Uncertainty

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If you have not been following the situation in Nicaragua, it’s too complex for me to explain here.  I don’t even know if I can summarize accurately, but we’re experiencing severe civil unrest as the division between those who support the President and those who demand his immediate removal deepens and grows more violent.  If you want to know more, you can read these articles or contact me.

We’ve lived here, in this “developing country,” for seven years and experienced some inconveniences and a few genuine problems (the kind that might make you self-consciously dub yours “first-world problems”).  We’ve also experienced a massive adjustment and adaptation–as well we should have.  We love living here.  To be more precise, we love the people here, and we have grown to love this beautiful, troubled country.  

We’ve never before experienced anything like what is happening now.  

My daughter just said, “I’m sick of all the uncertainty.  I just want to know what’s going to happen.”  

We’re all inclined to think about things in terms of how they impact us.  This is human nature.  I don’t think it’s a bad thing unless it’s to an extreme; perhaps the process of maturity is growing to think about situations, and life in general, in terms of how it impacts others and not just ourselves.  I’m talking about myself here, not my daugther.  

The impact on us:  our school has been cancelled for the better part of three weeks now.  Shortened days or no school at all starting two days after we went to Ireland, so the twentieth of April.  I think we’ve had 3 full school days in three weeks.  Last Friday, we tried to cancel school because the busses would have to cross through demonstrations and some could not make it to school at all.  The ones that made it through were told, just as they arrived, to turn around and take the students home again. 

These aren’t easy decisions for our administration to make.  There is much at stake.  Obviously, the safety of our kids is the highest concern.  Information we obtain on what is happening around Managua is always uncertain.  We know certain locations simply are not safe now.  But others can flare up instantly.  We hear about planned protests and counter-protests.  We use the best discernment we can in a morass of uncertainty. 

Our basketball teams, boys and girls, just went to Costa Rica for the yearly sports festival to which we’re invited.  We departed Wednesday, after a very long and complicated decision-making process about whether we should go at all.  The pressing question was: will the kids be safe, especially on their return?

An example of a blocked road here.

Then last night (Saturday), we got word that there were massive protests scheduled for today and, moreover, that tomorow (Monday) would likely get much worse with the scheduled dialogue between the government and protesting parties.  Nobody knows for sure what will happen when such news goes out.  But decisions have to be made.  Our administration decided we needed to skip each team’s last game and return as early as possible Sunday (yep, today.  Good math.) to be cautious.  To be wise.  To be better safe than sorry. 

Nothing happened on the way home.  We left five hours earlier than originally planned–we would have left at 11:30AM (at the earliest), and this after our games had already been switched to the first scheduled for the day–and made record time getting back.  We saw two small groups of people, within a few kilometers of the school, standking on the side of the road, waving flags.  That was all.  

However, we’d gotten reports that one of the towns we needed to pass through might be blocked.  The bus company from which we rented the bus, which has direct knowledge of all its routes, took the extraordinary precaution of having us switch busses, mid-route. I know, it sounds like something you’d do if you were trying to elude your pursuers (“We’ll stop and switch getaway cars in that deserted garage…”), but we did it in case we had to take backroads or go through large blockades and needed more mobility.  In other words, the bus company anticipated we might have a much harder, more precarious drive and took steps to prepare.  

Uncertainty.  

To be clear, I’m not complaining that we came back early–though as coach, sure, I was disappointed–I’m giving this example to convey what we’re experiencing right now in this country we love.  My daughter is in her senior year and everything about the end of this school year is uncertain.  We are preparing to move back to the States after our school year ends, but in addition to making plans and prioitizing good closure, we’re trying to navigate each day’s developments and variables and be wise and cautious While. Not. Overreacting. 

No one knows what will happen here next.  Will violence increase? Will there be any compromise reached when the dialogue, reportedly scheduled for tomorrow, takes place between the government and the protesters?  Will the protests lose momentum as people suffering poverty reach their limits–when you live without margin, this can happen quickly–and have no choice but to return to “normal” life?  

Several friends have told me that what is happening now resembles what happened in 1979 and 1980.  This startles me the most.  We know our history.  

We pray to learn from history.

We pray for peace and justice.

We don’t know what will happen next.  

From Ireland to Here

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There’s a legend in my family that  a certain sister once said, “I’m not Irish, but my mom is.”  Apocryphal or not, it’s become an oft-repeated quote, part of our joyful litany that will, sooner or later, be quoted when we gather together after long absences.

I am Irish.   Loudly and proudly I have claimed my Irish roots since I was a teenager. I write in “Irish” where forms ask if I’m “white.”  I read Irish history.  One of the moments I loved most on our recent trip was having time after our tour of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to ask the tour guide lots of questions about Ireland’s history as well as current politics and culture.  She filled in some holes for me (according to her, Sinn Fein is now completely separate from the IRA, which is disbanded, not just wink, wink “disbanded,” but actually gone).  I learned that Ireland is now receiving a signficant number of immigrants, which Kim and I also experienced during our travels.  This is wonderful news for Ireland.  It means Ireland has become a country to which people move rather than from which people flee.  In recent years, Ireland has suffered a recession, but literally everyone I asked told me, cautiously, that they now see signs of recovery.  

Walking through Dublin is walking through a thriving, crowded, active city.  It’s not accurate to say “a pub on every corner,” as that would underestimate the pub count by about two-thirds. Though it sounds like I’m exaggerating, it’s difficult to hyperbolize the relationship between drinking, drinking establishments, and the Irish.  When they chose the harp as their official National symbol, Ireland had to get permission from the Guinness family–yes, that family, and, I learned, a tremendously generous and civic-minded family.  The Guinesses agreed…if the goverment would be so kind as to flip the harp over.  I kid you not.

I won’t pretend to give some exhaustive, definitive treatise from my seven whole days in Ireland.  We learned some troubling facts while visiting.  The rates of mental illnes, depression, and the incidence of suicide are very high in Ireland.*  It rains a lot and people suffer seasonal affective disorder. We heard that 40% of Irish schoolchildren are overweight.  I’m doing more research, trying to understand better.  

Anecdotally, Irish are friendly and helpful to visitors, more so than Americans are to their tourists.  Irish give directions as freely as Nicaraguans, but much more accurately.* Several times when we were lost we would look around distressed and someone would come up and help us without being asked.  Trying to find our way to Trinity College, we merely glanced up from our brochure map and instantly we got help from both sides:  a college woman and an older gentleman coming in on our left and right.

We saw an art exhibition on the Great Famine entitled Coming Home: Art and The Great Hunger.  I felt very fortunate that we visited during its showing.  I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland, but not solely for sightseeing; I’ve also desired to understand my own history, why our family left.  I learned.  

Over a million Irish starved to death in the Famine.  One million people at a time when the entire population of Ireland was eight million.  Half a million more died from related diseases.Image result

Another million tried to reach the U.S. and Canada. Our ancestors lived in County Armagh and County Tyrone and in 1860 sailed from Belfast–we think. This is from my cousin Cricket Hackman, who has studied our family geneology:  

 Henry Donnelly and Jane “Jennie’ Mullen” Donnelly had one child when they boarded the ship to America.  Their first child, a son they named Anderson, died prior to sailing (we don’t know if he was stillborn, or died sometime afterward).  They also lost a daughter (unnamed) just prior to sailing.  The 3rd child, a girl (unnamed) was born and died at sea, on their way to America in 1861.  I have her cause of death listed as small pox.   As it turns out, I know that they ended up sailing to Quebec, Canada, instead of New York, because their ship had small pox on it, and at that time, New York Harbor was not accepting small pox ships…they were turned away and landed in Quebec instead.  This was in the early 1860s, prior to Ellis Island being open.  They eventually did make their way to New York.  Their 4th child, also a girl (unnamed) was born either in Canada or New York, and died in New York between 1863-1864, also of small pox.  From there on to Illinois, because they knew some people who lived in Bowen.

In 1864 they had made their way to Adams County, Illinois…and their first child to live to adulthood was born:  Thomas Henry Donley.  I believe that Anderson was Henry’s mother’s maiden name.  They were determined to pass this name on to one of their children…and named three boys Anderson before one lived (our great-grandfather).

