For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less. --2 Corinthians 5:1-5
As we begin the process of taking down the tent(s) we’ve built up for the last four plus years — now two weeks away from moving home to North Carolina — I can’t help but look at Paul’s words as a self-reflective warning about what I’m walking into. It’s easy for me to look at moving home as its own paradise. But North Carolina, in all its physical grandeur, spiritually speaking is a false shimmer, a fake shine.
As Teresa of Avila said, "Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; and that there is only one glory, which is eternal. If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing." (Claiborne, Wilson-Hartgrove, & Okoro, 2010).
The line about there being only one glory divides my bone and marrow, because I can easily get in the habit of thinking this next phase of life is its own glory. That I’m going to do all the things I haven’t done in a long time, and I’m going shine His glory in it all, and get some of my own along the way. I’m going to write a book, start a social enterprise, adopt kids, own my own home (and decorate it like a magazine). I’m going to balance a great job, my immediate family, my extended family, my home church family, and my awesome friends. I’m going to have loads of money and donate to all kinds of amazing redemptive justice-minded ventures. Of course, I’ll be doing all these things in the best Christian way possible. Oh yea, I’m going to exercise regularly, bake regularly, cook awesome meals, and be creative in as many ways as possible too. Yup, that’s what North Carolina’s paradise looks like to me. I get to say goodbye to this expat life and return home to all the things I’ve missed — thrift stores and libraries, clean tap water and free-refills at restaurants. But my idealistic thoughts of this Tar Heel heaven easily forget the realities of this earthly life: sickness, disappointment, struggle, tension — will follow me wherever I am. For the roots of this earth are tainted, and that tinged fruit sprouts in every soil. Sometimes I forget about all the things I haven’t missed about the American life, and my tendency is to pedestal-ize the life I think I’m about to live.
It’s my true home that I really yearn for, and that true home is not located in any earthly zip code. The eternal glory awaits, and my eternal King reminds me that I will not find full satisfaction in buying a home, in adopting children, in finding a good job that does great social justice work. The ache for something more, the longing for a better country, the ganas — as they say in Spanish — for paradise, will always be there … whether I have a steady paycheck or a stealthy thorn in my side.
Just as the Spirit of God whets my appetite by showing me a glimpse of his Kingdom Come, setting eternity in the hearts of men, I must follow that example and add as much heaven as I can to the ground I walk on. Robert Linthicum in his book Transforming Power (2003) says, “But we are called to be a foretaste of that kingdom, a model of it in our life together … .”
The first and maybe most important step, at least for me right now, on the path of bringing pieces of heaven to earth is recognizing that heaven in its fullest sense does not yet exist on earth. If I pretend it does, if I look at my earthly home as the end-all … I set myself up for immense spiritual failure — both inwardly and outwardly. North Carolina on a pedestal will get knocked down by the hurricanes and earthquakes of this fallen world, crumbling my faith regardless what the Richter scale measures. It is our eternal longing for a better country that makes us the most effective in our current land.
"May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: wherever he may send you; may he guide you through the wilderness; protect you through the storm; may he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you; may he bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.
I read that this morning from the book Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. And I think, I'm not doing a great job of setting myself up for rejoicing as I head home. I feel tired, worn, weary ... but not joyful. So in my attempt to build a foundation of joy, I reflect on this current season that is coming to a close.
Living in northern Mexico the past 4+ years has taught me several lessons. Some of them have nothing to do with where I am physically and everything to do with the fact that as I grow older, I grow wiser. Here's my top five lessons learned:
5. God is very interested in my reactions to life's punches.
This is a lesson that has been going strong for about a year now, and it comes in all shapes and sizes.
Imagine it's Wednesday, you have a paper due on Friday and the babysitter just cancelled her normal Thursday watch day, and will be out of town all weekend. You're stressed, you're husband is working and training others, and your son wants to play soccer with you. How do you react? Needless to say, a major factor in whether we bring His glory to earth or not lies in our reactions.
