Leiva, ANPDH

Currently the government denies it has committed this violence.

Hitting My Wall–Plus Good News!

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The stove and TV are gone.

The eph key on my computer doesn’t work anymore.

I gave away our second dog today.  That’s when I almost lost it.

I’ve said “goodbye” to some of the best people I’ve ever met, many of whom I–optimism aside–may never see again in this life, and hadn’t cried for one of them.  Part of it is how I’m wired:  if you’re right in front of me, I don’t miss you. If I’m still hugging you, you’re right here.  Even after we’ve said “goodbye” and I’m driving away, part of me thinks, “You just them like 30 seconds ago.”

Also, I think trying to do this transition in the midst of Nicaraguan’s violent upheaval, I have my emotions packed down tight into my abdomen.  I can feel them there.  It could get scary when they come up again, but not yet…except when I drove away after telling Sonny what a good dog she is.  I don’t know if she believed me.  She looked like she had doubts.*

We’re trying to use up everything.  We’re trying to limp by on what we have left–you don’t buy more when you can’t take any of it along.  Moving out of the country is different than moving across the street or city or nation.  Kim and I moved 9 times in our first  4 1/2 years of marriage.  I was in seminary and a lot of that was campus housing changes.  We loaded up pickup trucks or just carried boxes until it was all movd.  But we weren’t deciding among the art we brought with us, kitchen appliances, and keepsakes.  What’s replaceable?  How much to replace it?  Is that cheaper than the space it’s going to take in the suitcase? I have two full suitcases of books left

I realized as I was again going through my clothes to make another cut for tomorrow’s yard sale–our third, second in the barrio–that getting rid of things falls roughly between sense of direction and handwriting, both in order of what I’m good at and my emotional response to them.  If you don’t know me, I’ve been lost more times than I care to remember and a sixth grade teacher told me I would not pass college classes because my handwriting was so bad (she failed to foresee the microcomputer).  I was also raised by a packrat father and have the same tendencies.  So forcing myself to get rid of socks, t-shirts and ankle braces that I may or may not have money to replace kind of twists my guts.  You’d think I was raised in the Depression.

On the upside, we ventured out today and make it to the movie theater.  That was our second “long” outing in the past month, what used to be a 12-15 minute drive that now takes 25-30 because we have to take a route that goes literally in the opposite direction of where we’re actually trying to reach.  But I’m not complaining; I’m grateful we could get there at all.  We saw Solo for our last $4.50 movie tickets.  Ah, I will miss that.  A lot.

Last times, goodbyes, narrowing, and getting by on what’s left.

These aren’t real hardships, but I can feel myself hitting the wall.

Now I’m going to say a few blunt things and then something hopeful.
Most of our gringo friends have already gone.  I have mixed feelings about that.  I’m not judging; they have to do what they believe God leads them to do, just as we do.  But it’s weird.

People are expressing a lot of fear and concern for us.  I deeply appreciate the love behind that.  But we’re not afraid.  We’re not in direct danger.  We’re scared for the Nicaraguans who have no choice to leave if it gets worse.  We’re concerned for the people who are working for a meal today and there is no work.  Our beloved neighbors across the street who have become family to us had us over for dinner tonight, as part of our extended “goodbye.”  They are beautiful people who love God deeply.

They’re also so poor we bring plates with us when we come to dinner because they don’t own that many.  But this week, a man has been working for them, helping build an interior wall for the house renovation they have going–slow going, to put it mildly–and he is literally working to eat.  That’s what I’m afraid for.  So yes, pray for our safety and wisdom and discernment–but please pray for people to have enough to eat and for justice and shalom in Nicaragua.

ON that note, I’m going to end with the news I just read: the dialogue between the Ortega government and protesters went well today, for the first time!  I’m cautiously hopeful.  They are calling for an end to all forms of violence by all sides, independent human rights officials are being invited back in, they will dismantle barricades …and tomorrow they will discuss calling early elections to elect a new president and congress and that Ortega would not be allowed to run for reelection.

Wow.  I’ll end on a good note.  Pray.  Please pray.

 

Oh, and yes, I am pasting in the “f.”  Every single time.

*  As it turned out, she had serious doubts and bolted on her new owner.   They couldn’t catch her.  Kim had to go help them get her back.