They began as farmhands, then sharecroppers, then were slowly able to buy their own tiny patches of farmland.  By the time I came along, six generations later, my grandfather and uncles owned and ran their own farms.

Those are bare facts.  I can’t comprehend them.  I understand that they happened, but not how.

We suspect their first child, the first Anderson, died from hunger or hunger-related diseases.  Their next three children, those ancestors of ours, didn’t die of starvation but they died from the famine, from the conditions they suffered as immigrants trying to flee to somewhere they could survive.  

We lived through the death of our son, Isaac.  I physically can’t imagine watching five children die.  I can’t grasp giving a third baby the same name, after two you named Anderson have already died.  

The Potato Famine didn’t occur simply because the crops failed.  As with every sweeping, enormous tragedy, a combination of factors contributed.

In Nicaragua, one of the Sandinistas’ strategies when they gained power was to take land away from one person or family and give it to another.  Again, such a matter-of-fact thing to say but what would it mean to experiencde that?  The knock on the door, the explanation that this land, this family home, is no longer yours.  You can take whatever you can carry.  Now.

England did the same thing to Ireland.  The campaign was called “The Plantation of Ulster.”  Irish families that had farmed their land for a thousand years were removed by violence and Scottish farmers were given the land.

When I taught government class, we talked extensively about the distinction between an action being illegal and immoral.  This is it.

Over time, many of the Ulster farm owners became wealthy enough to move to England as absentee landlords.  The Irish were “allowed” to farm their land–land that had belonged to the Irish originally–and the profits largely went to those living in a different country who had been given the land by force in the first place.

Then the famine struck.

One more thing to know: the Irish were almost wholly dependent on this food source.  When the potato blight spread and the crops were destroyed, there was no crop to switch to, no contingency plan, certainly no safety net.  These were the working poor, farmhands on someone else’s land who were allowed to keep a small portion of what they grew to feed themselves.  Then, suddenly, there was no food and the landowners evicted them.

Perhaps all you need to know about the Great Hunger in Ireland is this:  during those years when a million Irish were starving to death, England was still exporting food from Ireland to England.

The famous exchange in A Christmas Carol between Ebeneezer Scrooge and the gentlemen seeking alms for the poor comes to mind:

“”At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?”

“Plenty of prisons…”

“And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“Both very busy, sir…”

“Those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Dickens wasn’t exaggerating.  Charles Edward Trevalayn, the British Secretary of the Treasury, believed the Irish were lazy and didn’t deserve help.  He believed the famine was “a mechanism for removing surplus population.”  

Document evidence shows the Ulster landlords and the British government hoped for exactly this.  They wanted the Irish “tenants” off their land. Where they went to die was less of a concern.

Margaret Lyster Chamberlain

Yet if the Irish refused to move, in some instances the most effective strategy the British found was to provide passage to America.  That sounds generous, even kind, until you hear about the conditions of the ships.  When you find that the percentage of “passengers” aboard those ships who died was comparable to the fatalities on slave ships.  They died by the thousands.  

The…method was for the landlord to simply pay to send pauper families overseas to British North America. Landlords would first make phony promises of money, food and clothing, then pack the half-naked people in overcrowded British sailing ships, poorly built and often unseaworthy, that became known as coffin ships.**

“Famine Ship,” John Behan

Then, when they arrived in New York, thousands more were quarantined because of the diseases they were suffering–diseases they may have contracted on the ship, in such ghastly and inhumane conditions–and left to die from typhoid and tuberculosis and pneumonia.

Rowan Gillespie, “Statistic I & Statistic II”

But, miraculously, some survived.

That’s how I got here.

That’s how Mom came to be born of an Irish family of farmers living in the U.S.  Immigrant ancestors of mine who were sent
to die stubbornly refused and, though they suffered the loss of all of their children, began a new family.  How is that possible?

One more thing I learned at the exhibit that I had never heard before:  when a people have suffered severe famine, it impacts them, not only emotionally and socially but genetically.  Research suggests they pass on something to their children, some imprint of having survived a great hunger. Specifically, links point to increased prevalence of mental illness.  And obesity.  

Is that why I need to know?

The novel I hope to write, have wanted to write since first I heard this story of our ancestors, still feels beyond my reach.  I don’t know enough.  I still don’t understand.

But I’m closer now.

Family of Henry Donnelly, circa 1884. Anderson is the young man in the back row at the far left.

*Yes, I just made a big generalization about Nicaraguans.  Trust me on this one:  Very generous with directions, lack of accuracy notwithstanding.  Our lack of street signs does not help.  

** http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/famine/coffin.htm

Foreshadowing

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I don’t know if I’ll ever grow up to be a writer, because it feels increasingly unlikely that I’ll fulfill that first clause.

I had a tough night last night, which was especially discouraging considering that most of my day went really well.  

But the tough night, in a way, was the product of the good day.  That’s the situation I’m in right now.  

Yesterday I:

Preached, napped, went to a goodbye party, played ultimate, had a long talk with a friend after ultimate, had dinner with my family.

I tried to write last night and couldn’t bring myself to do it.  So instead I spent hours reading the news on social media which, shockingly, didn’t cheer me up.  About every 15 minutes I’d try again, but by late,* when my body finally gave up and succumbed to sleep, I still had managed only a few words.  

I don’t know how the sermon went, because it’s funny-not-funny impossible for me ever to know for sure how a sermon went.  I preached differently than I usually do, trying to go the way I thought God was leading.  Did I do that?  I dunno. Most of my preaching friends relate that this is one of the hazards and why we might feel some envy for those whose jobs have clear, physical, objective measures of success.  I got almost no comments afterward, positive or negative, but I had long conversations with both Evilyn and Sasha, the widow and daughter of Gerry, which felt much more important than hearing “good job.”  

But that’s not what made the night hard.  It might have been slightly ironic, since I encouraged people to trust God in the midst of the crisis here, and then needed to trust God a little more with the outcome of my sermon.  Honestly, though, I’ve been doing this a long time and my internal backlash was relatively mild.  Sometimes you think you did a good job and the response (that you can discern) does not reflect that and it leaves you second-guessing.  Or, if you really trust God, it doesn’t.**

The nap went well.  

The goodbye party was a blast for me, albeit tinged with a little sadness.  Our friends are leaving because they feel they have to, not because they want to, and that’s tough to see.  But I got to say “goodbye” well and there were a bunch of people I really enjoy and I’m an extrovert and I’d had a good nap, so that’s a great time!  

Except, I must confess, it also had foreshadowing with all the accompanying unsettling soundtrack playing in the back of my head.  That’s probably where things began to hit me.  

But we hurried back so Kim could go to a quinceañera and I made it to Sunday ultimate in time to play a few points in the first game and all of the second game.  And though I started slow–I’m old, and everyone else was fully warmed up–I had a pretty good day.  I was one of two token gringos, which on one level is sad–it used to be a much more mixed game–but it gives me lots of opportunity to focus on encouraging/mentoring the young Nica players, and I love that.  I love that almost as much as catching a deep throw for a score.  Joking.  My time with the Nicaraguan players is one of the most gratifying things I’ve experienced in my 30 years of playing ultimate.  

And herein lies the rub.

I spent a long time after our game talking with my friend Cesar.  I love Cesar like a brother.  He’s one of my favorite teammates, he always goes hard, he’s a fantastic defender, but more importantly, he has strong, godly character that I can always see when he plays.  

Cesar and I talked politics. We discussed the precarious situation in Nicaragua between the protesters, those who see themselves as Sandinistas but who reject the current President, and the administration.  I learned a lot.  

We talked about ultimate and his Nicaraguan teammates.  Then Cesar looked me in the eye, put his arm around my shoulder, and for several minutes expressed, in detail, how much he feels I have meant to him and to his team, his younger teammates, impacting them as an example and role model.  I told him that was the fruit of God’s Spirit in me.  In my ideal world, I would have a transcript of what he said that I could pull out and look at every time I doubt that God is working through me or that my life has helped anyone.***  

I left on a high.  Hard to beat that.  Scored a few times on guys I should never be able to beat, exchanged about three hundred high fives, and won both games, plus had someone I really respect tell me that I was the one who had included and encouraged and helped him when he was starting out.  He literally wouldn’t let me go until he conveyed that their team feels that I’ve been a big help to them.  

