Sunday, November 28, 2010
They were young and naive and so in love. He had lived a sheltered life of insecurity and couldn't believe someone with such grace and sophistication would glance at him, much less love him. She was raised under the harsh authority of a cold, bigoted father. Neither had any idea or insight into the impact of their past upon their present nor the impact each of them would have on the one they loved. They would soon find out.
They were devout in their faith. Their faith context was deceptive--not by intent, but in the outcome. They married in bible college, preparing for the ministry. The axiom--and myth--was "Bible college marriages are made in heaven." Unfortunately, they're lived out on earth.
It wasn't long at all before their differences and dysfunction--nesting dormant under the surface--became triggered in the crucible of intimacy. Within a year the frustration, the misunderstanding, the incompatibility reached intolerable proportions. They were embarrassed to seek help. A person preparing for the ministry was supposed to have it together; a Christian couple was assumed to be exponentially intact. What would others in their subculture think? So the secrecy slowly destroyed them. Three years later, they finally sought help, but the cumulative damage was lethal--like a cancer discovered in the final stages, having wrapped its tentacles around all vital organs. The therapist's role. at that point, was not to attempt restoration, but to acknowledge the death and proceed with the burial of the relationship.
The saddest day and, ironically, the most tender day of their marriage was the day of their parting. They sat on their apartment steps and sobbing as they embraced, they each said they were so sorry, they regretted the hurt they had caused each other, and they said good-bye. They never saw each other again.
There are times when good intentions, blind faith, and being "in love" amount to nothing. Being in love may have nothing to do with knowing how to love.
If they had only known.
Life can be cruel like that.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
". . . how faint the whisper we hear of him."
Sometimes beauty is cloaked in sadness, poignancy often evoking a melancholy sigh. These words move me. There is beauty in the meaning and flow of these words. There is also sadness in the truth of these words.
I have been a Bible reader most of my life and came across these words this week for the very first time. They were penned by Job, the man of lament. They were spoken of God. In his suffering Job describes God as being nearly imperceptible. So many of us have asked, Where are you, God?, and we've been met with absolute silence. The invisible God so often remains just that--unavailable to our senses. It saddens me that God's whisper so often is so faint. I need and desire more than the faint whisper. I want to know, not merely trust. Be clear, God. It's terribly difficult to see God in the circumstances. Sure, when I've sailed in the Caribbean and taken in a beautiful sunset or been staggered by the magnitude of the body of water I "hear" or "see" God pretty clearly. But it is so hard to see God, to hear God in the hatred, the senseless killings, the perversion, the abuse of daily life. God, where are you?
The loud clamor of the chaos in life often drowns out the faint whisper of God. At times, the clamor has come perilously close to shipwrecking my faith. There have been several devastating hammerings of life wherein the clamor was so loud that it drowned out God's faint whisper. The suffering seemed to outweigh the assurance of God's presence. The whisper was, indeed, faint. There are times when the severity of life can nearly extinguish the faint whisper of God.
Yet there is also beauty accompanying the sadness of Job's lament. God whispers; there is a gentleness about God. Often our childhood authority figures form our adult picture of God. God is not the yelling, shaming father. God is not the loud, belittling teacher. Nor is God the red-faced, pulpit-pounding preacher who constituted my childhood view of God. There is a gentleness in God's strong voice. There is a tenderness about the creator of the cosmos. God is not sheer brute force. God is not an omnipotent dictator wielding power unmercifully. God whispers. There is a strange-to-our senses story in the Old Testament about a devout man, Elijah. He is in a decimating season of his life and cries out, "I have had enough, Lord. Take my life. . . " (I Kings 19:4) Life has unfolded and unraveled in such a manner that he, too, wonders, Where are you, God? He treks up a mountain hoping to have some encounter, some frayed strand of hope upon which to cling. The text reads, "Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks. . . but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper." God was in the whisper. There is a gentleness in God's strong voice. He does not boss his children; he beckons. God is not the divine drill instructor who orders; he invites.
We don't scream our intimate affections. We don't yell our deep love for someone. We often will kindly whisper our heart's love. We learned that from God. God the creator implanted his DNA in us. God is tender toward you and me. Life assaults and somewhere in the darkness God quietly assures.
I understand Elijah. I have undergone seasons where, I, too, "have had enough." And like Elijah, I await the faint whisper. I depend on it.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
I confess that I'm about as close to loving all as I am to spontaneously generating hair. My neighbor with the outdoor, perpetually barking dog would agree. I wish I could say to you what the apostle Paul said to his readers, "Follow my example." Unfortunately, there are days when I don't love my wife well, much less love my enemy. However, I can encourage you to follow Jesus' example. As the apostle John says of Jesus, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (I John 1:2). He loved and loves all.
