Sunday, October 31, 2010

To Hell and Back

I will be away from my computer for at least a week and a half.  I'm going to Hell.  A team of us will be working with a poverty-stricken settlement close to La Esperanza, Honduras, and building a house in order to extricate at least one family from their current ruins.  

Then we will be drive up into the mountains until the road is no longer navigable by van and we'll hike 4-5 hours further up in elevation to get to an area that is even more destitute.  We will pour a cement floor for a family of seven, after which another team will arrive after we depart and they will continue the project.  The director of the mission base emailed me just last night and told us to anticipate inclement weather in light of the recent hurricane.  Sadly, he also informed me that there is currently, in his words, "a famine in the Opalacha Mountains" which is where we will be hiking.  He will be attempting to haul corn and beans for families up there.  I've been there and on a normal day it's Hell; I can't imagine what it's like presently. 

We leave tonight and will return in a week.  So much to do and so little time to do it.   99.9%  of Honduras won't even know we're there.  But one family will be changed for generations to come by what we'll be privileged to do over the course of just one week.  One family may very well dance for joy because they will have a floor, rather than dirt, for their babies to crawl on.  One family will have a house to live in, no longer a shack to survive in. 

One team spending one week making a difference for one family for one  generation after another.  I can't wait.

I'll fill you in upon our return.  Thanks for reading my blog; I am grateful.  

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Variations and Vulgarities of Christianity

There's a lot out there that passes as authentic Christianity.  And they are all warning about false teachers, as though they alone possess the truth.  In my channel surfing I, at times, go to  local religious channel 20.  It's a sad commentary on the state of religion in the Midwest  that I go there for entertainment rather than inspiration.  There are individuals uttering off-the-wall platitudes that have no ring of truth about it but if  they clothe it with a Bible verse I guess the audience believes it to be true.

Last night my good friend and colleague, Howard, called me and was chuckling as he said, "Check out Channel 20."   I flipped over and a woman was holding the Bible in her left hand and her right hand was extended --not with open palm but with the index finger pointed at me.  And she was yelling and threatening and condemning.  My thought bubble read, Just like Jesus?

This did not evoke laughter; it  brought back disturbing memories of my childhood fundamentalism.  Angry, yelling preachers.  Invariably shaming us for not being and doing better.  Ironically, hell was probably referenced more than heaven.  My faith was fear-based; I obeyed because of the damning consequences.  I  obeyed or followed Jesus  not because I was drawn to him, I did so because I dreaded him. That preacher gritting his teeth and spitting exhortations was, in my boyish eyes, Jesus--and he scared the hell out of me.  For a long time, what should have been a time of innocent childlike joy was, instead, a harrowing nightmare from which I feared I would never awaken.  This angry screaming Jesus made me very anxious on a good day--terrified on bad days.  Living like this was terrible and the thought of living forever, i.e. going to heaven, was intolerable.  Isn't that sick?  Most people think of heaven or "eternal life" as an unending experience of peace and beauty and restored relationships and healing and the list goes on.  I couldn't stand the thought of being in the presence of this angry Jesus forever.  I thought heaven would be pure hell.  "Dear God, please don't make me live forever. When I die just let me become nothing and have no brain and no heart and not live at all."  That was my thinking as I would lay down at night and dread going to sleep because what if I were to die in my sleep and fall into the hands of this angry God!?!

Last night channel 20 activated some stuff that had been lying dormant.  (Ya think?)

I am grateful that the 18 years I was confined in that religious milieu didn't define me.  It definitely influenced me, but the ensuing years have defined me. Since those early years, I have seen through those vulgar caricatures of Jesus and God has shown me Jesus of the gospels.  My life no longer consists of  merely following rules, but following Christ.  It's about relationship, not rules.  That has been liberating!  The caricature no longer damns me; the Christ now draws me.

I love this picture of Christ that is contained in the gospel of Matthew (12:19-20):

"He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out."

Jesus does not yell at us; he beckons to us.  I was a bruised reed boy and the preachers of my subculture nearly broke me.  There was scarcely a flickering flame of life in me and they nearly snuffed it out.  But Jesus intersected my life through people who mirror him and they imparted to me acceptance and affirmation and grace.  And I am a blessed man.

Now when I am bruised  I don't hide my hurt in fear of being condemned; I reach out to him for healing.  When the wick is barely smoldering I run to him for fire. 

And the idea of living forever wherein I will be in the very presence of God (and all the ramifications of what that may mean) is a vision that compels me and completes me.

