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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In the Beginning was a Pair of Pants

It all started with a pair of cotton pants. I remember that day like it was yesterday. We were cementing rebar structures for the exterior of a church and I ripped my pants. Jose´ looked at me and laughed. He pointed down to his pants which has a large whole in the same spot as mine. I remember how we laughed together.
That night I marched out the the local market and found the first pair of pants I could get my hands on and bought them. I returned to the building site the next day proudly sporting my brand new pants.
I don't recall Jose´reaction to my pants but I remember the feeling in my stomach when I looked over to see that he was wearing the same pants but with a few stitches added to the spot that used have the gaping hole. To express my feelings at this point is excruciating still to this day.
That day I changed. I could never go back in time to the girl I used to be nor would I ever want to. I became someone it's taken me years to understand and express. I lost a great deal in that moment, but I gained a higher comprehension of what mattered.
As I sit here writing this I am wondering what I would have become had I not made the decision to go to Guatemala in 2005 which thus led up to the event involving the pants. Who would I be? Where could my life be heading?
When I was in Guatemala I began, what I am sure will be, a life-long relationship with Liberation Theology. I learned of the perils of the poor and the type of Christianity that has come out of a few academics who have devoted their lives to walking beside the poor.
I recently read an article that talked about a shift in views of the crucifix. It now has two views within the church. The crucifix will always be the symbolic act of the atonement of the world to God. Horacio Gutierrez once said" You see the resignation and acceptance on the face of the Son of God in his moment of greatest suffering? He knows that it is the Father's will that he die this way, and so he gives himself, uncomplaining, in utter trust and love, assured that after these brief moments of suffering he will be in paradise forever. Is he complaining to God? Is he challenging Herod and Pilate who put him there? Is he trying to change society? Is he agitating among the poor for a redistribution of wealth or a new social order? Is he wishing he had a gun so that he could destroy his oppressors?
"Of course not! He knows that God knows best. So instead of turning aside from God's plan, he accepts it and plays his assigned role."
From this we learn how our own suffering is the call to bear our own weight of the cross like Christ did; our own service and discipleship. There is however another part of the crucifix that I think is often forgotten. The crucifix also shows us how to cope with the suffering of others.
An idea that I've heard discussed today was something called 'ideological distortion' which is what happens when what you believe to be true comes into contact with something that disagrees with you. One could almost argue that there are a number of Christians who subconsciously think that the extent of their suffering begins and ends with themselves.
The other immensely important part of the crucifix is that Jesus died for everyone else's sins as well, uniting us all as one body of people in this world together. Once complete, we could no longer be separate as individuals but whole as one body of Christ. Horacio Gutierrez goes on to say " You see the terrible thing that is happening to Jesus? He who came to teach us to love one another, and who always acted towards in love, is being killed for thinking such thoughts and doing such deed. What a terrible thing that this should happen! What a terrible thing that Jesus should continue to be crucified in his brothers and sisters today! If we love Jesus, we must find out who is doing this to him and put a stop to it, for people will continue to kill Jesus every time they kill those who try to follow him today by loving their neighbours and working to create a better world. We must work to see that torture and death of this sort are not the lots of any persons in God's world. We much create a society in which no one is crucified or harmed as Jesus was. That will be one way we can thank him for his great love for us."
Frequently Jesus associates and honours the poor. He says in Matthew 19:21 "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." That is a bold statement that needs attention. He also says in Matthew 26:11 "The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me."
Liberation Theology empowers the poor and gives them a voice through biblical derivatives. It is not a means to attack those who are wealthy but to create equal opportunity through political activism for all people on earth.
Jesus came to earth as the Son of Man to destroy sin's strong-hold in our lives and Liberation Theology's mandate is to fight poverty by suppressing that which enables it; sin!

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Eyes of the Lord

Have you ever wondered why friendships seem that much deeper and virtually unbreakable when faith is the foundation? I've been marveling over this fact today as I've spent time with friends over this year and years past. I have the most authentic, beautiful and faithful friends. I really could end the blog right there.

I have a family of friends who would do anything for me. They would drive to wherever I am if I asked them and they would feed me and clothe me if I needed it. Matthew 25: 37-40 says "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

Sanctified within each of my friends is the ability to recognize Jesus within me. This fact is such an encouragement to me because there were times in my past, and most certainly in my future, where I have not be able to recognize Jesus. God speaks through the eyes of those who look beyond the exterior, into the crevices of the soul. My friends are people such as this.

