The Glass Darkly

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

How God-Moments Build Community

The story I shared in middle school chapel:

My life did not begin here in Lancaster County. I was born just north of here in Lebanon County. My home seemed in the middle of nowhere with a wooded mountain sloping up behind our home, rolling out into pastureland and fields below us. I grew up spending hours outside playing in the creek that ran along our pasture, working with my 4-H project animals which I showed every summer at the fairs, and helping my dad in his shop working on cars, trucks and motorcycles. I lived in a farming community
where most of my friends went to one of three nearby churches and we all went school together at the local public elementary school.

But in 3rd grade things began to change for me. It was the year my baby brother was born. My parents wanted my next-to-younger brother to get better learning support, and so, with financial help from my grandparents, they decided to pull us from public school and send us to a small, private, Mennonite school here in Lancaster County. Suddenly I was pulled from my neighborhood friends and was forced spend my days with a whole new community. Not only were there new friends, but there were new ways of doing things, new ways of learning things. I now had Bible class every day. I began memorizing long passages of Scripture, like the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, the love chapter in 1 Corinthians, several of the Psalms, like Psalms 139. I had to wear long dresses to school every day. Things were different.

But what I entered changed my life forever . . . for it was in that school community where I began to formulate, more personally, what Faith was. We were invited to put into practice the verses we read and learned in the Bible. Every morning we prayed with our teachers for each other, for our families and for our school. We even prayed for people around the world. In fact in my first year there, we collected soap for Cambodia and sent it to MCC. It was for the refugees who fled the genocide by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970’s. I had no idea then that one day, as an adult, I would go to live in post-war Cambodia.

Many students and many adults talk about middle school as being the worst years of their school life. But if I am honest, my middle school years were my favorite of all. Because my school was small, we could get through our lessons quickly and then spend more time doing lots of fun things outside of the classroom.

One was producing our own yearbook. Some of the pictures I’m showing you today come from different yearbooks over the years I was in th
at school. I love to watch our yearbook staff here at LMMS because it brings back many fond memories of producing a yearbook when I was in middle school. But we did not have computers back then. We took the pictures, developed the film and then worked to develop the photos and paste them onto big graph-paper sheets. Here is a yearbook that was produced when I was in 5th grade. For some reason they put a picture of me with my friends sitting in homeroom singing with my guitar as the cover for that year!

We also ran a greenhouse all year round growing poinsettias for Christmas and Spring flowers for the school auction. There were some years we had a horse club where students could go to a nearby farm and learn how to care for and ride horses. We got to go ice-skating on the farmer’s pond each year in the winter. We planted flowers around the school and painted outdoor buildings. Our choir went to different churches on Sundays to sing and we even came down here to LMH for the middle school choir festival. As classes, we got to know one another quite well and enjoyed working,
playing and learning together.

We also spent a lot of time learning how to worship together, sing and pray. There were a number of us who liked to write our own music and poetry and would share them during devotions. I didn’t realize it then, but the fact that I was part of a school community where Faith in Jesus was central, impacted my life dramatically and helped prepare me for the next step of my life in high school.

When I graduated from 8th grade at that school, my grandparents could no longer help pay for our education. So instead of coming here to LMH with many of my friends, I needed to return to public school. My life was taking another dramatic shift and I was very nervous about returning to a much larger school where I only knew a few friends from my church. For the first time I was able to process the fact that I was going to
miss my friends from middle school, not just because they were my friends, but because they had become my support and encouragement over the years. My classmates all prayed for each other before graduation, that we would feel the presence of Christ go with us, no matter what school we would go to. I continued to pray for that as I found my way around my high school.

I very much enjoyed my years in high school. I had lots of friends. I was part of lots of fun activities and extra-curriculars. But when I graduated from high school, I did not feel the same bond with my class as I had felt with my middle school class. There was something different. And to this day I have much less interest in reconnecting with my high school classmates as I do with my middle school class. Members of my middle school still enjoy connecting with one another. What was the difference?