As Christ-followers we, in turn, are to do the same. "This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another. . . we know we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death." (I John 3:11,14) So, what might that look like if we were to "love all?" A few suggestions.
Here's what it does NOT mean. It's not a mushy, sentimentality that is blind to the harsh realities of life. It's not sloppy agape'. Neither is it an attitude of "we're just going to love everybody, accept everything, and approve of all." It is not some limp-wristed, non-assertive blind acceptance and approval of everyone and their accompanying depraved actions. It is not values-free and void of convictions. Jesus was characterized by the noblest of values and the deepest of convictions (see the sermon on the mount.) Loving without strong values and moral scruples may not indicate a loving person so much as a spineless person.
Some thoughts on what it means to "love all." I referred to what it's not; here's what I see it as being. It is humanly impossible. I know--not exactly good news. My own will-power will not turn me into a person who loves all. (This much I know: my own experience has shown that 61 years of exerting will-power has not changed me into a man who loves his neighbor with the outdoor, perpetually barking dog.) On the other hand, my will-power has, indeed, devised devious schemes for silencing the previously mentioned dog. It requires transcendence to love all. It requires God in me--a holy Other to inhabit and indwell me and thereby slowly transform me into a man who loves all. Most certainly, my will-power needs to be in alignment with my desire to love all; however, my will-power is inadequate to create that depth and width of love. That requires God himself, or it won't happen.
To love all means to indiscriminately love all others while not necessarily approving of or sanctioning their actions or behavior. Jesus, in referring to Jerusalem, pleads with the city, " O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks. . . " (Matt. 23:36) Notice the city's behavior--they killed, they stoned to death God's very own messengers. Notice, also, Christ's heart--he longed to gather them. He wasn't about revenge; he was all about reconciliation.
To love all means that my love transcends cultural, gender, socio-economic, ethnic differences. We don't ignore those differences; to do so may be very unloving. It's just that we don't allow those differences to define who we love and who we don't. Jesus was once invited to dinner by one of the Pharisees, the respectable religious decision-makers of the day. The text states that "when a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind Jesus at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped his feet with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them." (Lk. 7:36-8) Luke, the gospel writer, is very polite when he describes her as "a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town." She was the town slut-- a whore. Jesus knew that, but he didn't allow those gender and moral and cultural differences to define this woman nor determine his response to her. Ultimately, he forgives her and affirms her for her loving heart toward him.
How do we move toward becoming Christ followers and, collectively, a church that loves all? Several considerations. A disciplined life of yielding to Christ will be essential. Daily I must yield my own ego-centered self to Christ and ask him to, instead, reside in me fully. Daily, something in me has to die in order that something in Christ can live in me and form a heart that loves all. Surely, in time, the presence of Christ will remedy the absence of love. Secondly, it helps me in my regard for others if I practice what the apostle Paul did. It's an issue of how I am identifying or defining the other individual. I find myself too frequently impulsively identifying others as "idiots" or "jerks" or worse. A guy cuts me off in traffic and I impulsively label him a !!#?*!! Look at how the apostle Paul identifies others. In Romans 14:15, he cautions the church to be careful that they don't destroy "your brother for whom Christ died." It is so much easier to flip off and harbor resentment toward the guy who cuts me off in traffic if I identify him as "an idiot." On the other hand, it is much harder to entertain hateful thoughts toward that same individual if I consciously regard him as "my brother for whom Christ died." I am much more likely to have a loathsome, rather than a loving, regard for a woman whom I identify as "trailerpark trash." In contrast, if I consciously attribute value to her and view her as "my sister for whom Christ died" I posture myself in a way that makes loving her much more likely. Third, I will not progress toward becoming one who loves all by doing so in isolation. I need to be accountable to several others who are on the same journey of faith. I can rationalize, minimize, excuse my lack of love all too easily if I am only accountable to my conscience. I need others who will most certainly encourage and support me in my holy intentions, but who will also correct me and re-calibrate my direction if I'm drifting.
At times, I feel like I will never become one who loves all. If I have difficulty loving the above mentioned neighbor with the outdoor perpetually barking dog--which on the grand scale of moral/ethical dilemmas is inconsequential--how will I ever love the man who sexually abused one of our daughters? I imagine that, you, too, wrestle with the everyday irritants and sometimes stumble over your own trivial nemeses, much less find yourself loving those who have deeply wounded or offended you. Take heart. The One who loved and loves all is committed to "transforming you into the image of His own Son"--His Son who loves all. Know this: God promises you and me that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion. . . " (Phil. 1:6)
The Lover of all has begun a good work of love within you. He always finishes what he starts.