What saddens me is how easy it is for people in this society to slip into the trap and shut out the world and those that love them. They have been programmed to think that success is done alone. It is them against the world. The reason I feel as if I can dare to write about this is that I used to be that person. I could never let others in because I was so afraid of what might happen --> they might not like who I am. They would recognize how unworthy I am and how terrible my sin is.

I came to a crossroads in my life where I had to make a decision. I had to allow myself to get hurt and still not necessarily know the outcome or I could stay in a waiting room my whole life without any expectations. I chose the latter.

This choice does not come without challenges. I continue to stifle fear of pain and consciously decide to welcome the joys that come as the result.

Faith is not a feeling but a choice. I choose to have faith in my friends as they have in me. Why? Because that is exactly what Jesus does everyday. You see, these friendships are not just bilateral. There is a third party whose presence takes precedence over my friend’s and mine. Jesus’ proprietorship over friendships is the beginning and the end of what matters. This leads me to claim that not only do I have the best friends in the world, but in the heavens.

Once the ownership of a relationship is given over to God it becomes a source of empowerment rather than a continual letdown. You can find encouragement and raw humanity within them, which can reach into your own heart. You are uplifted by each other’s struggles because you know that each one is a vessel through which God can work.

I found this verse that I will end off with today. Psalm 121:7-8“The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” The Lord is alive in my friends, for they watch out for me. Their eyes are those of the Lord.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Faithful through the Hissy Fits

Have you ever reached that point where you think that if you just don't know what God has in store for you then you just might die(or at least crawl into a corner and hide)? I reached that feeling a few weeks ago and decided that I'd had about enough and I told God exactly that.
My conversation with God went a little something like this...
"God, I have absolutely NO idea what you think you are doing, but I'm throwing in the hat!
I'm tired and I'm frustrated and I really wish you'd let me in on your 'little secrets' or whatever you think it is that you are hiding from me."
Now, at this point you are either laughing hysterically or you are shaking your head in shame. I am hoping for the first but whichever way you choose to feel I am assured that God can handle my hissy fits.
I have a very vivid memory of my brother when he was about 2 or 3 years old. He was sitting on the floor outside his room throwing toys and screaming at the top of his lungs. I remember standing in the hallway looking at him and then turning to my parents as they sat in front of the TV completely ignoring him. I was in disbelief that nothing was being done to stifle this irrate child, so I decided I would laugh at him. Note: I think I may have received a toy square in the forehead sometime around then.
I wonder if sometimes God laughs at us as we sit and throw our toys and say mean words to him. I wonder if sometimes he simply listens without any intent of replying simply to let us get whatever weight we are holding off our chests.
After a while I can almost hear him now. "Are you about done yet Margaret? I have something to tell you."
Today I received two emails with offers to work in two very different parts of Africa; both of which I would be honoured to serve. Boy do I feel silly now...
Now I've been thrown into another whirlwind time of decisions and contemplation. Would I have it any other way?
Not a chance!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Teaching Friend