I have to avoid channel 20 in the meantime.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mission Trip to Honduras: We're Not In Kansas, Anymore

16 more days. That's all. On Nov. 1 my wife and I will lead a team of eight others to Honduras. Over the last 10 years I've gone on 7, maybe 8, short-term mission trips down there. It's brutal work. Everything is labor-intensive. Shoveling sand and cement all day. Carrying 5 gallon buckets of heavy wet cement. Hot Honduras sun and no shade. No running water nor electricity on the job site. After a few days on this site we'll then hike up into the mountains to work up there. Minimum of 3 hour drive on rough roads just to get to the beginning point of the hike. This hike is nothing like a walk up an Illinois incline. It's steep and, if rainy, the clay is slippery if you don't sink into it first. The altitude makes it hard to catch your breath. Mules will pack our gear and supplies because it's too difficult a hike and vehicles can't make it over the terrain. By mid-afternoon I'm beat and stiff and sore and tired and hungry.

And I can't wait! I love it! There's something about helping someone who has nothing. There's something about shedding blood, sweat and tears for a week on behalf of some people who shed their blood, sweat and tears their entire life. There's something about seeing a family that for six years has lived in a shack of sticks, rough-hewn boards, and scraps of sheet metal patched together to be able to move into a concrete block home that actually has a floor in it. There's something about breaking out of my comfort zone and interrupting my life of consumption with meaningful service.

There's something about busting your butt for a week and making a difference that will last for generations.

There's something about being utilized in a way that mirrors and mediates God's love to broken people. The Psalmist describes God in this manner: "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and delivers those who are crushed in spirit." (Ps. 34:18) It's a beautiful thing to be able to confirm by our presence that, indeed, God has not forgotten them.

I hope you haven't construed this as me bragging. I'm not trying to tell you all about the many wonderful things we middle-upper class white Christians will be accomplishing. My intent is to communicate to you that I feel so privileged to be able to do this. My intent is to convey the honor it is to do this.

And I can't wait to do it!

If you're a praying person, please pray for us as we embark on this trip. If you're not a praying person, your good wishes on our behalf will be appreciated.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Civility: Am I In your Face--Or--In Your Corner?

Whether it's a ballgame, a political speech, a hockey mom, a PTA meeting, a church board meeting, civility has become a four syllable as well as a four letter word. Abrasiveness is in; diplomacy is out. Speech that is incendiary is chosen over talk that might calm the atmosphere. Light the fire, fan it, stoke it--add gas not water. Words are intended to incite and provoke, rather than promote understanding. When is the last time you saw a political ad that was about issues rather than character assassination? (I can't recall, either.)

Sojourners, an organization whose mission "is to articulate the biblical call to social justice. . . ," has formulated a "covenant of civility" in an effort to counter the prevailing cultural tide. Here are the guiding principles of this covenant. I invite you to consider these Biblically-based determinations.

  1. We commit that our dialogue with each other will reflect the spirit of the scriptures, where our posture toward each other is to be "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry" (James 1:19).
  2. We believe that each of us, and our fellow human beings, are created in the image of God. The respect we owe to God should be reflected in the honor and respect we show to each other in our common humanity, particularly in how we speak to each other. "With the tongue we bless the Lord and [God], and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God ... this ought not to be so" (James 3:9-10).
  3. We pledge that when we disagree, we will do so respectfully, without falsely impugning the other's motives, attacking the other's character, or questioning the other's faith, and recognizing in humility that in our limited, human opinions, "we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror" (1 Corinthians 13:12). We will therefore "be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love" (Ephesians 4:2).
  4. We will ever be mindful of the language we use in expressing our disagreements, being neither arrogant nor boastful in our beliefs: "Before destruction one's heart is haughty, but humility goes before honor" (Proverbs 18:12).
  5. We recognize that we cannot function together as citizens of the same community, whether local or national, unless we are mindful of how we treat each other in pursuit of the common good, in the common life we share together. Each of us must therefore "put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body" (Ephesians 4:25).
  6. We commit to pray for our political leaders -- those with whom we may agree, as well as those with whom we may disagree. "I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made -- for kings and all who are in high positions" (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
  7. We believe that it is more difficult to hate others, even our adversaries and our enemies, when we are praying for them. We commit to pray for each other, those with whom we agree and those with whom we may disagree, so that together we may strive to be faithful witnesses to our Lord, who prayed "that they may be one" (John 17:22).

Can you imagine the next PTA meeting or hockey game or church board meeting if those attending were taking these "steps?"

I wonder what I would be like if I were practicing these steps.

Self-Help Helps Me Only So Much

Being a Christ-follower who is a therapist I believe that a person has incalculable worth and value. I believe we have unbelievable potential and capabilities. Unbelievable, but not limitless. I don't believe the popular mantra "You can do anything!" It sounds good on Oprah but doesn't seem to play out too well back home in every day life. Check out this video a friend included in his blog.

I can accomplish a number of phenomenal tasks. I can overcome daunting obstacles. But I need intervention from outside myself if the core of who I am is going to transform from being selfish to compassionate. Will power is not going to morph me from being judgmental to becoming a man characterized by mercy. Self-talk of "I can do it! I can do it! I can do it!" is not going to uproot hatred and transplant it with love.