Monday, November 22, 2010
What follows is a letter/email I sent last week to our support-base regarding the mission trip to Honduras we led the first week of November. Some of you who follow my blog also Honduras know us and we want to thank you for your support and encouragement; some of you don't know us and I hope this will be informational and maybe also inspire you to reach out to the marginalized.
Dear Friends and Family,
It has taken some time to re-enter normal life here and re-adjust. It's a strange phenomenon engaging in a mission trip. For weeks and months and months life goes on as usual. That abruptly stops and within hours you are cast into a completely different culture, different lifestyle, different climate, different language, completely different socio-economic level of poverty. You no sooner begin to acclimate and it's time to leave, and within hours you are dropped back into life as you have always known it. It is quite a jolt in both going and returning. Les and I love serving in this manner but it has taken a while longer than usual to re-adjust. Thanks for your patience.
We led an incredible team from our church, Imago Dei. 11 of us flew into San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The director of Mercy International, Henry Lowman, met us there and then it was a 3-4 hour drive to get to the mission base. It is located in a rural area, the nearest little town being Yamaranguila (for those of you who have geographical interests.)
We accomplished a lot in a short period of time. We were able to finish a house in the local area that a prior team from the states had begun. This family was living in a shack with a dirt floor. Their new house, 20x24, has a concrete floor. The concrete block walls were up; our team built the trusses and put a roof on, and finished the two doors and windows. This family now has a safe and solid shelter that will last them for generations.
One of Mercy International's goals is to provide shelter for the poorest of the poor who reside up in the mountains. The poor in the local area where we finished the house are unbelievably poor compared to U.S. standards. The Lenca Indians who reside in the mountains suffer an even worse plight. They are removed from access to resources and medical attention. They depend on and survive upon what they can grow for themselves; they are presently undergoing, in Henry's words, a famine. He has committed to slowly build shelter for one family after another. Here's one of the difficulties: to get there you drive for over 2 hours and a mountain road that constantly shakes your own skeleton and the chassis of the van unmercifully. At that point the road becomes impassable. We embark on a rugged four hour hike further up into the mountains just to get to this village, Santa Maria. It's a hike, not a walk. An entire day is spent just getting there. Mules are utilized to haul up materials and supplies.
Once there, we bedded down for the night on a concrete floor, and the next day we began a house for a family of 6. This house will be 14x18. We graded and poured for them a concrete pad for their floor. The husband, months earlier had, by hand, made large adobe blocks to form the new walls. All these blocks were stacked in his shack to dry out. I saw a single bed in the space remaining; I assume most of the family is sleeping on the cold earth that has served as their floor. Our pre-determined goal was to provide them a floor for their new "house." Mission accomplished, but it was difficult leaving them with so much more to be done. We had to get back to the mission base, particularly in light of a storm front moving in. if we were to get caught in a storm--and on a previous trip that happened--the dirt quickly turns into a slippery clay and hiking becomes brutal. so, we packed up our gear and bid them farewell. Sadly, it might be January before another team makes it up there to resume where we left off.
It's frustrating. It's so labor and time-intensive and, seemingly, so little to show for so much time and energy spent. Are we to ignore them? To my knowledge, no one else is working up there to provide shelter and to establish a church. These families are destitute and not because they're lazy; it's an extreme environment. Somehow, those families need to know that there are others standing with them--people like you and me.
A lot of the team also spent significant time establishing friendships with the children and their families. These kids are like sponges and soak up hugs and attention. We engaged the kids in games and memorizing bible verses, providing them some soft, cuddly Beanie Babies to cling to after our departure and prayed with some of the moms and families.
We are grateful for your support. Some of you provided financial assistance. Others prayed for us while we were there. Many of you have provided words of encouragement that served to bolster our spirits. It is your support, in what ever way it is shown, that makes it possible for us to do what we do. We are in this together. Some are Goers, like Les and me. Some are Senders. Others are Mobilizers. You Senders and Mobilizers make it possible for us Goers to make a difference. I want you to know that YOU have made a difference. Several families now will not have to wonder about the fundamental need of shelter. Generations of their family will be protected for a lifetime.
Thank you for your own heart for the poor. We go as representatives of the church, as mirrors of God's love, serving as reminders to them that in the midst of their destitution God has not abandoned them nor will he ever forget them. We are grateful for the privilege to serve in this capacity. If you could see the expression on the face of one of these parents or their children, you would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they, too, are deeply thankful for someone caring.