I come back to the word, “community.” We talk a lot about community here at LMS, and for good reason. But community is not something that just happens, it is something that is built. And I would say that a community built on a common faith in Jesus, practicing the love and care he had for others makes all the difference. Me and my Christian friends in high school still enjoy getting together too – we became a caring mini-community within our public high school.

I like to say it’s the “God moments” that make the difference. I had lots of God moments, every day in my middle school years. I felt the love and care of my school community as my classmates and I learned how to express encouragement, pray for each other, work through conflict, extend forgiveness and find ways to serve others together. We became very close through these practices. God-moments are when people extend the love of Christ to each other in thoughtful, surprising and practical ways. Let me tell you about some God moments I’ve seen in the last few weeks.

• Last year our middle school put together health kits for people in Haiti following the earthquake and many students went to visit with elderly folks in local nursing homes. Those days were filled with God-moments, when we worked together to serve and care about others.
• Students have been helping each other clean out lockers and look for missing books. They are sharing their time and energy, the love of Christ, in a God-moment.
• I recently heard a couple voices of encouragement to a student asking if she was ok after being ridiculed and laughed at in the hall. Those encouraging words were a beautiful example of extending love . . . that was a God moment.
• Last week, two students welcomed someone from another country into their day, one from China and one from France. Those days were filled with God-moments, sharing love and respect across cultures.
• The quiet prayers of classmates for someone who is afraid her life-long pet won’t be there when she gets home from school are precious God-moments.
• Students sharing prayer requests for parents, family f
riends and neighbors are amazing God-moments.
• I saw students helping each other up in sincere kindness when they fell during skating or sledding recently. Those were God-moments.
• I heard the voices of students expressing care for a frustrated teacher after a class that was difficult. Those were God moments for that teacher.
• God moments include cheering for all participants in the talent show and standing in respectful quiet while a student performs a Korean dance.

These are holy moments. Moments where we show our care for one another. It is how we build community and make school a place that is different, a place where love is put into practice, where we can feel safe, especially at a time in our lives when our self-confidence can be quite fragile.

re than anything, I want you to feel like you are part of a middle school community that loves you and cares for you. I want middle school to be a fun and enriching time of your life. Not everything was easy for me in middle school. I learned a lot about how to be a better friend and more caring. And so this is a time for you to learn too, skills of kindness, honesty, encouragement, peacemaking, gentleness, goodness . . . all the character traits that show that the Holy Spirit of Jesus himself lives in you and in your friends. This is an opportunity for you to live a new life and make Faith something that you can carry with you no matter where you go.

My prayer for each of you and for this school is that the peace of Christ be all around us, over us, under us, within us, so that our school community and classes can share a bond that goes deeper than we could ever imagine possible.

Lord Jesus, may it be so.


Prayer from the Beatitudes

Jesus, give us the wisdom and courage to be poor in spirit. . .
in a world that glorifies power and fame.

Give us the wisdom and courage to mourn. . .

because we know you are with us always.

Give us the wisdom and courage to remain meek. . .

and to be mindful of the truth that all we have
and all we accomplish comes through you.
Give us the wisdom and courage to always do what is right. . .

even when what is right is not what is popular or easy.

Give us the wisdom and courage to be merciful. . .

even when it is very difficult to forgive.

Give us the wisdom and courage to be pure of heart. . .

even when we feel overwhelmed by jealousy
or a thirst for power or popularity.
Give us the wisdom and courage to be peacemakers. . .

in a world torn apart by violence.

Jesus, give us the wisdom and courage to remain strong when
people make fun of us because we love you and follow you. . .
may we never forget that our reward in heaven is great!


Thursday, July 01, 2010

Challenges of adjustment

I started this blog about a year after my family and I returned from seven years living in Asia. I was really struggling at the time with reverse culture shock. I tried talking to some people about it, but it was difficult to find friends and people who were willing or able to help.

