Thursday, October 29, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
There was no reply waiting for me in my inbox, but there was a disturbing message sent from our friend, Pastor Francis, in Mabaale. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, we have a small developing partnership with Francis and his church, New Life Presbyterian. They care for 64 orphans and operate a small school.
The email I opened from Francis told the story of a pregnant woman from the church who endured a long, painful labor and due to lack of proper transportation did not arrive in town in time to deliver her baby. She gave birth to a son on the way to Kigadi Hospital and continued to hemorrhage until she died of blood loss shortly thereafter. Baby Joshua was only a few hours old, but he was already an orphan.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
In the last episode of the series I talked about the simple truth that it is necessary to spend time together to form relationship. It is the basic way to begin. If only it were that easy! Truth be told, it is just the first small baby step in creating family ties.
The primary reason spending time together is so effective in building relationships is that the more you are with someone the harder it is to hide your self.
We're all good at hiding. We're all good at pretending. We like to pretend we are smarter than we are. Nicer than we are. Less insecure than we are. We do this because we want people to like us. We think that if people see our dirty laundry they'll look the other way and reject us.
When Scott and I were first dating I flew up to Chicago after Christmas to visit him and his family. I got a bit of a cold. We had only been dating for a few weeks, and I remember being very shy about blowing my nose in front of him. I tried to be extremely discreet. It's like I didn't want him to know I had snot. That was very silly of me. Everybody has snot.
I knew a woman once whose mother never let anyone see her without her makeup on. I mean nobody. She kept a makeup case under her bed. Each night she would wait for her husband to fall asleep. Then she would quietly reach down under the bed and remove her makeup. In the morning she was up before everyone else, and by the time her family emerged from their bedrooms she was already in the kitchen making breakfast...fully "done up."
I felt tired just listening to this woman's daily ordeal. She put so much pressure on herself, investing so much energy in maintaining a painted mask. What was going to happen if her husband saw her bare faced? Was he going to scream in horror? Was he going to stop loving her? That was her fear, I guess, that she wasn't lovable just as she was. That she had to embellish and improve upon her appearance in order to secure her relationships. She was trying so hard to be what she thought others wanted that she never let others in. She never took the risk to expose her skin, which makes me suspect that she never exposed what was underneath her skin. Her heart. Her feelings. Her needs.
This woman is living proof that spending physical time with people isn't enough. You can live with folks and still "keep up appearances." You can put on your makeup and wear it 24/7. This is a lot of work, mind you. You have to be diligent and persistent. It seems probable that you'll get tired after a while.
Maybe that's why we don't spend a lot of time with people. We know that sooner or later the plaster we've encased ourselves in will begin to crack. We have choices. Avoid people, spend a ridiculous amount of time grooming ourselves, or take the risk and expose our short tempers, narcissism, and lack of social poise.
Unfortunately Christians are some of the best pretenders I know. We know the "shoulds" and "should nots" better than everybody else, so we have a leg up in sculpting ourselves into model human beings.
Church is supposed to be the most honest place on this planet. A haven of hope where grace and love abound. Where people don't judge you on your hairstyle, accent, skin color, child-rearing, or Biblical vocabulary. In God's family you don't have to be perfect because Jesus is perfect for all of us. You can come just as you are to contribute and to receive, for free forgiveness for your failings and sincere encouragement in your weakness.
But the last time someone at church asked you how you were doing, what did you say? Did you say you were fine? When you talk with people after Sunday service do you feel like you had to have your shirt ironed and say words like "sanctified?" The denomination I come from talks a lot about sin and mortifying the flesh. We do a lot of confessing and dialoguing about how much grace we need. It is almost fashionable to talk about how crummy we are in a general sort of way. There is a lot of jargon involved. A lot of code words and key phrases. We try not to be sloppy in speaking about our sloppiness.
In my experience, despite the overwhelming attention given to human frailty and divine mercy the authentic bearing of ourselves still evades us. We know we are supposed to be transparent. We know we are all just sinners saved by grace, but the idea of really blowing out our true snot in public is plain terrifying. You don't want folks to figure out that you have no idea what "eschatology" means, haven't prayed for a month, or that you lied in your last business meeting to make yourself look good. You don't want them to see that you are jealous of your neighbor's Lexus, judgmental that your neighbor has the audacity to own a Lexus, or that you are in massive debt because you own a Lexus. No one needs to find out that you swore at your husband over breakfast that morning. (I am guessing that I am not the only person who has ever cursed at their spouse in anger.) That you build yourself up by chronically comparing yourself to others. Judge people by their apparent ministry involvement or lack thereof. Are codependent. Controlling. Suffer in a manipulative relationship. Feel worthless. Feel superior. Feel nothing.
The fear is…or at least my fear is…that when other people see the inner workings of me, they will never be able to accept it. They will never be able to love me.
