Lessons from nausea, dirty feet, and latrines

I have this theory about being uncomfortable – I believe that we can’t grow spiritually without periodically experiencing it.  I’ve written about this before, but last week I found myself on a very uncomfortable four-hour boat ride with people vomiting around me, and I thought to myself:  Why do I do these things?!

4 hour boat ride on wooden boat from the mainland of Haiti to the island of La Gonave

Miserable on the right with a hat.  En route to  La Gonave, June 2014.

This is not the first time I’ve been on this boat ride.  This was my third trip to Haiti, and when I go to Haiti I go to the island of La Gonave where we visit the village of Picmy/Picmi/Pikmy.  I’ll let you in on a secret, I do not like all that traveling to Picmy entails.  I love Picmy, I love its people, I love the people I go to Picmy with, and I absolutely love going on mission trips.  I do not  remotely enjoy the 2-3 hour ride from the Port Au Prince airport, navigating with a group of people with tons of luggage through immigration, pushy Hatians who try to take your luggage so you pay them, and a hot, bumpy bus ride to the coast.  Then comes the boat.  The trip as a whole is challenigng on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level.

bus market

Truly, there were more challenges on this trip than I care to share or have the time to — from no AC, running water or plumbing, to cultural and community barriers and discord.  However, half way through the long week, as I was walking back to our house in this dusty, perpetually hot existence, my feet filthy, no matter how much I cleaned them; my body sweaty and tired, thinking of all that I had to do the rest of the day to simply get ready for bed, and all that was left to do in the week, when again I thought to myself:  Why do I do these things?! Why am I here?  Then John 1 popped into my head:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
-John 1:1-5, 14

village

I do this because Jesus- it’s called incarnational ministry – ministry in the flesh. God made God-self uncomfortable in the incarnation.  I do this because in these places I find Jesus more clearly.  Jesus is found where it’s hot and dusty and unpleasant:  in deserts between borders, on islands where missionaries don’t return to, and in conversations with people who believe and live differently than we do.

I do this because it makes me uncomfortable.  When we’re uncomfortable we’re stretched.  We go beyond ourselves, our preconceptions, our preferences, and are able to allow God to blow up or expand our world.  And again, when we’re uncomfortable, it’s more likely that we’re following Jesus on the dirty, incarnational path of discipleship.  The coolest, most rewarding things that have happened to me in my life have all been a result of first being uncomfortable — sometimes for a while.

The awesome that happened–

Lest I make it sound like the week was completely horrible, I should let you know about some of the awesome things that happened (as usual, God working despite me and my inner grumbling).  We successfully held VBS, a medical clinic, and began construction of a permanent clinic (the only one on that side of the island!).  Around 20 people accepted Jesus as their God and Lord – many turning away from voodoo.  Two of these folks were voodoo priests — one of them was baptized during our time there, the other one’s voodoo rag was burned.  A beautiful baby girl was born at our clinic, and on our final night, our worship night, 14 people turned to Jesus and were prayed for individually.

final night - worship night

final night – worship night

Speaking as someone who dislikes being uncomfortable (I’m a recovering germ-a-phobe, for crying out loud), I’m aware that our culture, and unfortunately our church, is prone to thinking about what we want to do or be, and not much about the sacrifices and difficulties that result when truly following Jesus on the way to the cross.

So how can we apply these uncomfortable truths to ourselves as individuals?  Do I only participate in things that I’m comfortable doing?  When was the last time I was uncomfortable in my walk with God?  How can we apply these principals to ourselves as a church/denomination?  How/who do we serve?  How/who do we welcome?  Where do we visit?  How do we spend money (or not spend money)?  How are we intentionally making ourselves uncomfortable so that we may grow?

For the record, I still hate that boat ride.  May God make us uncomfortable where we need to be uncomfortable… and may there be Dramamine.boat ride 2014 from far

Let’s pray:

Truth-telling, wind-blowing, life-giving spirit—
we present ourselves now
for our instruction and guidance;
breathe your truth among us,
breathe your truth of deep Friday loss,
your truth of awesome Sunday joy.

Breathe your story of death and life
that our story may be submitted to your will for life.
We pray in the name of Jesus risen to new life—
and him crucified.

-from Walter Brueggemann’s, Prayers for a Privileged People

 

(Thank you, Katie Dahlem and Allan Griner, for the photos!)

Advertisements

Remembering a martyr

Today marks the 34th anniversary of the assassination of the Archbishop Oscar A. Romero, one of the more influential theologians in my life.  Typically on the anniversary of his death I reread parts of his writings and remember why he’s been so influential and affirming to my understanding of God and the mistreated, the marginalized, the ragamuffins, as Brennan Manning would put it.  But also of the call to action-in-love placed on the Church.  I hear the story of his life (click on his name above to read more) and I’m moved and energized, and angered and indignant, convicted and reminded of the Gospel – scandalous as following it is.  In Archbishop Romero I see what a life lived for God, and consequently others, looks like — A life of sacrifice, personal growth, compassion, love, and humility.  As we find ourselves in the Lenten season his story strikes me all the more.  It strikes me as a challenge to grow, to die to self, to sacrifice, to repent of our participation in injustice and to live scandalously for God and God’s people – that we may be able to claim as Archbishop Romero did, that our purpose is to live for the glory of God, and that to live as Christians is to look to Christ.  May love be our guide.  Amen.

 

romero

Ashy Memories

Growing up Hispanic Protestant, all things that even smelled Catholic were to be kept far, far away.  We missed out on precious and valuable traditions, for sure.  For this reason I’m relatively new to Lent.  It wasn’t until part way through seminary that I was introduced to this holy season.