Imagine it's the 3rd of November. Financial support was low this past month and you had a trip back from the U.S. to Mexico which had you delving into those funds more heftily than you normally do. You're hopeful that today's bank deposit will allow you to have an easier month. You open up your bank account online and see that it's going to be another tight month. Do you curl up on your bed and cry, or do you tell God, Ok, this only means one thing — you're going to miraculously deposit more money in our hands this month.
4. Hidalgo es lo que tu haces [Hidalgo is what you make it]. If you are bored, be creative.
When Andrew and I first got married, we lived in Concord, North Carolina. At the time, I was bored with what the town had to offer me. I now see that town in a much different light. We moved from there to very small El Carmen and then Hidalgo ... both towns with little entertaining value (unless you are a rock climber) and social lives that take a lot of work to create. Now, when I hear people talking about their boredom in North Carolina, I think — Dude, you have no idea ... and then I think, no matter where you are, you have to go after life and enjoy the simple things — period. If you don't enjoy the simple things, you'll never appreciate the more complicated. The sun rises and sets everywhere (except maybe at the poles?), and what happens in between is up to you. Not having fast food shops has given me a joy for cooking I didn't think I was capable of. Lack of craft stores (i.e. American craft stores) has propelled me into using and reusing things in resourceful and creative ways. On our website one of our statements of faith is "That God is the creator of the universe. Therefore, he is creative, and when His creation is creative it pleases Him." We've seen His pleasure in our creativity.
3. Life is seasonal and there are irregularities in every season.
While for the most part we can expect winter days to be cold and summer days to be hot — there are some hot winter days (especially here in Hidalgo) and there are some cold summer days. It's better this way. It keeps us on our toes, and maybe on our knees, too, in utter dependence on God. I'm confident He likes it when we depend on him no matter the season. Change is built into life, and we either roll with it or get tumbled by it. Our coffee shop is a seasonal business, which has made our lives very seasonal. Before the Owl opens full time, some days we are watching the clock go nowhere. In the middle of January, days pass like minutes. I've been fighting for a routine for a long time, and while I believe there is a healthy routine for us to find, routine can be a crutch we lean on instead of leaning on Him. Looking at the bigger picture, there are planting seasons and harvesting seasons in life, and a bunch of possible seasons between those. Knowing there is a reason to it all, even if that reason is not revealed in your timing, is crucial to surviving life's winter blizzards and summer tornadoes.
2. Appreciating family has never been so easy.
You might want to hold me to these words in about six months. I've never been one to be homesick, but since my pregnancy (which began November of 2010), I've been on a homesickness rollercoaster. I blame it on Cademon (along with other things), but regardless, it's been a surprising something to deal with in the midst of this missionary life. I'm not sure it takes a village to raise a child, but it certainly takes a community to do it well. And there are just bonds between family that don't exist elsewhere in life. We, as human beings, learn about and actively live out unconditional love with them. In college, I thought I'd go live forever in another country. I'm glad to say that life since then has taught me to appreciate not just their love and their resources, but also their presence. Maybe I can blame that on Cademon too.
1. Being open-handed with our finances is not a request, but a requirement.
Now you can argue with me on this one, but I'll argue right back. Obviously, it's always all about the heart, and no one can require you to be open-handed. But in lining up my finances with the Word, I see no evidence that backs up hoarding. However, when I look at my emotions in the midst of finances, I often want to hoard. For the last four years, we've been living off at most $1,200 USD a month. It’s never really been enough. We have not been able to put $25 of it a month into a savings account, despite my best efforts. Around the 5th of each month, I feel like a prince. I have money. I can be generous — to myself, to my family, to my church, and to my neighbors (usually in that order). We can be logically smart and utilize our envelope system well. But the food envelope often gets the shaft. We’re good week one and two, but by week four, we’re struggling. (I don’t say this so you can feel sorry for me. We budget $7 a month for Netflix, so we splurge some.) By week four, our meals are less extravagant: no cheese. Sometimes no meat. So I start feeling the survival mentality that so many in the world live under. I don’t want to be generous. I don’t want to be helpful. My attitude is hoard to survive. And then there are some days we get an amazing donation of more than our monthly income. Again, my attitude is hoard to survive. Why? Because of the wise words of Agur in Proverbs 30: “… Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” So whether riches or poverty come my way, can my attitude remain in a supernatural state that supersedes both the natural attitudes of poverty and riches? — Neither sin must overtake me. If I am full and deny God it is just as bad as if I am empty and profane His name. Being open-handed means that I trust Him when the jar is nearing empty, that I don't take that money and hide it so that even He can't take it from me. It also means that when the jar is overflowing I give instead of hoard. Rick Warren says something to the effect of "Giving breaks the power of materialism in our lives." That power is something we must constantly be fighting and breaking. Open hands give us a head start in that fight.
