Grace for the moment

Pursuing justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit

In the name of Jesus November 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Grace @ 1:20 pm

I just finished reading “In the Name of Jesus” by Henri Nouwen. I love Nouwen. I feel he is a kind of soul mate. He has a way of writing that is so clear and simple, so normal, and yet so profound and challenging that it reaches my deepest part. In the conclusion of his book he recounts the experience of sharing the stage with his handicapped friend Bill at a conference for priests he was invited to speak at.  He writes, “Often I had wondered how much of what I had said would be remembered. Now it dawned on me that most likely much of what I said would not be long remembered, but that Bill and I doing it together would not easily be forgotten.”

 

In these, my last few months living in Peru, I have found myself asking how much of what I do and what I have done means anything in the grand scheme of things. What will be remembered? Have people taken in the things I have taught? Have our strategies been effective or are we just fooling ourselves? Will anybody actually put into practice anything that I have encouraged them to do?

 

Last night I was giving a workshop on self-esteem and dysfunctional relationships for a church that had invited me to come speak.  When I walked into the church building the man who had organized the event introduced me to another man who I did not recognize, but who said he had met me years ago.  “Oh really?” I asked, “where?”

“At Bethel church,” he responded, “You washed our feet.” He chuckled a little and commented on how terrible my Spanish was back then.

 

I have only washed people’s feet once in Lima, back in 2007 on the Global Urban Trek. At the end of the Trek we decided we wanted to honor our hosts and the people from the churches we had worked with by washing their feet.  At the time we didn’t think much about how our actions would be received in the Peruvian cultural context.  We were used to foot washing as a way of saying we wanted to honor and serve the people whose feet we washed.  While our hosts may have felt honored, they also felt uncomfortable; we washed their feet with cold water in winter (we didn’t have access to hot water)!  Peruvians are notorious for believing that every little exposure to cold things (including drinking a cold soda when its not hot out) can make you sick.  Imagine how they felt when we stuck their feet in cold water on that chilly day!  We were culturally clueless.

 

As I think about this funny foot scene and Henri Nouwen’s comments, I realize that most of the time the best-remembered things are those that touch people in a way that is different and fresh (maybe too fresh, haha), things that don’t fit into the normal mold people are used to.  Last night during the workshop we talked about human dignity, the value of human life.  I asked the participants to list the prices of different things we purchase each day, and then I asked them the price of a hug.  “It doesn’t have a price” they responded.  Suddenly I heard myself saying something I hadn’t planned, “But I need to know the value of a hug,” I said, “will someone please come up here and give me a hug so I can know the value of it.”  They smiled, then one of the ladies in the group shyly got out of her seat and came up and hugged me. Her name was Norma.

 

I don’t know what things people will remember from what I have shared during my time here in Peru.  Maybe Norma will remember our hug.  Maybe the youth I have worked with will remember the silly games we played or the countless times I asked them to express their ideas and arguments in art or drama.  I hope they remember these things.  I hope so because I know I will, and it is these moments of spontaneity, creativity, experiential learning and breaking the formalities of traditional teaching styles that have been most life-giving for me here in Peru. These were the times that I felt the Holy Spirit working through me and creating new life.

 

Peru has helped my grow in my ability to relate to others from that place of freedom and sincerity, not just trying to accomplish a goal but really believing that the people I am interacting with have something to teach me, and my role as a facilitator is to help bring that out.  Nouwen speaks of this process as the movement from “Relevance to prayer, from popularity to ministry, and from leadership to being led.” This practice of servant-leadership is a hallmark of what God has invited me to grow in during my time in Peru. Practicing servant-leadership helps me be less concerned about my accomplishments and enables me to be more interested in just doing what I am realistically able to, and letting that be enough, knowing that my small efforts are part of a much greater story that God is working in the world. It helps me to be less anxious about what people think of me and more concerned about being true to myself and ministering from that place of authenticity.  It allows me to be less concerned about increasing my sphere of influence and enables me to stay engaged with the people who are most marginalized by modern society, letting the illiterate and the poor be my teachers.  My prayer is that I would continue to walk this path in the Spirit of Christ.