Dinner was nice.  My family had a “Quaker meeting,” something which my  children grudgingly endure, in which we check in and share what we’re grateful for, anxious about, etc.  

By any reasonable measure, that was a great day.  

Do you feel the “but” coming?  

Me, too.

Cue return of foreshadowing music leitmotif.  

Several people at the party, including the friend whom we were telling “goodbye,” said “You’re going to have one of these soon.”

There are boxes everywhere as we get ready for a multi-family rummage sale this Saturday.  

This threatens severe damage to my denial.  

Last year I wrote about grieving our beloved friends who were leaving.  (I was going to say “grieving our dear departed friends,” but that made them sound a lot more dead than they are.)  Now I’m the one preparing to leave and I’m grieving more.  

In my life, I will confess, I’ve preferred being the one leaving to the one being left, because I’ve got this wonderfully excitable personality, mixed with a dash of over-optimism, so I can easily focus on how great the next thing will be.  

This time, no.  

Here is the good part: clearly our time in Nicaragua hasn’t been a total disaster or else I would not feel like this.  

But it lies heavy on my heart that I’m leaving these relationships.  I’ve yet to be able to focus on the positives of what we’re going to next, cuz of the denial and all, and because what hit me last night is, I will not kid you, intimidating.  I feel a heavy depression lingering at the perimeter, wondering if it might be invited in anytime soon.  If you’ve suffered depression, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about here.  

There’s a whole post to be written on “Finishing Well” or “Healthy Closure.” But since I’m here, I think the best next step I can take in that direction is expressing my sadness and grief that we’re leaving a country that, for several years, I thought might kill me, but which now wrenches my heart to consider letting go.  

 

 

*This is my children’s preferred method of telling time.

Dad: “How late were you up last night?”

Son or Daughter:  “Late.”

**There is a much longer discussion here about preaching and learning to deal with after-preaching, including how much of it is emotional and how much spiritual attack or backlash, and the pros and cons of weighing people’s responses versus staying exclusively focused on God, but I’ll save that for another time.  

***Of course, he said it all in Spanish, so it also might have been, “Your forehand throw really isn’t very good and you could use work on your form and how much you snap your wrist.”  

**** If you’ve seen the movie “Let the Right One In…Swedish: Låt den rätte komma in, that’s what I’m picturing  here.

Thirty Thoughts from Ireland

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I was going to write a travelogue for each day of our trip to Ireland.  But I realized that would have taken away too much time from actually living the trip.  I may still do that, depending on how well I remember all the details.  But for now, I’ll just do another Thirty list.

 

*We waited our entire adult lives to see Ireland and it’s been better than we imagined.

*Yes, the grass is as green and soft and spongy as it looks in photos.

*The night we arrived, we walked around deciding where to eat in a cold rain.  Ireland really knows how to do cold rain.

*Our first two full days here were both sunny all day long.  The locals told us that was the first they have seen the sun in a month.

*We hiked 13 miles to see the entire Cliffs of Moher range.  If we’d been forced to return home due to emergency after that, I’d have been satisfied with our trip to Ireland.

*Though Kim had to look away, I laid down flat on a very flat rock shelf and looked straight down from one of the cliffs…and it felt like floating and falling and flying all at once.  Euphoria.  (Then she got a picture of it.)

*They’re not exaggerating about how much the Irish love their libations.

*We were impressed, even amazed, at how easy and timely Ireland’s bus system is. Yesterday a friendly local explained how unreliable and tardy the buses always run.  Perspective is everything.

*Ireland has an abundance of street and road signs! You can always figure out where your going! (Except sometimes they get cute and write the street names in Gaelic when you’ve been given them in English.  Then you can’t.)

*In two separate pubs in Dingle, we got to listen to brilliant live music–guitar, accordion, and harmony singer–and watch a man with “The Fastest Feet in the World” dance, traditional Irish style.

*Many Irish people really do speak Gaelic.  Virtually every sign, from road signs to castle descriptions, is in English and Gaelic.  Except the ones that are just in Gaelic.

*On perhaps a related theme, most everyone has recognized us immediately as tourists.  This in spite of my deep Irish roots.

*There are 4.8 million people in Ireland.  In the U.S., 34.1 million claim Irish ancestry.  Doing the math, there never would have been that many of us if we hadn’t left.

*The food has been great!  Much better than we anticipated. The seafood rocks.  When you can see the ocean… Neither of us has ordered corn beef and cabbage, though Kim did try fish and chips.

*Rental car companies are still a pain in the ass, even when you’re having the trip of your dreams.  Hard as I’ve tried not to be, it was my moment to be an ugly American.

*Driving on the left side of the road for the first time in my life required the same overriding my reactions and reflexes that…ready for this?…bungie jumping did.  “Yes, this is stupid and dangerous.  Do it anyway.”

*Ireland vastly prefers roundabouts to stoplights, at least everywhere we’ve been outside of Dublin.

*I’ve mostly adjusted to driving on the left side, though roundabouts and complicated intersections still require reciting to myself, aloud, “Stay left.  Stay left.”

*We are thrifty people (some would call us “cheap,” but we spend our lives with people who can’t afford what we can, so we’re constantly aware of the value of the money we’re spending).  For us, the cost of dining out has produced sticker shock.  We’re trying to figure out if this is A)Europe, B)being in more touristy areas, or C)we don’t actually grasp how much people pay when they go out to eat.

*Castles are cool! We spent several hours in Kilkenny Castle today.  Trying to grasp how much work, pre-cranes or -any-heavy-machinery, went into building such a massive structure.  We both love learning the history but it raises a million questions
about all the people whose stories aren’t told.  Winners and the rich write history, but they don’t haul those stones to the top to build those towers.

*We spent time in The Black Abbey, St. Canice’s church, and St. Mary’s church. All date back to at least the 1200’s originally and all of which have worship services today.  They felt like holy spaces.

*Besides staring straight down a several-hundred foot cliff, arguably my favorite part of this trip has been talking with friendly Irish folks.  We encountered two friendly farmers when we were…taking the scenic route…and they helped us re-encounter our intended route, beginning with the words, “This road isn’t on that map.”

*The two abovementioned farmers were the best, though difficult to understand (our ears are attuned to other accents).  Today’s cafe owner who tried to get us a castle tour two hours after they’d close–oh, “they” turned out to be his parents–and then told us all about starting his cafe, his time living in NYC, and giving Halloween castle tours, ran a close second.

*Temps have run from mid-50’s during the days to 40’s in the nights. But we live in the tropics.  In light of that, we’re surprised that we’re still this tough (i.e. not even wimpier).  Tonight we took a several-mile walk by the beautiful Barrow River,* returning just as the sun started setting.

*We’ve met many immigrants with fascinating stories, e.g. the guy born in Turkey, raised in China, now running a coffee shop in Dublin.  All the immigrants we met like living in Ireland, though they don’t all love the weather.  Our St. Patrick’s cathedral tour guide commented on how pleasantly surprised and encouraged she is at how well the Irish have received their immigrants.

*We’ve successfully experienced natural beauty in Doolin, traditional culture in Dingle, and Irish history in Kilkenny, plus all those great convos and a lot of Ireland’s countryside.  We  could have easily soaked up a week in any of these places, but for a short trip, we’ve done pretty well.

*We loved our days in Dublin. We were both sad to have to leave the gorgeous countryside behind–and then got swept away by the city: gardens, cathedrals, castles, palaces, museums, and more pubs!

 

*Dublin highlights: Trinity Cathedral’s architecture, Kim says “All the architecture!”, the excavated section of Dublin Castle from the 8th Century and built by Vikings, Dublin Castle gardens, Jonathan Swift’s memorial and epitaph (he wrote his own), seafood chowder, the top-rated independent bookstore in Dublin, finding out our host is in a Guns n’ Roses tribute band–yep, seriously–exploring the city, and more pubs!