Dear Governor Pat McCrory,
It’s 11 a.m. in a small rural town in northern Mexico and middle-schoolers are leaving school. It’s not a half day, and it’s not a celebration day. It’s a relatively normal school day for these teens, which equates to a no-show teacher and an early release. Sometimes I see it too clearly: why there’s so much adolescent crime and why so many teens line up for cartel drafting. When a government does not positively invest in its children, its children reciprocate. Attitude reflects leadership, right?
I’m a 29-year-old North Carolinian mother and wife who has lived in Mexico for the past four years. At the end of 2013, I will return to my homeland to raise and grow my family, but the current political vibe makes me question things I never thought I’d question. I’m a Christian and I’ve lived in Mexico as a missionary (an English teacher, a social entrepreneur, and a church youth leader), but I have never thought I would homeschool my children because of my firm belief that lights shine brightest in the dark. Setting my religious beliefs aside, when I look at the current educational landscape of North Carolina, I start asking myself, do I really believe in the American educational system? I went to a private Christian school from kindergarten until 7th grade, and then I was in the public school system, first in Michigan and then in North Carolina. I then went on to get my Bachelor’s degree at High Point University, and I am currently studying for my Master’s degree at Eastern University in Pennsylvania through an online program. In my many travels around the world, and certainly through the nearly six years I have lived as an expatriate, I have learned to appreciate the schooling I have received as something like a diamond — rare and precious and inaccessible to many of the world’s inhabitants. But now it looks like that diamond of American public education is losing its luster.
My husband and I have been looking forward to giving our currently 2-year-old son and future children a better education than the one we see offered here. While I believe that the out-of-classroom experiences living in another country teach perspective in a way no other experience can, I strongly believe that the American in-classroom experience teaches more than most in-classroom experiences do. It is a perspective that we have held strong even in the midst of several trips home when our American friends tell us the public school system needs reform. “You don’t know what you’ve got,” we’d respond. But this past summer when we were home, we were able to see the state of education with supreme transparency. Unfortunately it’s starting to look like the American in-classroom experience used to teach more than other in-classroom experiences.
I have been very saddened by the current state of North Carolina, hearing much of the problems first-hand from my mother who is a teacher’s assistant in Mecklenburg County Schools, my mother-in-law who is a teacher’s assistant in Cabarrus County, and my sister-in-law who is a 2nd-grade lead teacher in Watuga County. Additionally, my sister taught at a public middle school in Wake County and I taught Spanish one year in a private school in Robeson County. I am fully aware that I do not understand all the ins and outs of a school system and how it is intertwined with the political system, but I do have some knowledge as I worked at a local newspaper in Lumberton, North Carolina, and sat in on city council, school board, and county commissioner meetings. I know that you can change things, Governor.
In a report I submitted for my Economics of Developing Countries graduate class, I reported there the same findings I’d like to advise for North Carolina: Education reform is a catalyst for further economic growth. If Mexico and North Carolina want to grow economically, the best thing their governments can do is invest in education. While education is a long-term investment, it’s one whose returns are bound to be positive. An empowering educational environment produces effective future employees, more entrepreneurs and citizens who give back to their society. These are evidenced throughout history. In your first State of the State address, you promised to focus on three things: the economy, education and efficiency. I’d argue that a lack of investing in education leads to a further degradation of North Carolina’s economy and the efficiency of the state. Without teachers, there are no economists, no businessmen, period. It is the efficiency of teachers that will lead to statewide efficiency.