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A New Thing

Filed under: Uncategorized — Grace @ 1:17 pm

(This post describes events from July 2010)

See, I am doing a new thing
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
And streams in the wasteland

The wild animals honor me,
The jackals and the owls,
Because I provide water in the desert
And streams in the wasteland

To give drink to my people, my chosen
The people I formed for myself
That they may proclaim my praise

We wanted to do something different at the mid-project retreat this year, something that wasn’t in the Global Urban Trek Director’s handbook. The above passage from Isaiah 43 had been echoing in my spirit throughout the Trek. When I was in college I started thinking about the idea of the “new thing” that God was doing, the new creation, the new life that we live in and the new kingdom that we usher in as the body of Christ. I coined a catch phrase, “the old man is dying.” My artist friend Sarah said she would do a painting of it someday.

The fact that we even ended up at the retreat center was the first new thing that God did among us. We were supposed to go to a different retreat center, which I discovered (through intuition and a wise phone) call had double booked the dates of our retreat. So at 5pm the day before our retreat I snapped into task-mode and within 30 minutes we had reservations at “Villa la Paz” (the Peace Villa). The funny thing is that I had a feeling this change was going to happen, I perceived it in my spirit.

During our second night at the retreat center we did a Bible study on Isaiah 43. I led it, and it was a somewhat mediocre effort to academically pull apart the text and understand what it was talking about. I struggled leading a study in this kind of academic style that I hadn’t done for a long time. During one of the moments of awkward silence where no one seemed to have an opinion about anything, my co-director Helyn asked our student Josh what he was thinking. “Actually I am really distracted right now and having a hard time connecting with this passage,” he responded. “I was thinking about how to make keyboards accessible to people in rural African villages where there is no electricity.”

“Actually,” I responded, “I think that what you are thinking is exactly what this passage is about. You know, streams in the desert, isn’t that what it is to bring music and innovation to a place that doesn’t have access to that kind of technology?” The comment diffused the uncomfortable silence of boredom, disarming the formality of the study and revitalizing us, and we finished off the study by commenting about the “new thing” that God is doing and inviting us to perceive, then we each illustrated what we envisioned in the passage.

The next morning we continued our journey into Isaiah 43, first with a traditional lectio divina (divine reading) wherein a person read the passage several times out loud, and we listened for words and phrases from the passage and shared the impressions and invitations that God was giving us all through this communal hearing of the word. The purpose was to listen to one another, to what we were each experiencing with the text, and let our sharing produce a nourishing feedback that would allow us to enrich our own insights and interpretations. After this process of listening and sharing we returned to our drawings from the night before and added to them based upon our communal experience in the lectio divina.

After pouring the word out into our artwork we stood outside in a circle together and shared our pictures with one another, one by one. As each person shared we listened to them and genuinely held them with our attention, then we proceeded to reflect on the commonalities of our artwork. Many themes emerged that ran through the various pieces—butterflies and streams of water, deserts, crosses and gathered people, new growth and trees and dynamic flourishing, and the city with its mess and its hope. Our invitation from that point was to create what Nancy called a “tapestry” with our various drawings. In a moment of divinely inspired perception Katerina pointed out that we were standing in a circle around a tiled design in the pathway that formed an image that resembled some of the images in our drawings. In the center was a cross, and around it were shapes that resembled butterfly wings. At that moment one of the students dropped their drawing and it floated to the ground and landed on top of the tiles. Helyn reached to pick it up. “No, don’t touch it,” Nathan called out in a firm voice. And suddenly we all saw it, we perceived that we ourselves were a living version of the artwork we had created, and we began to piece together a living, moving tapestry where our drawings came to life through us. Some fluttered around with their drawings as butterflies, perching on people’s shoulders. Others sunk down to the ground and began to weave and flow like the streams of water they had drawn. I circled around the group like the spiraling process of constant exchange and evaluation and flow that I had drawn as the central dynamic of my picture.

After all was said and done we sat down together in silence. Finally, after a long but surprisingly not awkward period of silence Katerina chirped, “well that was definitely the most hippie thing I have ever done with a Christian group.” We all burst into laughter. God had done a new thing among us.

 

PUTIS September 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Grace @ 8:35 pm

When she began to wail, a knot formed in my throat and my eyes welled with tears.  I didn’t understand her native Quechua other than three words in Spanish that ripped into my ears with the sharpness of a switchblade.  Terrorista—terrorist.  Innocente—innocent. Justicia—justice.  We are not terrorists, she said.  We are innocent, she shouted.  All we want is justice.  The last word was when the wailing began.  And as the microphone was gently but intentionally snatched from her grip, I began to wonder if our presence was helping heal her wounds or further deepening them.  We didn’t give her the time to mourn and wail before the crowd, we had a deadline to meet, a caravan of journalists and photographers who had to get back to civilization by 5pm.  No time for the uncontrolled lament of a woman bearing 25 years of grief, we needed to get this show on the road.