I had left a place where I felt I lived purposefully. Every waking moment was a challenge . . . everything from functioning in 100 degree weather to maneuvering through crazy traffic patterns to learning new language, food and culture. On top of that, I was learning to work with people to develop a devastated nation. One's sensibilities are constantly sharpened in finding ways to respectfully bestow dignity on those who feel inferior in the world yet are courageously thinking outside of the box in which they were born to make their corner of the globe a better place.

Coming back to the United States, I was thrown into a living situation where I felt isolated from people.
I felt like my life lacked purpose. I had no friends to sharpen my notions and observations. I observed people who lived as though they had all the answers or they were the answer to the world's problems. I got the immediate sense from some that I should conform to the box in which I had been born. The problem was that, for various reasons, I didn't feel like I fit in. There were people around me, yet I felt lonely and useless.

I'm recalling all this because a dear friend of mine is going through similar struggles of reverse culture shock, feeling lonely and feeling useless. His is even more pronounced as he spent over 15 years abroad. My heart goes out to him because he can't seem to get to the root of his pain and depression. This experience is in many ways a like an identity crisis, but also one that requires a grieving period. I grieve with him and for him, for one, because I can identify, and two, because he is not giving himself the time to grieve. He is trying to re-live his past to get rid of the pain. The problem is that life can never be re-lived as it was before.

Up until our return, my husband and I had spent the majority of our married years in Cambodia. We started our family there. Even in seven years, many family patterns are established and it is not easy to just up and change. And the leaving behind of friends, place and life experiences initiates a necessary grieving process. I still grieve that loss, just as I had grieved the loss of my brother for many years afterward. At times a particular memory or incident can bring a splash of grief washing over me again. But as time goes on, the pain is not as intense or prolonged. We must allow for this grief in order to heal and let go of that chapter of life.

And the truth is, not everyone encounters this difficulty at the same intensity level. My husband seemed to re-acculturate much more quickly than I. I think part of it was that he got a job right away and was able to experience a sense of impact and mission in his work. Within a year he was working with lots of people with overseas experience. The kind of friends he was able to connect to were those who enjoyed critiquing issues and discussing global affairs. This was encouraging to him and I believe it really helped him get his mind off of the challenges of readjustment.

It’s almost 6 years since our return and I still blog occasionally about what it is like to re-adjust to living in the United States. There are times I still don't feel like I totally fit in as an American or as part of a unique Pennsylvanian culture. But over time, I've found a few friends who are willing to hear or share my worldview and idiosyncrasies. So I've not felt as much a need to reflect. But I pray that my friend will make space for reflection and find a way to process his thoughts and grief. He is depressed and lonely.
I think that, like me, he needs people to listen and encourage him. I pray God will speak to him through others who can love him even in this difficult time of transition.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Community vs. Isolation

A commentary from a friend of mine who hosted a pastor from Cambodia:

"One of thing Pastor Abraham found disturbing about America was that no free tea was offered for breakfast or lunch in diners or food establishments. In Cambodia, one would walk into a noodle shop, sit at table with other people, drink free tea and actually talk to those other people. He noticed what a highly individualized society America was as opposed to a more community based Cambodia. We leave our houses that are hidden by fences, trees and woods, and drive alone to our job where we work in our office or cubicle until we head alone back down the highway to our isolated houses that could hold many Cambodians ( Isn’t it lonely with only a husband, wife and a couple of kids in that big house?) He was not so much being critical as he was lamenting the way things are for us in our way of life. I have experienced both aspects of isolation and community. Frankly, I have missed the community since leaving Cambodia."

I, too, have observed that conversations about "community" are very different here in America than in Cambodia. Here we are always talking about how we need to "build" community. In Cambodia "community" is a common part of language describing a living reality of society. One's identity in Cambodia is closely tied to the community -- the place where one grew up or was raised -- where everyone is "aunt, uncle, cousin, etc." whether or not they are blood relation or not.

One reason so many Asian young people who are part of immigrant families in the cities of the U.S. are easily caught up into gangs and large groups of their same race is because the parents are used to the community helping to raise their children. In America people value self-sufficiency, independence and privacy. Many Asian parents feel lost in a world/culture where parents are pretty much on their own in terms of child-rearing. They don't have the collective wisdom and accountability of the village where everyone takes responsibility for how the kids turn out. They expect a community to help watch out for their kids. Gangs can become a terrifying substitute.