I urge you to invest in the future of North Carolina by investing in its teachers, its students, and its overall educational landscape. Education is the backbone of any society. When teachers do not have incentives to work better, when their assistants are cut leaving them with a unmanageable classrooms, when the 7-to-3 with students and 3-to-6 without students schedule is personally overwhelming, and when the system is squeezed so tightly that low-paid teachers have to buy their own supplies to make learning fun — you are creating a dysfunctional society that will stem into future generations.
The New York Times op-ed piece on July 9 which I’m sure you are tired of hearing about said, “North Carolina was once considered a beacon of farsightedness in the South, an exception in a region of poor education, intolerance and tightfistedness. In a few short months, Republicans have begun to dismantle a reputation that took years to build.” I’m not sorry to bring it up again, because Governor, you need to hear it. This is what other states are saying about YOUR state. Can we work to reverse this perspective?
Governor, I voted for you. And as your constituent, I beg you to stop creating the same dysfunctional public school systems that I see on a daily basis here in northern Mexico. For most of my four years here, I have been teaching at a private, Christian middle school which has since expanded to a high school. While I believe in the school I have been working with and the one I grew up in, and while I understand the ideals that are trying to be upheld in private Christian schools, I do not want my children to go to a private school. I also do not want to homeschool my children. Please stop creating an educational environment in North Carolina where private schools and homeschooling are the more viable options. When the majority of parents (or consumers in this instance) see private schools as the better option, the weight falls on the state government. The government should be competing for better classrooms, more caring teachers and more thorough learning environments. When schools have the support of the government and teachers feel like they have the support of their school, when they feel appreciated because it truly is one of the most difficult jobs, and when they feel invested in, they then reciprocate that into the lives of their students. Those students grow up and become the living, breathing North Carolina. Everyone I know has a special teacher that believed in them, and they hold that teacher close to their hearts. But how can we expect teachers to constantly encourage our future generations when no one is encouraging them? They pour themselves out everyday with little-to-no immediate returns. They don’t expect to hear ‘thank you’ on a daily basis from the students they teach. If they did, they’d have quit a long time ago. But surely there is someone in society that should be thanking them on a regular basis. And while there are some parents who recognize that need, they are neither obliged to share their gratitude nor accustomed to doing so. As Americans we all take our education for granted, just as we take our running water and high-speed internet for granted. But as the government of a state that has some of the best higher-educational institutions in the nation, is it not time for the lower-educational institutions to be nationally recognized? That cannot happen in your governorship unless things change, and change quickly.
Please don’t make me regret voting for you, Governor.
If I give way to my flesh, I could justify my own violence against perpetrators of human trafficking. If I chose to ignore what Psalm 4:4 says and allow my anger to serve as the CPU of my body, I might become a perpetrator myself. I chose to research the topic of human trafficking in the U.S. (for my advocacy class) trying to understand what my response as a Christian should be. I think Christ might offer the best response for me to mimic when he says, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." Suddenly Jesus’ words haunt me. Have I been blind about healing the blind? I’m not sure I like where this is going. In his book Strength to Love, Martin Luther King Jr. says this about the Supreme Court justices who decided that African Americans could not be American citizens in 1857: “The justices who rendered this decision were not wicked men. But they were victims of spiritual and intellectual blindness. They knew not what they did. The whole system of slavery was largely perpetuated by sincere though spiritually ignorant people.”
