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Fear is a Good Thing

Something in me wasn’t settled. Not indigestion, but something that still made my stomach a bit weary.

I first heard about this peacemaking mission to the Middle East over a year ago and have been sensing a calling to be part of it from the beginning.  With deadlines coming down to the wire, I was feeling unsettled…maybe it was fear? Maybe it was a premonition that needed to be listened to?

I feel distinctly called to be an advocate for peace in places of conflict and within oppressed populations.  Further, I feel that God has called me to identify and faithfully tell the stories (primarily through writing) of those that otherwise wouldn’t have a voice. In telling these stories, I hope to expose and ignite the imagination of those of us in the West that are so often insulated from the realities of contexts outside of our own.

Despite this deep sense of calling and conviction, I was second-guessing my participation in this mission. It is going to take great sacrifice for my family and me.  Was it the finances?  The idea of exposing myself to the political and violent turmoil that is currently littering the Middle East?  Was it the fear of being away from my family for two weeks?  Would Ruby forget who I was by the time I got back?

Real questions.  Hard questions.  Fear.

I asked for prayer.

Two guys that I serve alongside in our missional community sat with me and listened for the Spirit’s guidance.  About 30 minutes into our time, one of them said, “Jesus doesn’t want us to live in fear.  Being faithful to God’s Mission isn’t comfortable, so if you are uncomfortable or fearful but know this is what God is calling you towards, you need to faithfully step into it.”

In other words, fear doesn’t mean no…it means go.

I think Jesus experienced this before being betrayed by one of his own and taken by the Roman authorities.  As did Moses when YHWH told him to go before Pharaoh as an advocate for the oppressed people of God.

When we are faithful to walk to the edge of our comfort zone (or right past it!), we are able to get a more full understanding of God’s vocation for each of our lives. It is an understanding that we may never know if we remain in comfortable complacency.

Complacency has no place in God’s Kingdom. As followers of Jesus, we must continually and actively step into the radical call of discipleship.

I am finding this easy to say, but much harder to do.

 

“By The Way, She and Her Son Have Aids.”

(My Monday “Travel as Pilgrimage” post will have to wait until Wednesday this week)

Teaching to my homeless friends

There is a soup kitchen a few blocks from our house that provides two warm meals for local homeless each day near downtown San Diego. They are the longest standing soup kitchen in SD and one of the only ones still open. Before each meal is served, there is a 30-minute service led by a variety of local pastors. I was asked to speak before this morning’s meal.

I thought, “these people have to hear 14 messages a week?! What else could they possibly need to hear? Would some simple human interaction go farther than another ‘sermon’ being preached at them? After all, I can’t pretend to have any idea what it feels like to live a day in their shoes.”

Adjusting my attitude and perspective (and knowing I wasn’t the guy to change how things had been done for the past few decades), I began to prepare by exploring what it could look like to share the tangible Good News of a Kingdom where the first will be last and the last will be first. A Kingdom where the hungry are fed, the suffering find peace and the hopeless offered new life. A Kingdom where Jesus is most evident within the suffering. A Kingdom that isn’t only a future reality, but something to be experienced in the here and now.

Walking through the doors, I was able to look into the eyes of God’s Kingdom inhabitants.

I’m always convicted walking into such places, as it is so easy to talk about injustice, but all to rare to actively step into the lives of those being impacted by injustice. Far stronger than the guilty conviction was the sense of God’s Spirit resting on his beautiful children. Most stared numbly at the ceiling or slept with their head resting on the table. They had all been let down at some point in their lives. Whether through abandonment, loss or suffering, each had an earlier chapter in their story that led to their current chapter. I recently heard that 90% of homeless sincerely desire to get off the streets. They don’t want to be there, but they are held captive. While society has in large part turned a blind eye to their suffering, Jesus announced that they are the center of his attention.