I sound like I am criticizing the action that was taken, but upon reflection, I understand the prudence of the decision.  The press really did need to get back to the city so that the news could be broadcast to the entire nation and to the world.  Headline: Victims of Putis massacre receive dignified burial.  The bodies of 92 victims who were systematically assassinated by the Peruvian armed forces nearly 25 years ago in the rural mountain village of Putis in the highland province of Ayacucho finally receive a Christian burial and are put to rest in dignity.

The world needs to know what happened in Putis.  And though 92 of the victims who were killed in cold blood on December 13, 1984 have now been put to rest, the story of Putis is not complete.  There are at least 31 other victims, according to the numbers in the Final Report of Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who have not yet been uncovered or identified.  Moreover, no one has been tried for the crimes against humanity committed at Putis.  The Peruvian ministry of defense refuses to release the names of those commanders who authorized the massacre.  Until justice is served, that woman’s wail will continue to pierce the thin air of the Peruvian highlands.  Last weekend’s events may not have closed her wounds, but I am consoled by the knowledge that there is a team of dedicated mental health specialists that are committed to the ongoing accompaniment of the family members of those killed at Putis.  And I choose to remain hopeful that one day her cry for justice will be heard, and she will cease to wail.

In the meantime, may her wail be an impetus for these words.  They are an effort to continue to seek justice and also a moment to reflect and give thanks for the steps along the way that help us maintain hope in the path toward reconciliation.  The nation of Peru is on the path.  Sometimes the path feels like the road to Putis—long and windy, covered by chokingly thick dust and so many potholes that you think the tires will go flat before you ever arrive, that is, if you don’t accidentally veer too far to the side of the road and tumble off the cliffside at a 4,000 meter altitude into the penetrating valley below.

After 20 years of violent conflict between the Peruvian armed forces and revolutionary terrorist groups (the Shining Path and the MRTA), the challenge that faces this nation is enormous.  Reconciliation requires reparations and healing on a personal level, like helping the wailing woman overcome her grief instead of being overcome by it.  It demands healing on a communal level.  Burying Putis’ dead and giving the community a place to go and visit their loved ones is one step forward on this healing road, a symbolic act of solidarity that helps rebuild a community.  But reconciliation also requires healing on a national level, where the Peruvian State takes responsibility for its actions and holds accountable those who are guilty of systematic human rights violations.  This is where a huge roadblock remains in the case of Putis.  Forensic evidence has made it abundantly clear that the Peruvian armed forces murdered at least 92 innocent villagers in Putis, 40% of whom were children under the age of 10.  Personal testimony confirms that there are at least 31 more victims. The military forced the men to dig a trench under the presumption that they were digging a fish farming pool, then shot the men and threw their bodies in the trench.  Women were also murdered and their bodies thrown in the trench, but not until after they were repeatedly raped.

As I write these words the reality of what occurred in Putis seems so violent and atrocious to me that I can’t even begin to understand how something like this could have ever happened.  It sickeningly awes me to think of the extremity of the human capacity for evil.  It blows my mind that a government that considers itself democratic, that claims that it wants to pursue national reconciliation, is unwilling to bring such grave injustice into the courts.  But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; no one likes to take their skeletons out of the closet.

Thankfully, in the case of Putis, the Peruvian government did not have a choice.  The skeletons came out.  The trenches at Putis could not contain them.  And that is a reason for hope.  The gospel writer John explains that mankind loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil, but the verdict is in: Light has come into the world, and the darkness cannot overcome it.  The light will expose all darkness.  This is the hope of resurrection, the promise that ultimately, life is more powerful than death.

I was reminded of this resurrection power in my journey to and from Putis.  I had the privilege of traveling with Norma Hinojoza, a woman who spent the 1990’s walking in solidarity with those whose lives were caught in the crossfire of the armed conflict.  She has become one of the most respected friends and advocates of many Peruvians in the Ayacuchan highlands, mostly indigenous and Quechua speaking, who lost loved ones, faced false accusations and arrests, and were forced to flee their homes and villages during the years of political violence.