I still remember listening to an Ash Wednesday sermon in chapel which is still one of the most personally impactful sermons I’ve heard to date.  The sermon was given by a professor who would later become a friend, and she eloquently yet in real and raw fashion talked about the significance and symbolism of ashes – the pain, struggle, hope, and grace.  I was also able to participate in the small church I attended in Orlando during seminary.  It was there that I first was part of the carrying out of an Ash Wednesday service.  I’m so thankful for that time that was gifted to me.

On another Ash Wednesday finishing up seminary I was volunteering with Orlando Health’s Spiritual Care department, and that day I met an elderly woman who was living in an assisted living facility with the anticipation of soon having to be in the nursing home wing.  I remember this day specifically because she had a big black/gray smudge on her forehead.  At first I thought she had something wrong with her skin (okay – I was finishing seminary and it was still morning – give me a break), but no, the chaplain had been going around with ashes.  Most everyone in this place had a cross (or smudge) on their foreheads.  I remember this as it seems like such a holy and somewhat ironic encounter that this Ash Wednesday experience would occur in a place where there is a frequent reminder of our humanness and our returning to dust.

Post-seminary while living in North West Florida in a small rural town with inner city demographics, I remember Wednesday was one of our after school days.  I was in the small Presbyterian Church where we held our after school program, this particular Ash Wednesday.  The days there were difficult, often heart-wrenching, but sometimes rewarded with beautiful smiles and hearty hugs. On that particular day one of our volunteers had been to a morning service in Quincy, the neighboring town, and carried a black smudge (cross) on her forehead, which the kids found quite interesting.

The next year has been my favorite so far, as I got to be fully involved in the inspiring and keen Ash Wednesday service at KUMC, Tallahassee.  Marking folks – children and adults – who came and knelt to receive the cross on their foreheads while I said the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return” has been one of the holier experiences of my life.

Now I’m officially a Rev. and in my first appointment looking forward to this year’s Ash Wednesday experience.

I say all this because for me Lent means several things – a time of inner-reflection, of checking my ego, of embracing the messy and rawness of mortality, a time of preparing for what it looks like and means to follow Jesus to the cross.

As I look back on all these memories, I can say for certain that I’m not the same now as I was then.  I have changed; I hope to be able to continue to say that throughout all my Lents.  One question I ask myself at the start of Lent is, ‘where are you this Lent?’  I’m not speaking geographically, but in my growing up in Christ — in my discipleship journey.  I invite you to think of your ashy memories if you have any, and to let the ashes bring you forward as well to memories to come.  At the same time I hold in my heart friends who find themselves during this Lent recently finding out about a father’s cancer diagnosis, or holding on to a spouse’s ashes after several months of his death, or remembering the anniversary of the death of a young son — may the hope that are in the ashes sustain them in this time and the times to come.

Join me in prayer (from the UMC Book of Worship):

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the early Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration there should be a forty-day season of spiritual preparation. During this season converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins and had separated themselves from the community of faith were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to participation in the life of the Church. In this way the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need we all have to renew our faith. We invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to observe a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word. Today we gather to make a right beginning of repentance, to acknowledge our mortal nature, and to bow together before our Creator and Redeemer. 

Esther

Image

Called to be Uncomfortable

Everything that I’ve done in my life so far that’s been worth doing initially made me uncomfortable. The magic happens outside of our comfort zones.

Going on mission trips to 2/3 World Countries — uncomfortable. My (ongoing) ordination process with the UMC — uncomfortable. Counseling — uncomfortable. Volunteering in a hospice — uncomfortable. Moving to the ghetto to minister — uncomfortable. Moving to a place where I knew no one — uncomfortable. Going to college, then seminary — uncomfortable. Being vulnerable in my preaching, speaking, etc.  — uncomfortable.  And other random, seemingly minor things which resulted in important relationships, all spawned out of discomfort.  (A lot of these things that are ongoing still may initially make me uncomfortable then ironically result in my feeling the most complete.)

Yes, even Scripture shows it.  I’m always amazed by how much the poor, orphans, widows, and foreigners/aliens are mentioned in the Old Testament (and yes, the poor, etc. are mentioned quite a bit in the New Testament as well), specifically to the people of Israel in the desert.  Wandering in the desert cannot mean the best of conditions or situations, but God consistently called the people to think beyond themselves and their comfort and to care for others — to be concerned with the care of others.   Poverty should make us uncomfortable. Injustice should make us uncomfortable. I love that! It tells us so much about what God is like, and about what habits are important for us.  Praying for our enemies is not comfortable.  Following God’s leading to places we did not plan is not comfortable.

Growth happens outside of your comfort zone. I’m convinced that God calls us to be uncomfortable. I really think we should worry if we are comfortable (which is not the same as content). Comfort is a place that can make stagnation easy.  Discomfort stretches us and provides opportunities to grow.

I’ve been doing this for a few years, where I force myself to do things I don’t want to do.  Or I volunteer for things I don’t want to do as soon as I can, before I change my mind.  Several of the things I mentioned above are products of this challenge.  I can be an over-thinker, so I try to not think about them, as I know I’ll make up good excuses, and just do it.

As the newness of the year is already wearing off, promises to exercise have already been broken by folks I know (I’m still going – pray for me!).  The hope for new habits has been all but lost in the lack of consistency.  As I continue to think about the new year, and try to dream, I’m reminded of  God’s call to be uncomfortable.  It’s causing me to rethink about how I use my time, my money…  To think about risks I need to take.  To challenge myself once again to grow – part of which happens through being uncomfortable.

As someone who’s spent a lot of her life so far coming out of a perceived shell of shyness and self-consciousness, believe me when I tell you, it’s been uncomfortable, but it’s totally been worth it.  Join me- let’s be uncomfortable together.

Esther