Upside-down Kingdom

I told the story of the pain, suffering and depression that surrounded the loss of our first child (Read More Here). We had so much hope in the life of that baby and it was instantly taken from us. I shared Jesus’ words that announce the poor, hungry and weeping as the inhabitants of God’s Kingdom (Luke 6). We read Luke 13 where Jesus describes the great Kingdom feast where the first will be last and the last first. I concluded with Jesus’ announcement that the Kingdom is at hand (Mark 1) and that in the midst of the suffering, pain, disappointment and abandonment, the hope of God’s Kingdom is now. It is in Jesus resurrection that we can trust the Story of God as being good and leading to life…not just in the future, but today. Finally, I shared the news of my daughter Ruby’s birth just 7 months ago and the hope that her life embodies everyday.

When I finished, a young woman (I’ll call her Gloria) with a baby son came up to me. I saw them as soon as I walked in the door this morning, but hadn’t been able to connect with them. She put her son in my arms and shared how much she loved him, but was sad that his development was stunted. He was 10 months old, had already had one surgery and was scheduled for another this week. I could sense that she felt alone and even guilty for his condition as she didn’t know she was pregnant until nearly 5 months along. He put his hands on my face and smiled. I wondered if he had ever experienced the love of a father.

About 20 minutes later a women came up to me and said, “I know you’re close to that God of yours and thought you should know that both Gloria and her son have aids. She might have to give him up in the next year. Maybe you could pray for them?”

My heart broke.

As is often the case, I went in to a situation seeking to initiate transformation…but in the end, I was the one transformed. My prayer is that we both were.

I also pray that we will all choose to step into the stories of those forgotten by society and affirm the reality of God’s Kingdom come in both word and deed.

What faces do you see everyday that you sense God calling you towards?  What can you learn about their story?  How can you point them to the hope of God’s Kingdom through your words and deeds?

Travel as Pilgrimage #3: “Are You Another Mean American?”

Sitting at Cafe in Barcelona

It was New Year’s day and the streets of Barcelona, Spain were full of white lights and endless energy. Jan and I slowly strolled down Las Rambles (Barcelona’s most popular street) and took in scene. There is something about being in a different culture that puts you on your heals a little bit. Not knowing the language or cultural norms forces us into a posture of humility and listening. This is the posture that allows us to grow and learn of the vast diversity of God’s Creation. My inherited cultural telescope is so narrow…it is only in looking through another’s that my worldview expands. See my first Travel as Pilgrimage post for more explanation.

As we sat in a street side cafe drinking some tasty Sangria, a gentleman came by our table and asked if we wanted to buy any roses. I quickly declined, as I often do when people try to sell stuff to me unsolicited. But he didn’t leave. Instead, he stood next to our table with a very friendly demeanor about him as if the conversation wasn’t over. I could tell he wasn’t trying to sell us roses anymore; he was looking for some conversation.

He smiled and asked, “Are you another mean American? Why is the world so mad at you?¨

This obviously caught our attention and I stumbled through some kind of response like, “Well, I’d like to think we aren’t mean.” All the while I knew I had just tried to shoe him away by quickly declining his roses and had barely looked him in the eye. Maybe I was a mean American.

We invited him to sit down with us and offered him a glass of Sangria. With a smile, he declined the Sangria, but accepted the seat. After asking him his story, he told us that he was from Pakistan and had just arrived in Barcelona three weeks earlier. He loved his family and his homeland, but had been forced to escape some violent turmoil and was now trying to make a living selling flowers on the streets of a foreign land.

After asking him why he asked if we were “mean Americans,” he explained the demeaning way he had been treated by other American tourists. I’m sure some of it was cultural misunderstanding and some due to the prejudice we can often adopt against the Middle East. In any case, I hope our new friend experienced something different of Americans that night. After all, our primary role wasn’t to represent America, but God’s Kingdom.

He was a very humble and understanding man with a very different story than our own. Hard to imagine all he has been through. Maybe a bit of irony, but his name was Justice.

Have you had any interactions that called into question your inherited worldview?  Experiences that forced you to realize you may engage others in a way counter to our primary calling as representative of God’s Kingdom?