I need Someone outside myself to intervene. I need an Other who is infinite to do what my finite capabilities cannot. I also need forgiveness--not only bestowed by myself but by the One against whom I have transgressed.

If our efforts at mere board-smashing are often futile, what or who do I rely on for that which truly matters?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Life is Both/And, Not Either/Or

Life is good; life is gory. Life is exhilarating; it can be exhausting. People are delightful; they can be diabolical. My neighbor's dog is loved by them and loathed by me. Heaven is glimpsed in a sunrise; horror is revisited in the middle of the night. I laugh til I'm crying; I cry til I fear I'll never laugh again.

There is such anticipation I can't get to sleep; there can be such fear I'm afraid to go to sleep. I don't want this day to ever end; I dread what the next day holds. One day I'm atop the peak viewing awe-inspiring vistas; the next day I've fallen into a deep dark crevice and no one can find me.

It seems it was only yesterday they were making their promises; today they're filing their papers.

Yesterday I was sprinting; today I'm in a fetal position immobilized by apathy. Today a feast, tomorrow I may scavenge for crumbs. Today a dance, tomorrow a dirge. Today I feel I'm 20 again; tomorrow something shows up on an x-ray.

Babies are birthed, babies are aborted. The elderly are loved for their wisdom; too much hassle, the old are shipped off to a sterile facility.

The company needs you and bleeds you; the company gives you a plaque once you have no life left in you. Work is a waste; work is wonderful. There are days the eight hours fly; there are days when it will never end.

There are days when I can't wait to hear about it; there are times when I fear my friend will never shut up. Days when my hands are open, times when my fists are clenched. One day, words can be sweet and consoling; the next, swift to pounce and kill. The same mouth both bludgeons and blesses.

There is Mystery in the madness; there is Meaning in the maze. We are divine dust and there is magic in that mix. God is in it; God transcends it. If God were merely
in it, I might be comforted but I would have no hope for anything changing. If God is both in it and above or beyond it then I have faith that he is neither contained nor confined by it. Therefore, I endure the assault and enjoy the ascent.

There is the prospect of healing and hope not only when life feels heavenly but in the very hell of it all.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Difference Between a Person and a Lab Rat: 175 lbs.

U.S. apologizes to Guatemalans for secret STD experiments

By Brett Michael Dykes Fri Oct 1, 1:04 pm ET

U.S. scientific researchers infected hundreds of Guatemalan mental patients with sexually transmitted diseases from 1946 to 1948 -- a practice that only came recently to light thanks to the work of an academic researcher. On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a formal apology to the Central American nation, and to Guatemalan residents of the United States.

"Although these events occurred more than 64 years ago, we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health," said Clinton and Sebelius in a joint statement. "We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices."

The discovery of the long-ago experiments stems from another, far better known episode of federal tampering with test subjects to study sexually transmitted diseases: the long-running "Tuskegee experiment," studying 399 poor black men from Macon County, Ala., who had been diagnosed with syphilis but never informed of their condition. Federal scientists simply told the men they had "bad blood" and researchers compiled a four-decades-long study monitoring "untreated syphilis in the male Negro." Researchers never treated the illness over its usually fatal course, even after the simple remedy of penicillin was shown to be an effective syphilis treatment; participants received only free meals and medical exams, together with federal funding of their funeral expenses after they died. The study began in 1932, continuing right through to 1972, when it was exposed in media reports.

One of the better-known experts on the Tuskegee scandal is Susan Reverby, a professor of women's and gender studies at Wellesley College who has published two books on the subject. As she was researching her most recent book, Reverby learned of the Guatemalan project, in which researchers from the U.S. Public Health Service conducted experiments on 696 male and female patients housed at Guatemala's National Mental Health Hospital. The scientists injected the patients with gonorrhea and syphilis -- and even encouraged many of them to pass the disease on to others.

I am ashamed of our country. What degree of arrogance is required to pull off such "experiments?" What sense of superiority allows, I assume, white American scientists to test "inferior" ethnicities? There appears to be an underlying assumption that any variance from white/Caucasian and American indicates something sub-human. Notice I said "something," not "someone." Ethically, do we not experiment on objects, rather than people? Or on animals, and even that realm involves debatable ethics. But to experiment on human beings, created in the image of God? Human beings who differ from their experimenters only in skin color or income?

Would one of those scientists volunteer his daughter as a lab rat for testing? "Sally, I'm going to inject you with syphilis to see how it impacts your life and also to ascertain any collateral damage, i.e. adverse effects on your future offspring, my grandchildren." I don't think so.

Those Guatemalans and "Negroes" are different, though. Different from us and therefore sub-human.

News flash: It is the scientific elite who have become sub-human. WE have become sub-human. WE who are the most powerful and educated and wealthy and influential nation in the world. And that is terrifying.

Think twice before you bend over for your next injection. You never know; it could be another experiment.