*Irish people are often joyful and boisterous, but Irish history is rife with tragedy.  I wanted to learn more of both.  We saw an exhibition at Dublin Castle called “Art and the Great Hunger,” with depictions of the Great Famine from the 1850’s until now.  Haunting.

“Gorta” by Lillian Davidson

*Finally, our timing.  Nicaragua has been in turmoil while we’ve been gone.  We were here two days before it started.  It has calmed down again now, thank God.  Trying to keep track of what’s happening–not easy even when there, much less from this distanace–pray, and find the balance between proper concern and continuing to enjoy our time when there is literally nothing else we can do from here except pray.

Happy Ending

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I don’t know if there are ever any true “endings,” until you die.  And from my experience of my dad’s, and even more so my son’s, deaths, for those still here these are not endings, either.  Much of my life has been impacted and shaped by their deaths.

Thus, I’ve come to believe sports appeal to us, in part, because they offer finite size and clear, non-negotiable parameters.  Games end.  Seasons end.  You “put them in the books.”  You might look back on them wistfully and imagine if only you could do them over again, but done is done.  Whistle blows, third out is called, horn goes off, bell clangs, and we have completion.  This, along with the temporary experience of focusing solely on the game and putting all of life’s troubles aside for an hour or three, give us a healthy break.  Completion feels really good.

This weekend, some of my favorite guys won a basketball game.  We won the two-day Kaiser University Seahawks Games high school tournament and brought home the trophy.  I love to win, so I enjoyed that.  But winning was not the best part.

In the final game, we got behind immediately.  We got way behind.  We got almost there’s-no-way-we’re-catching-up-now behind.  Of course, we all know that when you don’t believe you can win, you can’t.  Coaching means helping your team believe they can win when they suspect they can’t.  But you can’t believe for them, any more than you can hustle for them or make wise decisions for them.  You encourage them to believe, you motivate them to hustle, you instruct them on wise decisions.  Then they run out there and play and, as any coach at any level knows, how they play depends on them.  They can make great passes or stupid ones.  They can dive for the ball or watch it roll past their feet.  They can decide that a team is unbeatable, or that they can’t make a shot, or that the person going against them is impossible to defend.

I’m acutely aware that I’m not a great coach in a lot of ways. I could write a long post on that.  You may lodge your requests at the end.  But my players have taught me a lot.  

I’ve learned in coaching you can focus effectively on only a few things.  If you try to overinstruct, you leave your players confused and everyone frustrated.  “But I told them!”  I’m a coach of simple things.  We do a few drills many times.  We practice fundamentals hard.  We prioritize effort.  We can’t always make the ball go in the hoop but we can always work hard to get the rebound or get on the floor after a loose ball.  In fact, our pregame shout is, “Every loose ball is…OURS!”  And often they are.

We focus on character. You can focus effectively on only a few things and that includes the non-tangible, deeper lessons of basketball.  If you don’t prioritize talking about character, or who your players are as well as how they play, that easily gets lost in the louder demands of playing better.  When the ball goes out of bounds in a scrimmage, our guys will acknowledge “I touched it last.  Out on me.”  That’s not always how basketball works, but that’s how we work.

Today we pulled off a mighty comeback.  We were behind 17-6 after the first quarter, but I think we might have been down 17-2 before that.  If that sounds like a reasonable distance to close, you may be thinking of the Golden State Warriors.  We had won the game before 32-20.  We’d spotted the other team more than half the points we’d scored our last entire game, and allowed them almost as many points in that quarter as we gave up the whole previous game.  Rough start.

Our highest scorer could not play today.  Our second highest scorer, and co-captain, Barry, got his fourth foul in the first half.  He was as upset as I’ve ever seen him, frustrated with the calls and with himself.  I shouldn’t have kept him in after his third foul, but we had already reached the desperation point of needing to stop the landslide and regain ground.

To understand this story, you will need to know this: the refereeing we experience is often the biggest challenge to our character.  It certainly is my biggest challenge, nearly every game.  Coaches often complain about refs, so I’ll just tell you that the aforemention captain, possibly the nicest guy on our team, got a technical foul in the first game for patting an opponent on the shoulder.  I’m not talking about a shove that we called a “pat.”  Barry had fouled the guy and then gave him a couple soft pats, right on the shoulder where you pat people, to say, “Hey, sorry Man.”  Technical foul, they got a free throw and the ball back.  In the same game, two of our players got shoved hard–one knocked to the ground–after the play was over and the whistle had blown.  No call.  We not infrequently get three or four times more fouls called on us than the other team.  I watch our guys called for barely brushing their players and then their players whack our guys in the arms or give an elbow to the head:  no call.

Today was such a day.  Our other captain, Will, reached levels of emotional distress–okay, really upset and pissed at what felt like injustice–that he chose to sit out for the end of the game because he knew he’d lost it.  Will had played a tremendous game up to that point with at least five crucial–and dramatic–blocked shots.  He did not quit, but he reached his threshold and could no longer hold himself together, so he came out.  Yes, we needed him in the game to try to win but not as much as we needed him to live and model the right character.  Thank God, I didn’t have a split-second of saying (or even thinking) “Get back in there!”  Will is a mature young adult who knows his limits, who usually plays harder than anyone else.  He’d never hit this wall before, which should give you some idea of how the game went.  He took himself out because he couldn’t be who he needed to be on the court in those minutes, and who he is on the court ultimately is more important than how he plays on the court.

Our other captain, as I said, had four fouls very early and sat out the third quarter.  But during the third quarter, without him or our leading scorer, we made our charge.  We had closed it to 23-18 at halftime.  We put on a full-court press and dug in and found more grrr.  We got a handfull of steals (including several by Will), caused multiple turnovers, and made some great shots, including one of our reserves hitting three three-pointers.  We didn’t get lucky with every bounce going our way and we certainly didn’t start getting the calls our way.  But we worked harder.  We found a way.  I believe playing harder, digging deeper, finding you’re capable of more than you know, is a crucial aspect of how sports can develop character.  We showed tremendous character that way.

At the start of the fourth quarter, I tried to send captain Barry back in.  He said, “Coach, they’re getting it done.  Let’s let them keep going.”  You have to understand both this young man’s desire to play basketball and his respectful attitude to appreciate what happened in this moment.  He always responds to me, “Yes, Coach,” or “Yes, Sir.”  I don’t require that.  But he does it.  He also always asks for one more game, hates to be taken out, and generally wants to spend every moment he can playing ball.  He’s that guy.

So when he said, “Naw, Coach, they’re doing it,” I respected his suggestion and left the other guys in.  Barry then proceeded to holler himself hoarse, shouting for his teammates.

When I finally put him back in with four minutes left in the game, he took over.  He ran the offense, hit four of four free throws including the clutch two that put the game out of reach–or should have–and led the team.

Now I have to describe the end of the game where I saw our team’s character most clearly.

With six seconds left, we had a three-point lead–I thought–and our opponents took a long shot and missed.  We got the rebound.  Ball to Barry. They fouled Barry.  Three seconds.  Barry hit both free throws.  Game over?

The opposing coach, with whom we have a spotty history (last year he charged on the court to start a fight with Barry–nope, not kidding), went over to the scoring table and began a rant.  A long, colorful rant.  According to him, the scorer, who was a very young guy, by the way, had messed up their team fouls.  Thus, we should’t be in the bonus.  Remember, Barry had already made both free throws.  Their coach is arguing after the fact.  But he would not stop.  The refs threatened to give him a technical but let him keep going.  Then, and again I just have to ask you to believe me, they may have taken away the free throws and given the other team the ball.  This was not clear.  I mean, I asked and they did not tell me.

So picture this: we thought we were up by 5, three seconds to go.  Now they are inbounding the ball after a timeout on our end of the court, meaning within range of throwing up a shot, down by…two.  Did I mention about the officiating?