In the garden when Adam and Eve sinned and discovered their nakedness, the Bible says they were filled with shame and hid from God. They didn't want Him to see them bared and exposed. But of course God could see them because He's GOD. He sees and knows all. And just as Adam and Eve were unable to hide from Him, so are we.
In another garden many years later Jesus, the son of God, prayed a very special prayer for us. He said, "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17:22-23
The Father watched Adam and Eve and their offspring fall to pieces and create chronic dysfunction within the entire human race. Nevertheless, His love never ceased. He loved us so much that He sent His only son into the world to suffer and die for us. He did this while we were still sinners, still His enemies, and completely unlovable. That grueling night in Gethsemane before Jesus was arrested, publicly humiliated and crucified He wasn't concerned for His public image. He was concerned that His church would be united the way the Holy Trinity was united. Fully disclosed and known to one another, loving one another the way He loves us and the Father loves Him. In His earthly ministry, Jesus didn't spend time worrying about what people thought of Him. So He probably doesn't want me spending so much of my time on cosmetic personality surgery either.
This is what Jesus wants for me…for us…to overcome that shame of exposure we all inherited at the fall, and to bare our souls in true humility and intimacy in His Name. I know this is a good thing, the best thing really. Something in me still resists it, though. It is hard. It is really really hard. Sin still has us so entangled and Satan works so craftily at making us believe that we aren't good enough for God or others just the way we are. The enemy keeps us in fear and keeps us inwardly alone, in dark closets, hiding.
But just as our great grandfather and grandmother couldn't hide from God, neither can we. Jesus sees us in our closets. He sees our eating disorders and our gluttony. He sees our coveting hearts. He knows when we lie, cheat and disparage others. He sees us in our ugliness and for a time he became that ugliness. Both in becoming a messy, fleshy human being AND in bearing the weighty punishment for our corrupt souls. He that knew no sin actually became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21) Jesus knows we are petty, selfish, loud, annoying, frivolous, too serious, rude, self consumed and rebellious. He knew we'd get wrinkles and where. He knew we'd go bald, get fungus in our toenails, and pick our noses. He knew and he knows. And He still wants us.
He loves us and He wants us to love others like that too.
Now, to quote the old gospel song, there "ain't nobody like Jesus. Can't nobody do me like Him." None of us is going to be able to love another person the complete way Jesus loves us. When we try to do that we essentially make ourselves an idol in another's life. When we expect that kind of love from another, we idolize them. Jesus isn't asking us to literally be Him to others. Only He can meet a person's total needs. But He is asking us to extend ourselves into loving, honest and real relationships that model the closeness of the Trinity.
I laugh now when I look back and remember how nervous I was about blowing my nose in front of Scott. Soon after those early days of dating Scott held my hair while I threw up. He has watched me give birth. Now I don't even think when I blow my nose. I just do it...loudly
Scott isn't the only one who's seen me throw up. Once in Uganda I got some sort of severe food poisoning. We were on our way to town for a special event when I started to vomit. It was terrible. I was sitting next to Martha Kamara who was 6 at the time. She was wearing a beautiful dress and I didn't want to get her dirty so I threw up all over myself just to be safe. Scott and Sarah pulled me out of the van and as I stood weakly in the grass on the side of the road, dozens of curious Ugandans staring at this pitiful white lady, Sarah knelt down in her good clothes, poured her water bottle all over me and began washing the vomit off of my feet.
There is something beautiful about letting people see you when you are ugly. It is very human. It is very freeing. You can sit side by side with someone for years, but it isn't until you start to reveal yourself to them that you are really with them.
Sarah and Theophilus know things about Scott and I that few others know. We know many deeply personal things about them, too. About our marriages and families. Our personal fears, needs, struggles and what God is doing in our hearts. We've seen one another do very stupid things, make blunders, insult others, act proudly and not measure up. We tell each other what we are learning and what we need to learn. And we try to open ourselves up to being corrected by one another. Sometimes we fail at this, but we bear patiently with one another, waiting and praying for the Spirit to move.
We all have our hiding places, secret sins and personal shames. But when you begin airing out the dark closet you store your garbage in a miraculous thing happens. You start to smell better. You start to have more time, thought and energy for others. You become more giving. You are more able to receive. By not spending so much time and energy on our appearance we're able to live, love and engage with others in more possible ways.
Sure, there are always going to be those people who will run from you when you choose to blow your nose in front of them. But there will be many more who are grateful that you did. And they'll start blowing their noses too until sooner or later there is a natural freeness. Relationships where intimacy, security and grace will abound. It will not always be an easy journey and we will have to fight to dwell in that Trinitarian unity that God desires for His children. But the goodness God has designed inside of that will always quench our thirsty souls. And this is what I think the lonely and disillusioned world is waiting for us Christians to do…
They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love…