I spent the past two weeks in Toronto attending a cross-cultural training. Although much of what was taught had already been learned, I took away from the experience deep and lasting friendships; One person in particular I wrote a journal entry on. This is what I wrote.
"I've identified one person in particular, and for the purposes of privacy I'll call him Joe, as a man I can relate to and that has already contributed greatly to my time here.
To describe him isn't difficult in appearances. He is tall, jolly and full of laughter. He has dancing blue eyes and will speak about 2 inches away from your face in conversation. I wouldn't change a thing about him. He speaks simple English with no attempt to embellish or elabourate his words yet he speaks with confidence and wisedom I've experience in few people.
On the second day of the orientation we split into two different groups and I happened to be in Joe's. We had spent about an hour drawing a story line of our lives and experiences to explain how we got to this point in our lives. In our groups we were to share with one another our 'stories'.
Joe told a bold and moving story of how he had wandered for 40 years of his life away from God and experienced pain I cannot imagine during his life. He's spent the last few years of his life in prison ministry and more than once I was moved to tears by the size of his heart. This big man showed no shame in shedding tears of both joy and sorrow. I was so encouraged and thankful for him.
After I had shared my story Joe was the first person to come up to me and thank me, simply for being who I am. He encouraged and strengthened me through his kind yet simple words. We've already had some lovely talks about God and life and I know that this is the beginning of a great friendship. He has taught me so much already.
The word that resonates best when I think of Joe is devout. There is nothing that causes him to falter in his faith. He does not try to make himself look important nor does he care what others think of him. He simply delights in his Lord. He delights in moments spent and prayers sent. His love comes from the never ending source that will never die.
Through these observations of Joe's faith he completely and totally convicted me. You see, for a long time I've been told that I am somehow a leader. This fact began to worry me. 'What if I am not smart enough? What if I can't be what people need me to be?' I began to seek out biblical knowledge for the purpose of being able to answer people's needs and not for the sole reason of desiring to know God more intimately. This choice I made actually forced me into a greater ignorance of who God really is.
I'd forgotten that God is jealous and wants me to revel and delight in him alone. He deserves a service that is for his benefit and not my own.
Joe has saved me from a great deal of hardship in many ways. Had I not learned this important fact I would have likely suffered great disappointment and loneliness.
Joe said to me 'the longest journey a person ever takes is the distance from his head to his heart.' This is innately true for me. I'd lost the connection between my head knowledge and my true heart's desire to seek out more of God solely for the purpose of knowing him alone.
Praise God for Joe. He showed me how a seemingly uncomplicated man can have such a great impact simply because he delights in his Lord."

Choosing Pain

On Thursday I fell off my bike for the first time since I was 5 years old. I even remember the last time it happened because I remember the look of terror on my mother's face as she ran towards me on the street, yelling in hysterics. Of course I was absolutely fine after a good hug and kiss and I had a nice battle scar to show everyone.
This time was a bit different. I was alone and somewhat far from my house. I was using my brother's new bike and the brakes were in superb shape. I was trying to adjust my helmet when I realized I was approaching an intersection far too quickly, so my first impression was to squeeze the brakes with my left hand. Now, on this particular bike, the combination of good brakes and only engaging the front tires resulted in a head first approach to the pavement. I really didn't even have time to think about what had happened until I was lying on the ground. My arm hurt a little and all I remember thinking as 'PLEASE don't be broken, PLEASE don't be broken. Mom is going to KILL me-ANOTHER broken bone' (I've broken a few before...) or 'is James' bike okay? Did I ruin it?'
Fortunately, there were two men standing around the road who came over to help me. Minus a few layers of skin on my hands, elbows and knees, a nice bruise on my quad and a hurt ego, I am fine, and most importantly, the bike is without wear and tear.
I started thinking about my reaction to the accident and why my injuries didn't start to hurt until later. It wasn't until I got home did I really start to feel the collision with the ground. Of course, having spent years lifeguarding and much of my university career in science, I know the effects of shock and its intricate protective mechanism but I learned a good lesson.
I began to think over the connection between my upcoming journeys and my accident. Throughout the journey of deciding where to go and for how long, I've sought to include my family at every level. By no means would I ever consider otherwise when trying to figure out long term mission opportunities but my view of their position was limited. I realized that every action I take has an opposite reaction within the confines of my family.
This leads into the main point of this blog. How does one follow the will of God while at the same time remaining honouring to their parents and siblings? My parents have been beyond supportive in this journey but I wonder if the pain they are enduring, caused by my choices, is honouring them?
I am reminded of the verse in Matt where Mary weeps at the foot of the cross for her son. She knows that he is the Saviour of the world, but to her she is also his baby. As I try to put myself in Jesus shoes I would think that the last thing Jesus would want his mother to see is his suffering, but the other part of it was that she NEEDED to see it just like the rest of the world.
Let's get one thing straight, I am CERTAINLY not claiming to be Jesus but I like to think sometimes that my life is intricately linked to his own human experience.
Parents are a wonderful gift from God to provide love and support but they cannot protect you from pain. The only person who can is God and is aware of oncoming pain in our lives yet does nothing to stop it. In my own life, I learn best from mistakes and God takes full advantage of this. Pain is inevitable but it is survivable through faith. God molds and transforms, not even mentioning healing through pain. It is in the deepest darkest moments of my soul that God gives clarity. Thus I've decided that if pain results in this, I choose pain. I am honouring my parents by honouring God first.
For me, pain equals a time of clarity. I guess falling off my bike wasn't so bad after all.