Okay, if you know basketball, you probably have realized that this is severely askew.  If the free throws didn’t count, they still fouled our player, meaning it’s still our ball with one or three seconds left (again, unclear) and all we have to do is pass it in and touch it and the game will be over.  If they get the ball, that has to mean the free throws counted.

But on the stat sheet I have in front of me right now, with stats tallied by my daughters but reflecting the official scorers final score, we won this game by two.  Not three.  Not five.  I don’t know how we lost the extra point–they subtracted both free throws and a bonus point?–but they were inbounding the ball with a chance to win the game that we understood we had already put out of reach.  

Now you have the picture.  But our guys didn’t react to this.  They didn’t freak out.  I sat down and our team stood and waited on the court while their coach blustered and berated a kid and screamed at the refs about how the whole thing was unfair and rigged (I might have agreed, but I think he meant it a different way).  In that moment, I saw what our players had done.

We made the comeback.  Their team threw elbows at our heads and we kept our character.  We got calls against us and we did not lose our cool.  We played harder and focused more and dove for loose balls.  Their player got a technical for slamming the ball onto the court (it bounced really high) after a call went against him; we talked with the refs about the calls, politely and calmly, during stopped time between plays.  None of the concerns we raised seemed to get any traction, but that’s what we could do, and we did it, and then our guys just ran harder.  Our tallest guys, who hated running at the beginning of the season, were outrunning the other team.

It was a glorious win.  Both of our captains manifested the spirit and character that earned them the position of captain.  One of our seniors, Gabe, who didn’t play last year and was still very green at the beginning of this season, played the best I’d ever seen him play.  This was Kaiser’s high school sports festival, so there were trophy presentations and a bit of pomp and circumstance.  Theparents of our players, and our girls’ team, gathered around and congratulated our players.

 

Yes, I like winning, and we got exactly the result I’d hoped for.  But so much more than that, I think it might have been my favorite coaching moment so far.

*Our guys didn’t give up or get discouraged when we fell behind.

*They didn’t let the bad calls get to us, even though some of them were flagrant and upsetting.

*Rather than quitting, letting up, or losing our tempers, we simply bore down and played harder.

*In the moment when the choice was between compromising his character and doing whatever it took to win, one captain asked to be taken out.

*In the moment when the other captain could have decided, “Okay, it’s up to me now,” he showed his belief in his teammates and asked not to be put back in yet.

In the way that coaches second-guess themselves, I wonder if, had I put him in at the start of the fourth quarter, would Barry have fouled out and not been available when we needed him in the clutch?  Remember, one ref had definitely zoomed in on him and was very quick to call him for anything.  

Even with all this, I did not manage to get all our players in the game.  That may be the hardest part of coaching for me.  Of course, most coaches will tell you there are times (and levels) to play everyone and times (and levels) where you can’t.  It still eats at me.  I experienced not getting playing time on my high school team after I had worked hard to become a good player starting in…fourth grade?  I know that feeling–at least how I felt–and I hate causing our guys to experience it.  There are games when I can get everyone significant floor time, others where I take a risk and a guy steps up or doesn’t, and then games where it feels like we’re fighting tooth and nail for every point and I can’t break up our momentum or lose the advantage that a certain player gives us.

Today, maybe because it was such a sweet victory, I felt especially bad that I didn’t play all our players.  I can’t tell you in this moment whether I made the right choice or not (and I’m guessing you fall on one side of that question or the other depending on your relationship with sports).  We either won by 2 or 4 or 5* and didn’t seem to have any extra margin or breathing room.  That doesn’t mean we would have lost if I’d put them in.  I don’t know how they would have stepped up.  Today, I didn’t risk finding out.  I pray those players can take that with grace, use it for motivation, and let it develop their character–but I really don’t say that lightly, since it took me years.  And God’s work in my life.  And years…

 

We pray before games and after practice.  I’m not always as consistent with this as I’d like to be, but I’m also someone who tries hard not to go through the motions.  Today, for the first time I can remember, I prayed in the huddle between quarters.  I asked for extra help from God keeping our patience, not losing our cool, and not responding in kind and escalating the rough play we were experiencing.

As we were in the parking lot about to leave, the organizer of the whole sports festival happened to walk by.  He stopped to tell me how much he appreciated the way our kids played.  He said he knew we came from a Christian school and he could see it in how we behaved in that final game when things got so heated.  I’d already seen this in our guys, but it was wonderful to hear that their character shone through to strangers, as well.

Lord God, may we always keep our character of reflecting your image in the world as our highest priority.  Amen.

 

 

*How often do you get to say that?

To a Cynical Friend…

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Words that build or destroy.

Nothing new happens, but it happens to me, and that’s new.

 

You can be a cynic. It’s been done. You aren’t original when you decide that other human beings deserve whatever suffering they pull down on their own heads, like kids trying to get the food on the table by yanking on the table cloth. They did it to themselves. They had it coming.

You can decide that everyone is corrupt, everyone wants power, every promise is a manipulation and every kiss a ploy or a maneuver.

You’ll be right some of the time. People suck. A great number of people. For different reasons, I think, but their reasons don’t really matter if you’re going the cynical route. If they all suck rocks and you prefer to preempt—if you already know they have WMD’s and thus you have the whole war justified and plotted out—then their little stories of who violated them make no difference. In a sense, this is belief in original sin: people start out as violators rather than react to being violated.

But we disagree on this point: not everyone sucks. Some people are really pretty good. Probably a few people are great. I won’t argue numbers or percentages.

But we disagree on a bigger point, and this, I think, is the crux of our world view collision: people can get better. They can improve. I don’t mean they can polish their manners and learn to hide their motives. I believe in redemption.

We–not you and I, I mean humanity–have no common ground to build on if people cannot transform.  If people are intrinsically not merely flawed but warped, permanently and irreversibly, out for themselves and nothing else, then redemption makes no sense.

I see two possibilities for you if you hold to this cold, hard cynicism. In the first, you recognize this same darkness in yourself. You know what humankind is because you are of humankind and you see no good in you. You’ve looked. It’s missing. If everything is darkness and our eyes are adjusted, there’s no chance you would have missed the spark. That spark would have dazzled your eyes. You looked in you. You looked in others. You found no spark because no spark exists. We are darkness. We are loveless. We are.

Truthfully, I respect you more if you believe this, much as I respect (though utterly disagree with) those women who wear head coverings, refrain from jewelry, and remain absolutely silent in church, or the men who won’t wear clothes made of two types of thread and who give one another holy kisses because those are the instructions. Yes, you are a blind literalist, but you seek to live consistently, rather than picking and choosing your favorites.

The second possibility is much more common, in my experience: You believe you are the exception. You see with clear, undistorted eyes. You probably don’t say explicitly, “I’m the only one with a functioning heart.” You may not admit that you hold yourself as the unfallen among the soul cannibals. But in practice, if other people were like you…

You are picking and choosing, like that fundamentalist who uses proof-texts to argue how Jesus himself backs every prejudice, comfort and preference. You are scoring their ugliness through a microscope and your own through a blast helmet. And you cherry-pick. Of course there are people to whom you can point and say, “I don’t do that!” If I score everyone else’s actions giving no benefit of the doubt, no grace, but I excuse my own foibles because I know the mitigating circumstances, I can believe my own scoreboard. It makes total sense to me.

But in that case, I’m full of it.

I guess that’s what I’m saying. You’re full of it.

What do you believe about yourself? What do you believe about God? What do you believe about the child who pull’s his sister’s hair? What do you believe about the child whose uncle “visits” her every night?

If you truly believe you are superior, it’s because you are giving yourself the benefit of the doubt, allowing for all the reasons (not “excuses” when they’re yours) that play into your own imperfections. Are you sure you can’t offer that same generous measuring stick to others?