A previous team had poured a concrete floor for an elderly lady up in this same mountain area. She was overwhelmed with not only gratitude, but overwhelming relief. As she put it, "I was born in the mud--and I was afraid I would die in the mud." She is no longer afraid. We thank you and, if possible, this dear lady would wrap her frail arms around you and thank you, too.
Grace and Peace, Steve and Leslie Harris
Friday, November 19, 2010
Jesus called and still calls his followers "the salt of the earth." Salt adds flavor. That which was bland becomes bodacious when salt is added. Christ-followers are to season society. So many people live a bland existence--tasteless and boring. Sometimes the mundane routine wears thin. Life is so daily. Christ launches his followers into daily life to add zest and flavor. At least, that apparently was his intention.
Some Christ followers and much of established fundamentalism and evangelicalism seems to have mistaken him to have said, "You are the lemons of the land" not the salt of the earth. So much of the religious establishment and so many pious rule-keepers seem so intent on souring, rather than flavoring, other people's lives. They seem intent on ruining a good time; after all, the reasoning goes, if it's fun it must be sinful. So much of established religion assigns ourselves as the moral police and we go around looking for something wrong we can condemn. We scope the horizon ready to pounce on the next hell-bound hedonist. The lemons of the land sour people's lives, assuming the slacker they've shamed will now repent. Repentance isn't normally what has been my response if I've been on the receiving end. I and many others respond to these lemons with an involuntary gag reflex: pucker and puke.
Wouldn't it be a beautiful thing if we were to take Jesus seriously and determine to serve as salt in society? This video portrays a group serving as salt. What flavor they added that day! Notice the wonder-full excitement and joy in the smiles of the unsuspecting shoppers. You can bet that at the end of the day if a family member asked, "How was your day/" The response wasn't the usual perfunctory, "fine." The shopper would be telling their loved one all about the melodious joyful interruption to a harried day. Their day, their routine was interrupted--not by someone in their face, but beautiful music resounding in their ears and settling in their heart.
God, give us who claim to be Christ- followers the grace to creatively enhance others' lives with random acts of flavor.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Make it Idiot-proof and Someone Will Make a Better Idiot
Everybody Else Thinks You're a Jerk
She’s Always Late
Honk All You Want. I'm Deaf
When the Chips are Down the Buffalo is Empty
I Married Mr. Right.
I Just Didn't Know His First Name was Always
Thank you, Baby Jesus, for a Smokin' Hot Wife
Bumper stickers often make a statement. In 1974 (think Watergate) I had a beat-up Chevy van (Peace, dude) and I slapped a bumper sticker on it which read, Honk if You Think He’s Guilty. KnowhutImean? In recent years I’ve seen a bumper sticker that a number of Christians display and it, too, makes a statement. Real Men Love Jesus. I don’t know what underlies the motives of flaunting that bumper sticker but, I have to tell ya, I hate that statement. Bear with me and if at the end of this post you think it was a waste of time, feel free to copy and paste this comment-- Real Men Don’t Give a Rip About Bumper Stickers.
I am offended by Real Men Love Jesus. Here’s why—it’s misguided. It calls into question the manhood of anyone who is not a born again, evangelical, Promise Keepers attending Christian. The reasoning seems to be, “I love Jesus; therefore, I’m a real man. You, on the other hand, don’t know or love Jesus; therefore, you are a limp-wristed, effeminate, testosterone-deprived excuse for a man.” That kind of thinking assumes that only Christian men have integrity, only Christian men are faithful, only Christian men are men of courage and honor. It assumes that men who don’t know or love Jesus surely are not “real,” i.e. authentic, caring human beings.
I am offended by Real Men Love Jesus because that sentiment comes off as terribly arrogant as well as judgmental. It’s arrogant in that it assumes a position of superiority on the part of Mr. Bumper Sticker. “I’m real and you are not—after all, I, of all people, should know.” It’s judgmental in that it assumes an inferior position about someone you don’t even know. It categorically assumes, without even getting to know a man, that he is not a “real” man if he does not know Jesus. Such a position is both arrogant (prideful) and judgmental—two qualities which Jesus loathes about the religious. Jesus exercised the harshest judgment upon the religious, the “Christians” of his day, who were consumed with pride or harbored a judgmental spirit.
In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a pointed story “to some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else. . . “ I imagine these were guys who had their chariots decked out with Real men Love Jesus parchment stickers. Jesus contrasts two men—one, a very religious and devout individual who thought to himself, “God, I thank you I’m not like other men,” and a despised social outcast who in his humility “would not even look up to heaven” but simply pleaded, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And Jesus declares that it was “this man, rather than the other” who received God’s mercy. The other man, full of judgment, received God’s judgment.