On the morning of the Putis burial I woke up next to Norma on the floor of the Assemblies of God church in Santillana, a small town on the road to Putis where we had stopped the previous night to have a candlelight vigil and to rest before journeying to our final destination.

“Grace,” Norma roused me and I groggily sat up in my sleeping bag.

“I was thinking about the children.” She was referring to the murdered children of Putis.  The majority of them were so young.  How anyone could justify the murder of a child is still way beyond what I even want to try to understand.  “They never got to experience the abundant life that Jesus promised.”

I nodded, trying to focus my mind and listen to what I knew were going to be words of wisdom in Spanish at 6:00 am.

“People think that they can hide the truth and it will be buried and no one will ever find out.  But it can’t be buried.  The promise of abundant life lives on in us.” She said.  Knowing what happened to them, seeing these coffins that bear the remains of their little bodies.  It helps us to be people of solidarity.  It helps us to understand even just a little bit more why the promise of Jesus is so necessary, and hopefully, it makes us better people.

I sat and listened to Norma and I remembered the faces of the children that I had observed the previous day when we had another ceremony in the city of Huanta.  There was a display board set up with an illustrated story of what happened at Putis and a list of names of those who were victims of the massacre.  As I watched a group of kids read it with such intensity in their eyes, I was convinced that history was teaching a lesson to a new generation, and that they would never forget what they read about Putis.  The story could not remain hidden; the children of Putis had a message to share with their peers.  They communicated to us as their remains were marched through the cities of Huamanga, Huanta, Santillana, places they probably never arrived at in their short lives on earth, and finally reached their resting place on a small plot of land near the Putis village.

So, through I am grieved, I am grateful.  Grateful to have been able to be part of this historic and symbolic moment, a step forward on the path.  Grateful that though the road is long there is a God who is stronger that our broken humanity, who is illuminating places of darkness and evil and whose resurrection force will always hold out the promise of abundant life.

For more information about Putis (in Spanish), please see the website: http://justiciaparaputis.org/

 

Reflections on my new home June 11, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Grace @ 8:18 am

Reflections on my new home…
When the afternoon sun streams in through my apartment window, I feel the grace of God. I’ve been living here in San Juan de Lurigancho for nearly 2 months now, and I continue to have these moments of pure gratitude where I just thank God for the little miracles that are all around me here. I thought moving here would be hard, and it hasn’t been all peaches and cream–it’s dusty and when I look out my window I gaze onto the hills that are covered with shacks, and I still don’t know how to respond. It worries me that I might just get used to it, accept it as a given that people live in substandard housing and extreme poverty. But, more than a challenge, moving here has been a grace. I walk to work in the mornings, and I can visit the churches I work with on the evening and weekends because they are close by. My downstairs neighbors brought me arroz con leche the other night–that was sweet.
By San Juan de Lurigancho standards, my apartment is a luxury for just one person. I didn’t plan on living here alone, but both my potential housemates have fallen through, and now I’m resigned to being alone here, at least for the moment. And I also believe, at least for the moment (but hopefully for longer than that) that I can live here alone without being lonely. And that is also the grace of God.
Lima is starting to sink into my bones. That is, it is starting to actually feel like home–a place where I can let my guard down, chill out, and live like a normal human being rather than a displaced foreigner. It’s a strange sensation to walk home from the bus stop, observe the neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon, and actually feel like I’m going home. I see beauty where before, in my previous visits, I saw ugliness, dirt, and underdevelopment. I notice trees and flowers and beautiful gardens where before I only noticed the lack of them. The sky is blue and smiles at me, where before I looked at the gray clouds and frowned. Lima is telling me that she loves me and she is happy that I am here, thankful that I believe in her when so many other people speak badly of her, or simply use and abuse her for their own selfish ends, so that she closes in and becomes distrustful and lonely. But I believe that this city has the possibility to be an open heart, a seeing eye, and a helping hand shared by rich and poor, Limeño y provinciano, and even extranjero.
I believe that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, and I happen to be on God’s side, so I believe that good things are in store. It is easy to feel like working for the kingdom of God to come–for justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit–is a labor of toil, a relentless fight that I feel like I am losing. I felt like that last Saturday after my meeting with the youth–like we didn’t get to where I hoped, didn’t have any ‘aha’ moments of new discovery.  I felt so frustrated.
But, I believe that it is not up to me, and that God is at work, molding all of us into his perfect image. So my anxiety is melting into hope that you will act Lord, and make us who we are, truly–people of peace, the just who live by faith, oaks of righteousness, a planting for the Lord’s splendor.