Thirty Reasons I Don’t Want to Leave Nicaragua

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  1.  I know for certain that God called me here.
  2. Spending 10 cordobas (30 cents) on tortillas every day makes a difference in my neighbor’s life.
  3. I can walk across the street to buy fresh tortillas every day.  
  4. I’m a mentor to a significant percentage of the young ultimate players in the country. Let’s see you do that in the States.
  5. It’s never winter but is Christmas for a month, yet Christmas is tranquilo. (Loud from bombas, but tranquilo.)
  6. I spend more of my time seeing what others don’t have and thinking about how I can help than seeing what others have and thinking about how I need more.
  7. I’ve learned to be grateful for running water.
  8. I’ve learned to be grateful any time our car runs.
  9. I trust our mechanics.
  10. I’ve gotten to know God better through people whose faith is stronger than mine.
  11. I get to use all my spiritual gifts here.
  12. It’s green.  All. Year. Long.  
  13. Yes, it’s hot, but I’ve noticed that the heat and humidity are actually great for preventing muscle pulls and other injuries.  
  14. I can play ultimate year-round.
  15. The elderly woman who sells me avocados smiles at me and hugs me.
  16. I get to help my neighbor prepare her sermons!
  17. Talking about God, being grateful for what God has done, praising God, is part of every normal conversation. 
  18. There are cool lizards everywhere.
  19. I get to encourage young adults to follow Jesus here.
  20. I get to live among people living in poverty and be their neighbor, not someone offering charity.  
  21. Our children assume that people look different than we do, come from different cultures, speak different languages, live at different means, and this is all normal life.  
  22. The elderly man on the corner always greets me with his toothless smile as his “Amigito,” little friend, though he is 5-foot nothing and can’t weigh a hundred pounds. His smile and greeting always lift my day.
  23. We’ve seen miraculous healings here.
  24. Kim has done extraordinary work here and has grown in her boldness and her leadership.  
  25. Kim and I, for many of the Nicaraguan staff at NCA, are the gringos who serve as the bridge people.  We’re the ones they trust and talk to.  
  26. I don’t feel like I’ve done a great job and I’d like to do better.
  27. Inexpensive, incredible local produce: limones, piñas, bananas, papaya, sandia, pepinos, mangos, hierba buena, etc, etc.
  28. I didn’t make this a list of individuals I’d miss, but some people dear to my heart who have changed me through our friendship.
  29. The sheer beauty of this country.
  30. Seeing God’s face every time I walk out my door: in the borrachos who hang out by our house, in the children who come to our preschool, in the teeny neighbor girls who love me, in the strangers who will return my greeting and blessing…

Strange Easter

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I’m trying to make sense of today.

I think the sermon went well, but I’ve had more post-sermon mental backlash than I’d experienced in a really long time.

It isn’t about me.  I know that.  God does what God does through a sermon.  The preacher does her or his best and then, ideally, leaves it to God to work in people’s hearts.

But most preachers I know deal with some version of this. Many don’t take Monday as their day off because it’s just too easy to spend the day stewing.  “Ideally” doesn’t tend to work the way one would hope.  


Today after church, I spent the majority of my socializing time talking with Sasha, the daughter of Gerry, who died recently.  She’s still in a lot of pain.  During my sermon, describing the women followers of Jesus who went to the tomb Sunday morning, I said, “Have you ever woken up, felt good, felt normal, and then remembered? Maybe a tragedy, maybe a horrible situation, and it hits you again as you’re waking up, a brick to the face. You wish you could have stayed oblivious for another 30 seconds, just to not have to remember how bad things are. But they are and forgetting doesn’t change it.”

Sasha gave me a thumbs up and a huge head nod from her seat, which caught my eye and I could affirm that yes, she knows exactly how this feels, suffering the loss of her father.  

So we talked a lot after church.  She made a horrible joke and laughed hard at it and it was so good to see her laugh. But we also talked about her fifteenth birthday coming up, which is so important in Nicaraguan culture.  She said, “I thought he’d be there with me.”  She started to cry, hard, and I got over awkward and put my arm around her.  


A friend drove us home after church because our car has broken down again.  We stopped on the narrow road so I could buy avocados from the older woman whose table is there.*  But she wasn’t at her table.  Another woman, holding her baby, was covering it.  I bought two avocados (avocados=points in my marriage) and was returning to the car when I saw the older woman crossing the road.  She’s very hunched.  Her voice doesn’t really work, a very quiet croak.  And she gave me a huge hug.  

I buy avocados from her, every chance I get.  I talk a little with her every time we see each other, whether or not I buy avocados.  But it’s a brief interaction, walking to school or stopping to say “hello” on my way home.  She’s on the other side of the table from me. Yet today she was so happy to see me and the hug, and her huge beaming smile, made my Easter, and that’s saying something.  

I love this warm culture.  I don’t love everything about it, especially the things I still don’t understand, but today Jesus in the form of this beautiful, hunched, loving, nearly-voiceless elderly woman gave me a hug in the street and Easter was real for me.  It’s Sunday.  The resurrection happened.  God is alive and living in Managua.  She sells avocados on the narrow street.  And she hugs gringos for no reason, just because she’s glad to see them.  


I spent a lot of time with my family.  That’s why I didn’t play ultimate today.  We got along as well as we do and talked and laughed and teased and snapped at each other, as we do.  We missed our eldest in Los Angeles.  We hunted for eggs and ate pie.

Then, when we were preparing for “family movie night,” a neighbor from up the street showed up at the door.  She was in tears.  She needed to talk with Kim.  What you can’t understand about poverty unless you see it up close–or live it–is that nothing works for you.  You’re working too many hours to try to feed your family and your drunken husband shows up just long enough to take the food you’ve got in the house and then, because you are working so much, your child is going unsupervised and the influence of the other kids is toward taking drugs and making terrible choices.  What do you do?  Work less?  You can’t.  Have your husband take care of it?  Ha.  Ask your family for help.  She did, and they were awful.  

And so she shows up, needing to talk to Kim, and Kim can’t solve the problems–we can’t solve poverty’s grinding attack–but Kim can listen and care and pray and try to think through possible solutions.  

And that’s Easter, too.  She is Jesus, as well.  


Today, I saw Jesus at least three times.  She cried twice.  Once she smiled and hugged me.  I couldn’t solve anything.  I celebrated Jesus rising from the dead.  I mourned with a girl whose father is dead.  She asked me if I’m still telling people about him.  I am.  I gave the sermon I had, I believe I gave the sermon God gave to me, and I both held back from saying things that might offend and offended people with things I said.

Step back. You know what’s going to happen next. You know what they’ll find when they get to the tomb. Go split screen in your mind. Picture this is what the women are talking about, this is the mood in their rooms as they light candles to go out in the dark to perform the last act of service, the final gesture of love for a man who can no longer do anything for them. Was he wrong? Were his teachings false? Was his belief in God too hopeful? Did God fail him? Do any of those questions even matter now that he’s dead?

Their hearts are heavy as stone and they’re trying to follow through with an act that is the right thing to do but in the end what does it mean for this dead man? And they’re going to an empty tomb. They’re minutes away from encountering angels. They’re about to find out that everything, everything has changed and Jesus wasn’t wrong about any of it. They just couldn’t grasp what he told them.

Easter means that although we’re still talking about taking care of Jesus’ body, Jesus has risen from the grave. We’re still discussing whether they’re going to come hunt us down because we followed him. We’re asking one another, “Who will roll away the stone?” We’ll get answers, and so far beyond the scope of what we could have imagined. 

Happy Easter.  Was yours strange, too?  

 

 

*Picture old metal table, half the size of a card table. 

Is It Saturday or Sunday? Manuscript

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I’ve never preached a Holy Saturday service. Christians also call it Great Saturday, Easter Eve, or Black Saturday.

If you do a Lenten reading of the Gospels, going back forty days and planning ahead to read the resurrection stories on Easter, Holy Saturday reading is pretty easy.

The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph. They saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was placed in it. 56 Then they went home. There they prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath day in order to obey the Law.

Verse fifty-five is for context. Verse fifty-six is it, and only the second half. They went home and prepared spices and perfumes on Friday, before their shabbat, their sabbath, had started. Jews observed the sabbath from sundown to sundown. This day, this Saturday, is also referred to as The Great Sabbath.

What happened during the Great Sabbath?

Nothing. The women followed the Jewish law by resting on the Sabbath. Nothing changed.