I see myself and much of the evangelical church as often mirrored by the man who was confident of his own righteousness and looked down on others. We tend to pride ourselves on possessing the truth (as if it were our ingenuity or determination that discovered it)—and doctrine is important—but the ultimate deal maker or breaker will be whether or not we have loved our neighbor and our enemy. And I don’t think those with whom we disagree are “feeling the love.” As an example, Brennan Manning, in The Ragamuffin Gospel, comments specifically on the pro-life stance of many Christians and his thoughts sober me up:
I’m afraid many of our Christian bumper stickers and much of our “attitude” turns off and puts down those around us. Instead, I’m convicted to pursue an attitude of humility which sees and affirms the value in others in spite of our differences.
In the meantime, I’m having this put on my truck: Real Men Don’t Have to Flaunt the Fact on a Bumper Sticker.
Let’s forsake flaunting anything! Flaunting is so “in their face.” May God give us grace to be in their hearts, their homes, and their lives as we love and serve others.
Friday, November 12, 2010
We're back. Got back midnight Monday, having spent 18 hours in airports, jets and vans and up at 6 a.m. to return to work. Not smart. Being born in the USA (thank you, Bruce) it's always difficult adjusting to life in the USA again. Not to mention I'm still dragging four days later. Ok--I'm done whining.
It's a strange experience. You spend weeks, months, maybe years in your routine. That abruptly ends and within hours you're in a totally different culture, radically different socio-economic status, foreign language, lempiras not dollars, filth, squalor, majestic beauty of mountains, poverty unparalleled here in the states, the serenity of rain forests, dirt-clad kids joyful over your attention, destitution that breaks your heart. And then you abruptly resume middle-upper class life back home. Typically, predictable and cushy. I think my mind, body and spirit require a longer transition. My body's back but my mind keeps lingering in Honduras. I crawl under my covers but my spirit remembers the poor in a fetal position sleeping on a cold dirt floor. I hope I never completely adjust; there needs to be an uncomfortable edge that does not allow me to forget my brothers and sisters in Honduras.
Juxtaposition: the act of positioning close together to show similarities or differences. Eye level, all I see is filth, garbage, feces, shacks made of anything the resident could scavenge to throw together, malnutritioned dogs with their bones nearly protruding through the skin, shoeless children begging for attention. I raise my head and within a few hundred yards are beautiful mountain ranges lush with foliage, the forest greens glistening in the sun. The glorious and the gory inhabit the same place; the exquisite and the excruciating hand-in-hand.
Our team resumed where a previous team left off and we were able to finish a house for a poor family living in the dirt. A 20x24 concrete block house. The husband and wife were smiling in anticipation of the completion and in hope for their children. Shelter--a fundamental survival need that doesn't even register on my scale of concerns for my life. Shelter--a fundamental survival need that many hope and pray for daily.
We hiked up into the mountains to serve the poorest of the poor who have little if any access to care and resources. The four hour hike was preceded by a two hour and fifteen minute very bumpy drive (who's counting and hoping it ends soon?) to where the road becomes impassable. Therefore, the hike. I've hiked it before, but this was the most difficult one for me, at 61. It was comforting to hear from several twentysomethings that they had never engaged in such a physically taxing endeavor. We had several mules carrying our supplies, materials, and food up the climb. The Lenca Indians live up in the Opalacha Mountains. They are an impoverished people. We poured a concrete floor for a family as the begining of a solid shelter for them. The husband had spent the previous two months making adobe blocks, one by one, to create the walls that will rest upon this floor. It's so labor intensive. Minimal tools and resources. We needed a board trimmed; a Honduran took his machete and carefully whittled the board down to the desired width.
We had to leave. It will not be until January that another team heads up there. Hopefully, soon this family will have shelter for which they have been hoping and praying. An elderly lady told a previous team, "I was born in the mud and thought I was going to die in the mud." Out of the mud and into a 14x18 mansion.
We hiked back down (down is not always preferable to up) and 7 or 8 hours later we were back at the mission base. I was on one of these outreaches into the mountains several years ago. Our team leader, Vinnie, was Rambo-like and highly motivated. He would lead us in a team cheer:
Vinnie: What are we gonna do?!!?
Team: Leave it all!!!
Vinnie: Where we gonna leave it?
Team: On the Mountain!!!!
It was exhilarating and exhausting. I am so proud of our team. I can honestly say, "We left it all."
If you would like information about this organization and mission base I've been going to through the years, Mercy International, go to: http://www.beyondmercy.com/index_files/Page391.html
Henry Lowman and his wife, Cindy, direct this organization. They are a couple wh possess unparralled integrity and compassion.
Let's not forget the easily forgotten.