King, whose life was lived (and taken) to reverse this perspective, was able to say that these men were not wicked, but blind — NOT WICKED BUT BLIND! Christ and King saw their enemies as morally blind, which is how they were able to respond to them differently than my flesh wants to respond. “There will be no permanent solution to the race problem until oppressed men develop the capacity to love their enemies,” says King. He says if we are going to go by the name Christians, we are not allowed to be intellectually and morally blind. “… Intellectual and moral blindness is a dilemma that man inflicts upon himself by his tragic misuse of freedom and his failure to use his mind to its fullest capacity. One day we will learn that the heart can never be totally right if the head is totally wrong.”
So when Christ admonishes us to set the oppressed free, those of us in the business of social justice stand up ready and willing. But when Christ tells us to open the eyes of the blind, we think, “Well, we are not in the business of healing. We’ll leave that to those who are.” Hmmm. Maybe Christ is talking about the morally blind inasmuch as he is talking about the physically blind. Which means, he who seeks social justice must do so by freeing the oppressed and freeing the oppressor. Paulo Freire says in Pedagogy of the Oppressed something similar to Kings words above: “Because it is a distortion of being more fully human, sooner or later being less human leads the oppressed to struggle against those who made them so. In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity (which is a way to create it), become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both.”
Restoring humanity involves both individual redemptive justice and systematic redemptive justice. I am reminded of my International Justice Mission friends in Kenya and India who are on the front line of dilemma. While the organization has done a great job in individual redemptive justice, they are now working toward broadening their focus to systematic changes. For every innocent man in jail that they are able to set free through tireless persistency, there is another innocent man who will take the first one’s place until the system is redeemed.
The eternal Christian paradox is this: we are the worst sinners and the best of saints — at the same time. At my worst I am capable of heinous crimes. At my best I am capable of forgiving a heinous crime enacted against me. At my worst I am able to call everyone else wicked, at my best I recognize that I am not immune to such wickedness and that only Christ’s power can triumph over such a force. Anger is an emotion, and just like all other emotions it can lead us down two possible paths: either we let it take us to its extreme or we take it to the bone-and-marrow divider and let the Truth turn it into a step closer to Kingdom Come.
I realize this is much easier said than done, for our emotions can easily control us. But for the same reason we should abstain from being drunk on alcohol, we cannot let ourselves get drunk with anger or hatred. For a drunk man is a blind man — and we cannot heal the blind with blindness. Blindness breeds more blindness just as violence produces more violence and generosity more generosity.
Paradoxes are the epitome of the Christian life. We live in this weird space of one moment being reminded we are princes and the next being reminded we are paupers. We’re the princes. We’re the paupers. We’re sons and daughters of the King. But we’re the worst of sinners; and our King sits on an invisible throne that turns the tables of our visible hold on this world.
Christ is content with us being both princes and paupers. But we aren’t. We all want to be princes and stay there, while we brag about being paupers. No? And while we build the throne we think a prince should sit on, Christ seems to sit crisscrossed on a dirt floor inviting us to sit next to him in his upside-down throne room.
“God has this annoying habit of stepping into our lives even when we’ve pulled in the welcome mat and bolted the door. He can throw a great party but he also knows how to spoil one,” says Randy Alcorn in Money, Possessions, and Eternity.
Circumstances seem to move us from prince to pauper more often than we wish. But we are to bring him glory when we are princes AND when we are paupers. While we like to measure success by tangible items, it seems the most successful we can be in the King’s eyes lies in our attitudes amidst the constantly changing circumstances.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need,” says Paul in Philippians 4:11-12.
I’m not sure the answer is in striving to be paupers. But what if we redefined what a prince is by what we find in the Bible, and then strive to be that kind of prince? Alcorn tells me, “Confident voices assure us that the Old Testament practice of tithing doesn’t apply to us, that the New Testament practice of sacrificial giving by liquidating assets and giving to the poor doesn’t apply to us, that the biblical prohibitions of interest and the restriction of debt don’t apply to us, that the commands not to hoard and stockpile assets don’t apply to us, and so on. It’s time to ask, ‘What does apply to us?’”
“Our stewardship of our money and possessions becomes the story of our lives… If Christ is not Lord over our money and possessions, then he is not our Lord.”