 

I am a hopeless idealist June 4, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Grace @ 7:39 pm

At the risk of sounding cheesy I want to write about how excellent my trip to Uruguay was. There are some events in my life that stick with me as pivotal experiences, turning points that mark a new beginning in my life. My trip to Uruguay was one of those moments. Something about it was completely renewing for my soul. Perhaps it was the break from the metropolitan jungle of dust and concrete that is Lima—the novelty of waking each morning and being able to look out across the verdant, rolling landscape and walk around at dawn in the dew-kissed grass until my socks were soaked through. Perhaps it was the music, songs of el pueblo, whose words capture the reality of the fighting tender heart of Latin America and whose folkloric rhythms sent sparks through my whole body. Most definitely it was the moments of connection—the encounters with young people from all over Latin America. The diversity and passion that emerged from the union of thirteen different countries, at least 5 different languages, and one common theme, “unafraid to dream.”

I had the privilege of being a facilitator for the small group sessions that we had all week. We called these times, “mateando juntos” which means to share mate, a traditional herbal drink, together. But sharing mate means much more than simply passing a drink back and forth, it is communal ritual that elicits conversation and inclusion. It enables a circle of trust to be formed where ideas can be shared and voices heard. Through my experience as a group facilitator I was challenged to listen and respond with an awareness that each person’s contribution to the dialogue had infinite value, and that together we could create new ways of articulating a response to our reality that are coherent and relevant to our diverse contexts.

I also facilitated a “family group” which was an intimate small group where we had time to share what we were thinking about and learning, and pray for one another. It reminded me what an incredible grace we are given as children of God, transcendentally bound with one another by the Holy Spirit, that we can join together on a Wednesday with “strangers” from foreign countries, and by Friday we are sisters and brothers with bonds that will remain across time and distance inasmuch as we let them.

So, I am romanticizing everything. I have a tendency to do that. But that’s why I put the disclaimer at the beginning of this note. I don’t mind being cheesy if it means that I get to share a bit of the pure joy and freedom that we are meant to live this life with. When I was in Uruguay I felt like I was 15 years old again—that was the time in my life when I used to laugh so uncontrollably that I got the nickname, “lawnmower” for having this uncontainable laughter that would get revved up and just keep growing louder and stronger. I love laughing like that. To laugh until it hurts and to cry until there is nothing left—those are two extremes that I don’t mind arriving at, because it means that I am alive. In Uruguay, I felt fully alive, and fully aware that the God I serve is the God of life, el Dios de la vida. Everything God is and everything God does is directed toward the impartation of abundant life to all people.

Since I’ve been back it’s been my goal to remain fully alive. What I am discovering in these days, or better said re-discovering, is that abundant life is marked by growth, but the process of growing is often a painful one, as it involves pruning and requires careful attention. Human growth and character development isn’t a passive process, it’s a surrender of will and an opening up to possibilities that are out of my control. In the last month it has meant cutting things off—letting go of relationships and plans, things that I thought were solid and that I had figured out. It has meant taking initiative and making time to do the things that give me life and joy, things like writing this note, baking brownies, inviting my friends to lunch, and buying nice things without feeling guilty. It has meant facing my own fears—fears of being lonely, of living in San Juan de Lurigancho by myself, of living through another Lima winter, fears of my own shortcomings and insecurities—and actually believing that I can overcome them and thrive in my life here. It has meant living in the present and not fretting about the future, but it has also meant reawakening dreams and the desire deep within me to do great and profound things with my life. It has meant being true to myself.

So, once again, I am grateful to be alive, and grateful specifically for the life that God has given me. No one else can live it for me, so I intend to live it abundantly.

 

nephesh April 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Grace @ 1:42 pm

I just finished watching the movie slumdog millionaire. It reminded me of the darkness that exists in the world. Are there really people out there who trap innocent children in vicious cycles of violence, greed, and addiction—people who do things like burn out kids eyeballs to use them as street beggars? I saw a man today begging on the streets of Lima with no eyeballs. I had never seen that before. Then I watched this movie, and now I’m wondering what that man’s story is. I hope to God that his condition is not the result of oppression at the hands of ruthless evil. There is indeed evil in this world.