Jesus was taken and murdered, except it was state-sanctioned so we call it “executed,” betrayed by the religious leaders, who lied and framed him during his mockery of a trial, then turned him over to the soldiers who occupied Israel, who hated the Jews and with a full-throated, racist hatred. That sign, “The King of the Jews?” Step back from the double-meaning that you might know and think about that. They took a Jew and beat him viciously, then put him in a robe and “crown,” laughed at him and spat on him, then made a sign to let the world know that this ragged, bleeding criminal was the Jewish King.

Do you understand that? Soldiers for the occupying army are making very clear that any uprising under this king will fail. The Jewish leaders, the ones who turned Jesus over to this torture, protested: “Don’t say ‘King of the Jews,’ but ‘This man claimed to be King of the Jews.’”

19 Pilate had a notice prepared. It was fastened to the cross. It read,

Jesus of nazareth, the king of the Jews.

20 Many of the Jews read the sign.

That’s because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city. And the sign was written in the Aramaic, Latin and Greek languages. 21 The chief priests of the Jews argued with Pilate. They said, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews.’ Write that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.

22 Pilate answered, “I have written what I have written.”

They wrote in three different languages, “The King of the Jews.: They wanted everyone in sight, anyone who could read, to grasp that there would be no Jewish uprising, no Jewish King. This is what happens to a Jewish King.

Conquering armies conquer, and when there is any threat of rebellion, they usually crush it ruthlessly, violently. When King Herod thought there was the slightest chance of a baby growing up to overthrow him, he had all the children three years old and under slaughtered. All of them.

That’s the power ruling on Saturday afternoon. Saturday afternoon, Jesus is dead. The women are resting because that’s the law on the sabbath. The soldiers are soldiering, doing their duty. Beating and flogging and humiliating Jesus, that was just their duty, maybe something they enjoyed more because they really did hate the Jews or less because “let’s just kill him and be done with it.” Pilate went back into his palace. The crowds disbursed.

Joseph of Arimethea, who was on the Jewish Council. had not only a change of heart but such a transformation that he dared take responsibility for a dead criminal and provide him a place of honor to bury him. He took Jesus and had him buried in an empty tomb, not a pauper’s grave, not just tossed by the side of the road. It was a strange decision, to put this stranger, this false prophet, in an honored place of burial, where no one had been buried before. Then Joseph went home and rested, too, because anything that could be done, he had done.

 

Sunday morning comes.

Everything changes on Sunday. Literally everything changes for us.

Is is Saturday or Sunday?

 It was very early in the morning on the first day of the week. The women took the spices they had prepared. Then they went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from it. 3 When they entered the tomb, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 They were wondering about this. Suddenly two men in clothes as bright as lightning stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified. They bowed down with their faces to the ground. Then the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 Jesus is not here! He has risen! Remember how he told you he would rise. It was while he was still with you in Galilee. 7 He said, ‘The Son of Man must be handed over to sinful people. He must be nailed to a cross. On the third day he will rise from the dead.’ ” 8 Then the women remembered Jesus’ words.

9 They came back from the tomb. They told all these things to the 11 apostles and to all the others. 10 Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them were the ones who told the apostles. 11 But the apostles did not believe the women. Their words didn’t make any sense to them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb. He bent over and saw the strips of linen lying by themselves. Then he went away, wondering what had happened.

 

First thing Sunday morning, nobody knows anything has changed yet. Think about this moment. This is our moment that I want us to understand this morning.

The women wake up, probably first, certainly very early. Or maybe they didn’t sleep. I’ve been there, both ways. Have you ever woken up, felt good, felt normal, and then remembered? Maybe a tragedy, maybe a horrible situation, and it hits you again as you’re waking up, a brick to the face. You wish you could have stayed oblivious for another 30 seconds, just to not have to remember how bad things are. But they are and forgetting doesn’t change it. Even worse is when the grip of grief and shock and sorrow won’t let you go and nothing you do can pry their grip loose, not even long enough to drift off for a few minutes. It’s “very early in the morning,” which can also be translated “at early dawn” or “before first light.” The women are trying to get to the tomb early. Do you know why? They want to dress the body before it starts to decompose. At this hour on Sunday morning, their direct concern is the practicality of dealing with a corpse.

Step back. You know what’s going to happen next. You know what they’ll find when they get to the tomb. Go split screen in your mind. Picture this is what the women are talking about, this is the mood in their rooms as they light candles to go out in the dark to perform the last act of service, the final gesture of love for a man who can no longer do anything for them. Was he wrong? Were his teachings false? Was his belief in God too hopeful? Did God fail him? Do any of those questions even matter now that he’s dead?

Their hearts are heavy as stone and they’re trying to follow through with an act that is the right thing to do but in the end what does it mean for this dead man? And they’re going to an empty tomb. They’re minutes away from encountering angels. They’re about to find out that everything, everything has changed and Jesus wasn’t wrong about any of it. They just couldn’t grasp what he told them.

Get this: Jesus wasn’t wrong about any of it; they just couldn’t grasp what he told them. How true is that for us?

Easter means that although we’re still talking about taking care of Jesus’ body, Jesus has risen from the grave. We’re still discussing whether they’re going to come hunt us down because we followed him. We’re asking one another, “Who will role away the stone?” We’ll get answers, and so far beyond the scope of what we could have imagined. What is Peter thinking about on Saturday? Imagine what Peter’s Saturday night was like…

When the women come back from the tomb, which does not have a dead body that “belongs” there, but which does have two beings dressed in white who don’t normally belong there, the men, the male disciples, the fishermen and the tax collector and the revolutionary, don’t believe them.

5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

They think the women are looloo, loco. This may be borrowing trouble, but do they not believe them because they’re women? Women were not legal witnesses in that time and culture, were the legal property of their husbands or fathers, and I don’t think it was a mere coincidence that these women got to be the first witnesses. These were women who had faithfully followed Jesus. On one level, God gave them this in keeping with how Jesus exploded the confining, smothering, dehumanizing roles of women in their culture. Jesus taught them as he taught the disciples, making them companions among his followers, receiving financial support from them.

On another level, the Messiah who taught that genuine, meaningful greatness comes from service, who washed his twelves apostles’ feet hours before he died, rewarded these women’s humble service by giving them the good news of Resurrection first. Isn’t that just like Jesus? The women came to the tomb to dress the body with spices and perfumes. For this tiny attempted action, they got to see angels, they got to hear news beyond their most desperate and ridiculous hopes. Jesus taught that a mustard seed of faith is enough to move a mountain, that giving a cup of cold water to any thirsty person is an encounter with God, that two tiny copper coins given in faith equal more than piles of coinage given for show, and their following through on this menial job instead of despairing and fleeing to their homes made them the first to switch from Saturday to Sunday Reality.

But the men laugh at them, or scoff, or ignore or rebuke or scold. The women are living in Sunday morning, they have moved through darkness and despair into Resurrection and hope. Sunday morning, the men are still living Saturday. Jesus is not in the tomb, but they still believe he is. The women told them the truth, and they brushed it off. There is the Reality that exists on Sunday, and then the reality the men are still living. They’re wrong. They’re in the dark. But right in this moment they are basing all their thoughts and decisions in this Saturday reality in which they believe.

Except Peter.

Peter has to see.

These are wonderful words to me: “But Peter.

But Peter got up and ran to the tomb.

Peter has to know. If there’s any slightest chance that the Saturday Reality is not the Final Word, not the Final Interaction Peter will have with Jesus, Peter has to see. I’m picturing that the rest of the guys are laughing and snarking at the women, or just won’t even respond:

“Yeah, right, there’s no body there, Jesus grew wings and flew away, did you see his body, you stupid—Peter, where are you going? Peter!”

He bent over and saw the strips of linen lying by themselves. Then he went away, wondering what had happened.

Even so, Peter is not sure. Now his reality is somewhere between Saturday and Sunday. There’s no body there. Jesus’ corpse is not in that tomb. What happened? Faith begins when the reality we “knew” with certainty suddenly gets shaken up and maybe, maybe…this is true? U2 describes this in a song: “At the moment of surrender/Of vision over visibility” When the vision of what is True becomes more real than what’s visible to my physical eyes. That’s the moment of faith.