For the last four years, every month I have felt strongly both the title of prince and of pauper. My husband and I have been living off $1,000 USD a month. It’s never really been enough. We have not been able to put $25 of it a month into a savings account, despite my best efforts. Around the 5th of each month, I feel like a prince. I have money. I can be generous — to myself, to my family, to my church, and to my neighbors (usually in that order). We can be logically smart and utilize our envelope system well. But the food envelope often gets the shaft. We’re good week one and two, but by week four, we’re struggling. (I don’t say this so you can feel sorry for me. We budget $7 a month for Netflix, so we splurge some.) By week four, our meals are less extravagant: no cheese. Sometimes no meat. So I start feeling the survival mentality that so many in the world live under. I don’t want to be generous. I don’t want to be helpful. My attitude is hoard to survive. And then there are some days we get an amazing donation of more than our monthly income. Again, my attitude is hoard to survive. Why? Because of the wise words of Agur in Proverbs 30:
“… Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”
So whether riches or poverty come my way, can my attitude remain in a supernatural state that supersedes both the natural attitudes of poverty and riches? — Neither sin must overtake me. If I am full and deny God it is just as bad as if I am empty and profane His name. And since I cannot always control circumstances, I must control what I have the power to: my attitude.
A few weeks ago I sat at and listened to a commencement speech given by a wise man to me and my graduate school classmates. We were admonished to choose the label prophet instead of king. And we were reminded that it is a choice "to resist the idea of becoming crowned kings."
In five months Andrew, Cade and I will move back to North Carolina. Maybe the thing I fear the most is the pretense of princedom. Because when we are princes — by our own definition of that word — we cannot be prophets. We despise being circumstantial paupers and we build selfish kingdoms that oppose the true King. If we are to live the paradoxical Christian life well, we must adapt Paul’s secret of contentment.
Currently Andrew and I are in a lot of debt: both because of pursuing a graduate degree and because of a calling that led us to a small town in northern Mexico to open a coffee shop. I’m finally starting to be OK with this debt we’ve incurred, though it’s a battle that sometimes leaves me face down in tears on my bed. While many of my friends have been talking about how they are getting out of debt; we’ve been walking straight into it. But I’ve recently seen the parable of the talents in a whole new way. It’s those who take risks that please the master. It’s not just those who take risks and succeed. It’s not just those who carefully calculate the risks. If I’m too careful, I’ll go and bury what’s been given to me, resulting in a balanced checkbook and a belligerent Counselor.
It’s all a matter of asking questions about what we are doing. Why are we in debt? What are we doing with what God has given us? Are we living by a balance of faith and reason? Are we working toward justice with our time, with our finances, with our attitudes?
“He who has God and everything has no more than he who has God alone,” says C.S. Lewis.
Faith. Reason. Justice.
This is the motto of my graduate school, Eastern University. I’d like to adapt it as the motto of my life. But it’s a complicated motto that often feels paradoxical.
Faith — the evidence of things unseen.
Reason — the process of logic.
Justice — bringing people and systems into redemptive accountability.
There is a lucha libre — a wrestling act — between faith and reason in my head, in my life, in my marriage. How can one person find the balance between the two? Martin Luther King Jr. gives me insight into this conflict, calling faith, religion and reason, science.
“Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge that is power; religion gives man wisdom that is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary. Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.”
I thought of myself as a woman of faith until I met my husband. It didn’t take long to realize he is a man of faith, and I am a woman of reason. He looks at an empty bank account and says, “Don’t worry. God will provide.” I look at that same account and say in earnest, “How can we help God provide?” Neither of those two concepts can stay stagnant. For to be authentically full of faith, there is reason mixed in. And to be authentically full of reason, there is an element (or 700 elements) of faith that keeps it in the realm it was meant to exist in. Therefore I must always be moving closer to the faith side of reason and those full of faith must always be working toward the reason side of faith — and we both must use that equilibrium to a better working understanding of justice and ultimately, toward the recognition of why both of these concepts were created: redemption. If reason is not used for redemptive purposes it can stay stagnant, or worse it can become self-seeking power. If faith is not used for redemption it can lead us to irrationalism, obscurity, and possibly even heinous acts we say are the will of God. If we have a perfect balance of faith and reason, but don’t use that balance for social justice, we become internally developed but externally disconnected and irrelevant (like an intelligent hermit).