I was reminded this morning that I need to stay awake. What I mean is, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to come back. We don’t know the time, the day, or the hour. But stay awake, he says. Keep watch. Don’t stop working, don’t stop waiting. In other words, don’t give up fighting for the kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven. Don’t stop working to bring light into dark places. Stay alert. Don’t become so comfortable in your life on earth that you forget that Jesus is coming back, and that some day all things will be made right. The evildoers don’t win in the end.

I spent the weekend at a conference for pastors and leaders on the topic of integral mission. One of the talks was about eschatology and mission. Eschatology isn’t exactly a term that your average José Christian throws around in everyday conversation. But the word eschatos means the end of all things, so eschatology is simply a study of the end—the end of the world, the end of life as we know it, or the “end times” as it has commonly come to be known in the evangelical church. There is a lot of eschatological speculation out there. Books like the Left Behind series paint apocalyptic visions that scare people into their church pews. Some churches talk about the end times more than they talk about life here on earth. That’s a problem, and that’s what we talked about this weekend. We can pick out verses from all over the Bible, piece them together in some semblance of order, and come out with a theology of the end times that suggests there will be a series of events including a rapture, a thousand years of tribulation, a judgment day, and an establishment of a new heaven and a new earth. But nobody really knows. And you have to manipulate the scripture and interpret verses in a pretty narrow way to justify things like a rapture. But that’s beside the point. What I’m getting at here is this: our God is the God of Life. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

In the Hebrew mindset there was no distinction between body, spirit, and soul. When God formed man out of the dust of the earth and breathed life into him, the result was a living being, a whole person. The word used to describe this living being was nephesh, which has been translated in various parts of scripture as soul, mind, heart, living being, self, creature, appetite, desire, emotion, passion. This is an all-encompassing word that describes the fullness of what a human being is. Although the term nephesh is often translated as soul, it is not a term that simply describes a mystical kind of spirit, distinct and detached from the human body and mind. Unfortunately, that is the way that it has often been understood in western Christianity, especially in the western church that has been influenced by Greek and Platonic philosophy that created a sharp dichotomy between body and soul. There are actually modern evangelical churches that have created a “Christian Anthropology” that explains humans as beings with three different parts—soul, spirit, and body. They inaccurately use verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:23 to justify their tri-partite theory: May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. This perspective creates artificial divisions in our identity as human beings. It follows dichotomized Greek philosophy rather than the integrated Hebrew worldview described in Genesis. The big problem with this divided, dichotomized way of thinking is that it separates what is “spiritual” from what is material and physical, and it gives greater importance to things that are supposedly “spiritual.”

You can see how this dichotomized way of thinking has penetrated the Christian church in Peru. It is most obvious in the exaltation of the church building at the most spiritual place in the life of a believer. Faithfulness to the church means participating in the “culto”—the church service or meeting. There are Sunday meetings, prayer meetings, women’s meetings, men’s meetings, youth meetings, kids meetings, couples’ meetings, elderly folks meetings. You name it, the church will make a meeting out of it. The meeting itself is not the problem, the church should always gather together to be encouraged and strengthened. The problem is when the church building is the center of our spiritual lives, therefore the rest of the places we occupy in life are not as “spiritual.” This mindset seems to suggest that by going to church, praying in church, singing and worshipping in church, people can get close to God and have spiritual experiences. And while of course it’s true that people encounter God in church, it is devastating if we limit ourselves thinking that is the place where our practice and experience our spirituality. It is devastating not only for the individual who misses out on experiencing God in the mundane, everyday aspects of human life, like going to the market, washing dishes, typing on their computer, watching TV with his wife, or reading to her children, it is devastating for a world that is broken and raped and crying out for people who will bring the fullness of God’s presence and God’s values into all the spaces of human life—into the marketplace, into politics, into the education system, into media and entertainment, into the legal system, into agriculture and industry, into our understanding of history, into infinity and beyond.

This dichotomized way of thinking also turns spirituality into an escape from the world. The church becomes an escape from normal life, the kingdom of God (the “spiritual” realm) becomes something that is hoped for in the afterlife, rather than vigorously sought after here and now. But in the mind (or the nephesh) of Christ, spiritual life was no escape; rather, it was an entrance into the real world. It was an incarnation.

