Monday, July 2, 2018

Take A Walk

...He led me through the forest to his "campout"; a place of rest for a young boy who was collateral damage, in the cycle of addiction that had trapped his mother.  Through him I learned how difficult life can be, tethered to the choices of a parent who couldn't grow up.

..."I want you to meet my Grandma," she said, ushering me through the entryway.  Then I was sitting down on the sofa in a modest apartment listening to a Jewish woman explain to me how she had survived a place called Auschwitz, with her faith in a loving God still intact.

...His name was Njoroge and  I dutifully followed his dark, extended, index finger pointed  to the right and then the left, for several kilometers until we reached the Ngong Hills.  The noise of the matatus, cars and buses of Nairobi had long drifted away and then, I stood in front of his family's shamba.  The corn was a foot taller than I, the melons sat ripening upon entwined vines along the ground and I began to grasp the hopeful simplicity of life in rural Kenya.

...He was weeping, with his head in his hands; these huge hands of a full-grown man, shaking violently, and asking me, "Why couldn't they love me?"  While we sat there alone, I saw the man shrink away to a little boy... to the child in all of us, still reaching for the embrace of a mother and father.

...Five dollars was the cost of my education.  I gave the tuition to Cary and followed him down the front steps of the parsonage. We made a brief stop at the liquor store and then we were into a back-alley, and for the rest of the day, traveling along the pathways of his life among the homeless on the streets of Chicago.

...Her name was Adi.  Through her kindnesses we learned that in far off places along the west coast of the Black Sea, and apart from any connection that we or the church had, God knew our whereabouts.  He would find us a home, and bring us to his people who had been waiting for us there all along.

...He was lost, mystified as to how it had come to this.  She was stern and immovable.  Her eyes were fixed on a blank wall opposite him.  In that moment I understood how love not nurtured and taken advantage of, can fade into a stone-cold resistance from which it may never return.

...We sat down across the table from each other while she tearfully explained the choices she had made to leave her physically and emotionally abusive husband, for the love and support of another woman.

...Apollo met me at his home. We rode in my Toyota to the center of Nairobi, then climbed the stairs to the roof of a 5-story building.  The entirety of the the space was his he said.  Every bit of the area had been burnt to the cement foundation.  I looked across the 3000 or so square feet with sadness.  Then he said, "I have brought you here to pray for my business.  That God would restore it.  I know that if you pray, He will do it."  In that moment, I was inspired by a faith, that was more someone else's than mine.

If I took the time, I could record a hundred more of these introductory moments...maybe two hundred. I don't know for sure.  I have been privileged to journey life with others who guided me down paths of learning that I know I would never have come to on my own.
No book would have the words.
No professor has such teaching skill.
It's education via community...
People who shared with me about their pain.
People who expanded my definition of joy and commitment.
Children, adults, men and women, each a human heart who helped me to see something that I would not have seen without their unique perspective.
                 I guess that each day I am becoming more convinced of a particular belief.  
I heard once that, "the opposite of addiction is connection."
I had to think on that a bit, but today I am more than ever convinced that this is truth.
                                        We need each other.  
There is a help, an education, waiting for me, that is woven into my relationship with others.  We have so much at our fingertips to
communicate with each other, but we seldom do that in person, and this impersonal existence 
with our world is creating a lonely ditch we have fallen into.
I have read several articles lately that point to this issue.
(here's one: http://time.com/5261181/young-americans-are-lonely/)

I am so thankful for the lessons 
             which have come through simple conversations with people not like me.

I actually believe that in those moments or hours of the journey, there was a third one who walked with us, and in fact it was his invitation that we were both responding to, without even knowing it.
He was gently and creatively, drawing together two separate timelines so that we could find healing and help
          from each other.
So...each time I choose to take a walk, 
                                 share a coffee or a meal,
                                                        ask a question, 
                                                                go into a meeting with someone I have not met before, 
                            with no agenda but to listen and learn,
I find that quite often, I have dipped my cup into a well of understanding,
                                                                                 deeper than I could have ever imagined.









Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Heart of God

I offered pizza.  
They happily agreed to my offering; standing in the rare sunlight of a February afternoon, with smiles on their faces and shovels in hand. 
So I phoned Domino's the next day.  They delivered lunch, and the folks from Stone Soup Gardens went to work on placement of four, 4000 gallon water catchment cisterns for the community garden being built on the south parking lot of our church.  

A couple hours later, I was talking with the crew during a short break.   They thanked me for the pizza, and I said, "Can I just say to you how much I appreciate all of the work you are putting into this project.  I don't know your faith background, but I think that the work you are doing makes God real to people who are struggling, and need to know that someone cares. Thank you for that."   

Regardless of what we believe, I think that each of us at some point, ask ourselves, "If there is a God, How does he feel about me? Does God even know who I am or what I am going through?"
I wish the church was better at showing how deep God's love is.  
I wish that I were better at it too.  There have been many times that I have prayed that God would allow me to have his heart, that I could share a better hope or a deeper peace with someone who needs it.  When that prayer is answered,  I am drawn into a depth of concern and focus that is all-consuming and relentless.
So, I want to suggest that our God is an emotional being, and much more than we tend to imagine. 
His heart is BIG and incredibly sensitive to what we are experiencing individually.
                                  All of us...all of creation...all the time. 
We have emotions because he made us in his image, so he is an emotional being.  
Also, I don't know if we really believe this.  
We are not convinced of the idea that our God is really that deeply connected to us when we are hurting. 

In response to that uncertainty, I give you Jesus.
                           Luke 19:41-42English Standard Version (ESV)
41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it..."
That means he sees the village life on the outskirts of Jerusalem as well as the dynamics of those living in the urban settings.  
He sees the families that just arrived in the city, trying to make their way in new surroundings and those who have lived there for decades.
Those who have work and those who don't.
Those whose social standing is elite and those whose standing is servitude.
Those struggling with addictions and those who are free.
Those surrounded by family and those who feel completely alone.
Jesus takes a sweeping look at the city of Jerusalem. He takes in all that is happening there...

Couldn't  that be the Kent-East-Hill that he is looking at?  
Or Covington, Renton Highlands, Tukwila, Federal Way, Des Moines, Auburn, 
Maple Valley...The Greater Seattle area or Tacoma?
Can't it be wherever we live?
He sees our neighborhood. 

                                     He knows our issues, all of them, and He weeps.

In another gospel account...same scene, He says, 
         "How long have I wanted to gather you unto myself as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings"
      That is not an image of a God who only cares on major holidays, like Christmas and Easter, or only pays attention when it will bring media coverage.  That is the image of a protector, a nurturer, someone who desires to be as accessible as possible, 
                             and is moved to tears when he has to watch us struggle on without him.

Then, there is this SECOND illustration, found in John's gospel...it is more intimate still.
                        John 11:33-36English Standard Version (ESV)
33 When Jesus saw her (this is Mary, Martha's sister) weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved[a] in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?”They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”



These verses show us again, that Jesus doesn't come to us 
     as a doctrinal concept, 
              a theological position,                       
                             a core value....
Jesus is not a something, but a someone.
...And he weeps over the pains we experience and the separation that we feel from him...when we are trudging through it alone.

He is...The Heart of God.