A few weeks ago, I visited the Genocide Museum in Kigali, Rwanda. What may have hit the hardest in seeing this museum was the section dedicated to the memory of other genocides that have taken place all over the world. It was impressive and important to remember that this was not an isolated event. Genocides have happened everywhere: the Holocaust, Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian War … and the list goes on. Man at his worst is capable of these heinous acts. Man at his best is capable of forgiving such heinous acts. And by ‘man’ I mean ‘me’. At my worst I am capable of heinous crimes. At my best I am capable of forgiving a heinous crime enacted against me. At my fullest, I am seeking redemptive justice and empowering others to do the same.
So faith tugs at us and reminds us there is a divine touch about us, and it provokes us to tug at the Divine. And reason reminds us to use logic, a divinely created concept, in a way that protects us from getting a god complex. Justice is the path we walk when we balance faith and reason in order to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.
Reason has us make plans, but faith reminds us to hold those plans loosely because only God can ordain our steps. Reason tells us to follow our cultural norms, while faith reminds us there is another country whose nationality should be stronger in our hearts than our regional nationality. Faith tell us to trust God, and let him guide our steps while reason reminds us it’s wise to use a map when we don’t know where we are going.
It’s a balancing act. Sometimes we feel like we are flailing about on a tightrope. Faith says we can walk across. Reason tells us to be prepared before we do. Justice reminds us that we are walking across for a purpose, not merely for bragging rights.
God is not calling us to be lonely wise hermits.
Nor is he asking us to be unaware religious fanatics.
He calls us to:
loose the bonds of wickedness
let the oppressed go free
break every yoke
Sometimes that looks like --
• sipping sodas with an HIV+ woman in her tiny house
• learning all about coffee and pretending to be a rock climber
• being the program director of an NGO
• reading to a 7-year-old who sits on your lap who was a stranger five minutes ago
• filling out a logframe matrix — (what!)
• telling a story of the person touched by the program that logframe supported
• crying out to God about our struggles
These are things that cannot be done with lasting impact unless done with a symmetrical balance of faith and reason.
“At times we need to know that the Lord is a God of justice. When slumbering giants of injustice emerge in the earth, we need to know that there is a God of power who can cut them down like the grass and leave them withering like the Greek herb. When our most tireless efforts fail to stop the surging sweep of oppression, we need to know that in this universe is a God whose matchless strength is a fit contrast to the sordid weakness of man. But there are also times when we need to know that God possesses love and mercy. When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is Someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance. When days grow dark and nights grow dreary, we can be thankful that our God combines in his nature a creative synthesis of love and justice that will lead us through life’s dark valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment." — Martin Luther King Jr.
We want to introduce you to Kenny and Kelly, a couple from the Charlotte area who have committed to two years of Mexican life and will arrive here in October to learn the ins and outs of The Owl, and then take over fully in December.
While details at this point are elusive, we want to ask you to be praying for them as they raise their support and prepare for a new adventure in life. We have been more than amazed at the way these two look at life and the call of being a Christian, and we are confident that they will be able to take this coffee shop ministry to higher heights and deeper depths. We are in awe of our Creator who over and over again reminds us that He is capable of the impossible, and that we glimpse His glory in every good and perfect gift He sends our way. Please be praying for them: that all of their needs be supplied, that the transition is more smooth than rocky, that all the details fall into place, and that they stay unified despite any fiery darts that try to rock their faith.
One of the toughest things about living the lives we do is how frequent we must say goodbye. Living in a very transitional place with a lot of transitional people, and running a very seasonal business, we have learned that saying goodbye is inevitable.