I’m sure that Jesus, ever present with the people, would have had something profound to say to the man on the street with no eyeballs. Then again, maybe he would have just said “buenas tardes,” knowing that a simple greeting can be full of meaning when we recognize the spirituality of every breath that God has given us since the moment he created us, breathed on us, and we became nephesh.

 

open arms December 30, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Grace @ 12:56 pm

I spent Christmas with Cameron in a small city in the Peruvian highlands.  From the balcony of our guesthouse you could watch the clouds roll in and out over the sturdy Andes mountains.  The rain came and went and the sun dropped in and chapped my lips till they hurt, and the 3,000 meter altitude left us short of breath and lightheaded, but it was spectacular.  Here are some pics from a sunset we watched:

In Peru the people celebrate Christmas at midnight on the night of the 24th.  After eating a feast of turkey stuffed with yummy ground beef and vegetables, potatoes, and applesauce they top off the night with paneton (Christmas cake) and Peruvian hot chocolate.  It leaves you in the Christmas spirit with its rich sweetness and touch of cinnamon, even if it’s hot and summery outside, as Lima is at this time of year, but fortunately we escaped to a place with a bit of chill in the air.
I thought I was going to miss out on the traditional dinner because we were traveling during Christmas, but the owner of the guesthouse, La Casa de Mi Abuela, invited us to join their Christmas dinner with all the workers from the Casa and the nearby cantina.  We ate Christmas dinner at a long table with about 20 other people—Peruvians and a handful of other wandering foreigners.  We drank calentitos (literally “little heaters”), a drink made of Pisco (Peruvian liquor made from grapes), herbs and spices, and toasted to a meal shared in family.  In Peru you can meet someone in the morning and by the afternoon they are primo (cousin), tio (uncle) or hermano (brother).  I am grateful to live in a country that opens up its arms to the foreigner.  The US has a lot to learn from Peruvian hospitality.
At midnight Cameron and I sung ‘O Holy Night’, and as the clock struck 12 fireworks erupted all through the city.  We walked out onto the balcony and watched the sky fill with sparkling technicolor.  Children all throughout Latin America were taking advantage of their chance to play with fire.  It reminded me of the splendor of that night when the true light came into the world.  Angels burst into song and the poor shepherds watched in delight.  Come Lord Jesus, we welcome you.

So I say welcome, bienvenidos to 2009.  A new year is coming and I welcome it with open arms, the way my Peruvian friends have continually welcomed me to their country, the way Don Lucho welcomed us at his table on Christmas Eve, the way our new friend Jorge welcomed us to his home after meeting us on the street on Christmas day and told us how much God loved him, that God was his papa and ours as well, and asked us never to forget him.  Jorge, I won’t forget you.  I won’t forget 2008 either.

As I welcome a new year I want to remember the last year of life that’s brought me to this point.  2008 was a big year—January: a commitment to the Latin America Mission as to 2 years in Peru; February: a quarter century of life and a new dating relationship with the best redhead in the world; March: schmoozing with celebrities at a Hollywood fundraiser for Burma, a lost passport and an impromptu trip to Philadelphia, and 2 weeks in Peru including a visit to Cusco where the mountains climb into the clouds; April: 3 weeks living in Pasadena with Beby, the wisest, kindest, coolest roommate and mentor a girl could ask for; May: springtime in Auburn, evening walks with dad, working in a special ed classroom with kids who can’t talk but never cease to communicate, and fundraising meetings with wonderful people from Auburn Presbyterian Church; June and July: another Global Urban Trek in Lima and a group of amazing students that brought me tons of joy and laughter; August: time with Cameron in California and Texas—the joy and awkwardness of  meeting each other’s families and the face to face time that makes a long distance relationship sustainable; September: relaxation and preparation—am I really about to move to a foreign country? October: yup, I  really am; November: getting settled into Lima—new roommate, new job, new language, new life; December: I’ve now been in Peru longer than any of my previous visits.  For now this is home.  Cameron came to visit for Christmas, and the new year is just around the corner…

Bienvenidos 2009.  What do you have for me?  What do you want from me? What do I want from you?  I don’t have any resolutions yet.  No big goals that I am determined to accomplish, no strategic plans or vision statements.  Just an attempt to keep an open heart and an open mind.  Come on in Lord Jesus.