But Peter is still going fishing on Sunday because that’s what he knows and he’s going back to the reality he lived before.

Jesus is going to have to confront Peter more directly, with a lot of fish, before Peter moves all the way into Sunday reality.

 

In which reality are we living?

I’m not saying if we just believe in Resurrection, all the bad things in our world will disappear. I am saying everything changes for us, in us, and the impossible things become possible.

Sunday morning, racism can change. It can. You know how I know? Slavery used to be legal. Slavery in many countries in the world became illegal when followers of Jesus spoke out against it, and fought it, and refused to accept it any longer because Jesus had changed their hearts. Jesus had taught them to see people differently. Jesus had overcome death and made the impossible, possible.

Sunday morning, death no longer wins. Sunday morning, the racist hatred that killed Jesus can be overcome by Jesus love in the power of His resurrection.

Sunday morning, the women go the grave to serve in the last way available to them and come back with a wild tale. They are the first witnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus who is the Christ, after all.

Sunday morning, we can change the current epidemic of violence against women. The reports don’t mean it’s suddenly happening, they mean it’s finally out in the open, and in the light is where sin loses its power and God heals and restores. Sunday morning means we repent of sexism in our own relationships and then follow Jesus by speaking out and calling our churches first, and then our societies, to repentance. We aren’t living in Saturday anymore. It’s Sunday morning.

Sunday morning, we decide if we believe everything has changed or if we are still living in Saturday.*(Big old footnote)

Saturday, we have disciples who think their time of following Jesus has ended. Now listen to what happens after they experience Sunday:

27 When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

That’s Peter, the same Peter whose words on Friday were, “I swear to God, I’ve never heard of this man Jesus!” This is the difference between Saturday and Sunday. Peter says this to the exact same people who tried Jesus and convinced Pilate to crucify him.

Here’s what happens next in Acts 5:

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. 35 Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

Gamaliel speaks the truth of Sunday: if it is God, you will not be able to overthrow them; if you oppose what they do, you may even be found fighting against God.

Did the disciples believe they could change the world? I don’t know. But they did. The disciples, by the power of God through the Holy Spirit moving in them, changed the world. That tiny little band of Jesus followers who had given up on Saturday because there was no hope left in the world saw Sunday, found out that the women were right, and then saw Jesus Christ risen from the dead, right there with them, talking with them, answering their questions, giving them a hard time for their doubts. And they proceeded to preach the Gospel and all of us who have heard the Gospel have heard it because they spoke it and it spread throughout the world.

 

I will tell you the truth: Things look bad to me right now, in a lot of ways. Some things that I’ve prayed to see change seem to be getting worse. I know that sin and brokenness are real in the world and they have consequences.

But it’s not Saturday. Jesus rose from the dead. He did. It’s Sunday and I’m going to live like it’s Sunday.

The difference between knowing about God and knowing God is that if you know God, you also know that God can change you. If you know God, you’re already changed. You might have forgotten it, you might be ignoring it now, you might be doubting it, but God has changed you and will continue to change you. You’ve already lived Sunday. If you’re back to living Saturday, I get it. It’s easy to do. But it’s not Reality. That’s not the truth.

This is the picture I want to leave you with. It’s not a choice between Saturday when I’m hopeless and Sunday when I know I can make things happen.

This is knowing Jesus and the power of His Resurrection: If we live in Saturday, we are blind to the reality that Jesus has died and risen from the dead; we are weeping over an empty tomb.

If we live in Sunday, we follow Jesus who rose from the dead and will lead us where He chooses, in His power, and He will change us and change the world through us. Our job is not to laugh at the women when they come tell us. Our job is to run to the tomb, to believe the unbelievable because we know it to be true—vision over visibility—and then to follow Jesus, to live Sunday, to let God lead us where the Spirit’s Power will open the tomb and raise the dead to life again.

 

 

*This is an excerpt from my friend Erna’s blog, Feisty Thoughts. I considered including this in my sermon but didn’t.  

I need an Easter that has an answer for Trayvon, Tamir, Rekia Boyd, Sandra, Bland, and Stephon Clark.
I need an Easter that has something to say to survivors of Indian Boarding schools, and the generations of those traumatized by its legacy.
I need an Easter that has something to say about white supremacist evangelical Christianity.
I need an Easter that has something to say about white women who wont’ stop crying and recentering race conversations on themselves.
I need an Easter that has something to say to young queer believers who are considering suicide instead of coming out.
I need an Easter that addresses patriarchy in the Korean American church.
I need an Easter that sees and helps undocumented people whose families are being torn apart.
I need an Easter where you don’t have to be a perfect, super special, amazing immigrant for people to care about you.
I need an Easter that can dismantle the NRA.
I need an Easter that can address gun violence.
I need an Easter that addresses mass incarceration and the for profit prison system.
I need an Easter that doesn’t just talk about living water, but gets clean water to Flint.
I need an Easter where sexual violence against women, especially women of color, is talked about openly and addressed courageously.

Every year Easter is about individual sin. But I need an Easter that is big enough for our collective sin and brokenness, big enough for our systemic and institutionalized brokenness. I need an Easter that goes beyond the personal. The things that overwhelm my heart and soul right now have less to do with my personal wretchedness, than the brokenness of the systems I’m embedded in, participate in, and that impact me and the communities I love.

What Neighbors Do

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A very brief one, stretching out St. Patrick’s Day a little longer.  I played in an ultimate tournament today and I am, paradoxically, both a little disappointed and immensely satisfied.

We have a team in town.  By “team,” I mean a group from a church back where we’re from who are here for a week+ to experience Nicaragua, see and help with what we do, and try to grasp what it’s like to live here.  Before we moved to Nicaragua, I did a bunch of these trips.  They’re increasingly controversial, with many insightful concerns being raised about them.  But I also know we would not have moved here if we had not gone (come) on several trips.  I can see both sides.

Last night, our neighbors Mileydi and Juan Carlos invited the team over for dinner, for, as she said, “real Nica food.”  The team had a wonderful time.  Mileydi and Juan Carlos are good friends of ours; Mileydi runs the preschool with Kim.  Mileydi and Juan Carlos are generous and hospitable, and that is one of the things I hoped our visitors would experience.  Receiving generosity from those whom, by your standards, live in poverty is powerful and humbling.  Doing so can break through some of the automatic superiority that most of us feel, whether we acknowledge it to ourselves or not.

I had told the team that we weren’t coming for dinner (a tricky dance in itself, but having us there would have really changed the dynamic) but that they could come back over for dessert, since we still had way too much left over from earlier in the week.  After dinner they returned, bubbling over with how much they’d enjoyed it.  My hopes were realized.  They ate dessert.  I drove them back to where they’re staying.

When I got home, Mileydi yelled across the street, “What about dessert?”

¿Quieres helado?”  (“Do you want ice cream?”)

“¡Si!”

¿Chocolate o vainilla?

“¡Vainilla!”*

Here’s the beauty of this moment:  it was so marvelously normal.

I’d thought Mileydi and Juan Carlos might come back over with the group and we would all have dessert.  They didn’t.  But I had offered dessert!

When you live among people in poverty and you are rich (as we are, in comparison) things are always a little weird.  You learn to deal with it.  That’s just one challenge of living in the community instead of outside of it.

But this wasn’t weird!  It was normal and comfortable and funny!  It’s the thing a neighbor would say, who is also a friend with whom you laugh and who, at times, makes fun of you.  It’s not giving because one has more and the other less but sharing because that’s what neighbors do.  You can ask, in a joking way, because that’s what neighbors do.

This may not strike you as a big deal, but it’s one of those moments when I realize, “This worked!”  We did this crazy thing moving into our barrio and we’re still the crazy gringos but somehow now we’re also the neighbors who laugh and look out for each other and can share ice cream without it feeling awkward or like charity.

Because that’s what neighbors do.

 

*Obviously this is a mistake, but that’s not the point of my story.