How Getting “Snowed In” Can Save Your Sanity

Thanks to the generosity of a close friend, my family got to get away this week for a much needed few days of downtime up in Big Bear, CA.  We are staying in a sweet little condo with a full kitchen, fireplace and patio.  Janny and I came up for a weekend retreat I was speaking at a couple years ago and really enjoyed it.  While that was a good time, this has been a GREAT time with zero responsibility.

Although, it is only a few hours from San Diego, it might as well be half way around the globe.  Being a product of California coastal communities my whole life, I didn’t really consider the need for chains on this trip.  After all, it is only 3 hours from the always-warm San Diego.  After successfully driving our little Nissan, 1.8 liter hatchback up the 7000 foot mountain, it began to snow…REALLY snow.

Within a few hours of our arrival, we quickly realized we wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while.  It snowed for nearly 2 days straight and we were completely snowed in.  There would be no running errands, no eating out, no site seeing, the only option was to simply stay right where we were.  And it…was…brilliant.

There is something sacred about being “stuck” somewhere with those you love most. We live pretty hectic lives.  I’m not proud of that and it is something I struggle to acknowledge and change on a regular basis.  When you’re snowed in, you have no option for chaos.  Janny, Ruby and I simply hung out together all day for two days straight.  We watched movies, read, prayed, ate, walked in the snow and even found a hot tub to sneak into.  It has been exactly what we needed.

Live a hectic life?  Feel a bit disoriented from all the chaos of responsibility?

My advice: GET SNOWED IN. Even if that means you have to pile ice cubes around your front door and car tires.

 

A Really Loud Silence

Embacing silence is an art. In fact, it is a lost art for many.  How many of us can embrace or even enjoy the silence in a conversation that has run dry of relevant topics?  Do we turn the radio on as soon as we sit in our car?  How about exercising with an iPod?  I don’t believe any of these realities are inherently bad, but I am discovering that the majority (I am the worst of these!) of people in our society aren’t comfortable with silence.  Rather than silence being the default reality, “noise” has become the default.

The Carthusians (of the Benedictine tradition) are a monastic order who believe that silence is foundational to all meaningful spirituality.  With the exception of shared liturgy and prayer, they live lives of complete silence.  They work in silence, eat in silence, walk in silence…For the Carthusians, God doesn’t speak to them because of the silence, instead they experience God speaking to them within the silence. The recent documentary (which I still haven’t seen) Into Great Silence chronicles the life of a community living in a Carthusian monastery.

A couple weeks ago I went on a day long silent retreat to a local monastery.  It was a requirement for a Spiritual Disciplines course I am currently taking, but I was really looking forward to the extended silence.  Sadly, it seems that it takes something “forced” upon me to slow down long enough to experience such silence. I prayed that the time would be loud in ways other than sound.

After an opening shared liturgy and prayer, I entered into my time of complete silence.  To be honest, it was a bit terrifying.  20 minutes of silence can feel like an eternity, so staring 6 hours in the face was a daunting prospect.  Further, when left only with the option of introspection, your mind starts to dig up stuff that has been buried by distraction and busyness for a long time.  It took the first hour to go through a disciplined inventory/evaluation of my heart and mind in an effort to be centered in silence before Jesus.  I sensed the need to simply be present, rather than move forward with any agenda or asking.

Although there were a couple of spiritual exercises (Centering Prayer and Stations of the Cross), the time was spent purely in a place of introspective silence…and it was hard.  It is a discipline that I have far from mastered, but was made aware of the formative place such a discipline should have in my life.  I can see why the Desert Fathers considered their time in isolation to be a profound experience of temptation.  How can one be tempted when removed from society? When we leave ourselves exposed to the realities of our inner being, we run into all sorts of stuff that tempts us to entertain thoughts, emotions and memories that lead down destructive paths.  It is in facing those temptations and wading through them that we find ourselves more present before our Maker than ever before. I think Jesus experienced and embodied this reality in his 40 days in the desert (Matt. 4).

My time was blanketed in silence, but it was really loud.

Is the art of embracing silence something that you have wrested with?  What is it that keeps us from such a discipline?  What are some practices that may be helpful as we create room for silence in our daily/weekly rhythm’s of life?

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