In less than a week, we say goodbye to our Owl volunteers: Ina, Jon and Hamilton. We will miss them immensely. They have helped us run the Owl so smoothly that Andrew only had one official shift per week (though he was in and out all the time). They were a constant source of laughter as the vibe between them was more than entertaining. While we are sad they are leaving, we know they must continue on their journeys. We are so thankful for all they have invested in us and in the Owl, and we pray that what they have sewn, they too will reap, and that the skies will open up on them and pour out blessing. It's not been an easy journey for them, and they have sacrificed much to be here. Please pray for them as Ina heads off to Australia, and Jon and Hamilton return to the U.S.
(Thoughts from TJ McCloud, one of Gena's grad school classmates, on his life as a missionary in the Dominican Republic)
Of all the painful, joyful, amazing tests and things that I have learned about the world and myself while working in the developing world, the most heartbreaking was the moment that I realized what incarnation
At some point during our season in the Dominican Republic, I realized that I had fallen in love with that little community of Rio San Juan. Not only that, I truly started to feel loved back — like I had been accepted, finally, by the barrios that we worked in every day. It was a good feeling. I had worked hard to try to be as much like my neighbors as possible.
But it wasn't enough. I may have been accepted, but I was not one of them. They knew it. I knew it. They had few
options— even the richer among them, and I had many. While there were some in town who may have made more each month than I was being paid, I had the ultimate power of the American identity. The passport. The connections
. The education
. I could live on as little money as possible — move to a palm-wood shack next door to the prostitute mothers of my shoe-shine boys, eat what they ate, spend only what they spent, travel only how they traveled, treat medical problems only how they would treat them; and it wouldn't change a thing
. I would still be able to make one phone call and lift myself out of whatever challenge I wanted to. Always holding a get out of jail
free card. In fact, I started to realize that trying to live exactly like they did would actually be offensive to them — as they lived the way they did out of necessity and struggle ... I would only be "slumming", condescending, pretending
for a time to be just like them — to challenge myself or perform some horrible trick on them— did I think they were that stupid? That they would just shrug and accept me as one of them? Even in poverty, the power of my identity would be like a neon sign pointing me out.
No, I realized that I had been accepted, but not as one of them. I didn't belong. I was an anomaly — an oddity that they had become used to, but not
one of them.
So what about Jesus? He was God among us, right? He could have called ten thousand angels at any time, right? Well, the experience of struggling with these concepts showed me that those ideas about Jesus were wrong. God walking among us, filled with heavenly power and knowledge, living like us, incarnating himself but still holding on to his heavenly passport — that thought was now inconceivable and offensive to me. Jesus as an interloper? Jesus with an ace up his sleeve? Jesus as divine condescension?
Nope. Not worth praying to.
But, thinking about these lines brought me to Philippians 2, arguably the oldest song about Jesus that we have. It states that Jesus denied his divinity
— rejected his passport
, if you will. That he walked, without a parachute, without a safety wire, through life, depending solely on the Father, just like we should/could have been doing all along. He points to God at every turn — God healed people. God did the miracles. God gave the message. Whatever was special about Jesus had nothing to do with his divine "genetics", or the afterglow from an eternity with the Father. He showed up on the scene, completely divorced from his power and identity
, all to be on the same level as his bride, for whose love he had sacrificed everything
. He lived like we did. Died like we did. And as the first fruit of the Kingdom of God he had been sent to inaugurate, he was raised like we will be raised.
I realized that my love for Rio San Juan wasn't like that. I'd never give away my country, my friends, my family, my history and identity and future to be as intimately connected as God through Jesus was with us
. So, I failed that test, if it was one — and it still hurts sometimes, truthfully. Do I really love Chico, sitting here working on an expensive degree, eating Combos and drinking a diet coke while I grouse about missing Rio San Juan, instead of being there right now, being present in his life? But, at least I found the desire to even think about it — consider it, be honest about it. And maybe that was a different test I passed. I know it's opened me up to understand much more about God and true, incarnational
love than ever before. For more info on TJ McCloud, visit www.tjmccloud.com