And so, in America we look out our windows at kids along the street who are doing things we don't approve of and we comment to our spouse how bad those kids are and we speculate how irresponsible the parents are who are raising them. It's rare to live in a community where that parent will know the parents of those kids and, even if so, will feel comfortable calling those parents to let them know what was seen.

Community truly is a gift. It takes sacrifice and commitment. And in America it is something we do, indeed, need to work to build. It takes incredible love . . . love for ourselves and all those who live around us.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Living in the Moment

I wish I could just live in the moment. Sitting on my front porch watching the children play, the cars and people pass by . . . wondering where they are going, waving back. Thirsty? Just walk down to the corner shop buy a cold soda . . . just one. Enjoy the conversation with those along the way. Neighbor stops by and we can just sit and chat or maybe walk with them. Feeling hungry, family hungry? Ok, time to make supper.

But life here is not like that. Sitting -- just sitting? I feel like I'll be judged to be lazy. Wondering about those you see go by? that's being nozy. Thirsty? I should check my pantry where I wisely stock up for weeks. Too many trips to the store is a waste of time, money and energy. Neighbors and guests should call ahead. Meals are planned and everything is scheduled.

I've been taught this is good. This is the way of life. To be otherwise is irresponsible and immature. Trained to conform, taught to think ahead. I try hard to fit in: Focus on the point; push toward the destination.

But what about the journey? Come what may . . . I just want to enjoy it . . . experience it. I don't want to miss the beauty of Creation, the realities of humanity, the possibilities on the paths less trodden . . . or the pain of going there. And to breathe deeply in the moment, making the journey what life is all about.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Let me Remember . . .




beyond forgetting




let me remember always

for my spirit is often shrouded in the mists

let me remember beyond forgetting

that my life is not a solitary thing

it is a bit of the rushing tide

a leaf of the bending tree

a kernel of grain the golden wheat fields

a whisper of wind about the mountaintop

a reflection of sunlight upon the shining waters

it is fleeting

it is of the moment

it is timeless

it is of eternity.

-Winston O. Abbott

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cows and their little ones

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Taking time to visit

I love sitting and chatting with people and I'll do it anywhere I need to go to find someone who might appreciate a visit.

Today I visited a family, albeit under not so happy circumstances, who live in an apartment above their little deli shop. Life is not easy for them, but I was honored to have had the chance to connect with them where "home" happens for them.

I know a principal at one of the city elementary schools who does home visits on the weekends. How special . . . I would love that but I wonder if all families would appreciate that.

There are some cultures that are much more oriented to visiting. Growing up in a very rural area, we dropped in on our neighbors all the time and it was fine. Sunday afternoons we'd often go for a drive and stop in, unannounced, to visit a friend or relative if they happened to be home.

As I got older, I learned new ways of relating. Visiting is sometimes a more formal event. It took me a long time to understand why my in-laws felt they needed to call ahead to the home of their neighbor whose house is less than 100 ft. from their garage door before stopping over to ask a question. Why couldn't they just walk over and ask? Ways of relating and visiting is a cultural thing and depends on the level of privacy expected within the culture.

People hang-out in front of many of the homes along the streets near where I live now. Children play; young people blare their music; and adults sit and talk. The same was true on most of the roads in Cambodia. There, time was less important than building relationships, so sitting and talking was very important. It didn't matter so much what you talked about, just that you took the time.

This happened often in the village where we lived. As I'd meander over to visit a friend, I'd often stop at one of the snack stands to get something for my kids or a soda for me. Inevitably one of the ladies would invite me to sit "first" before I'd continue on. It was the polite thing to do and the primary way information was shared in the village. If I was in a new village, the ladies would want the scoop of who I was and what I was doing there. In my own village they'd ask questions about my landlord and their latest remodeling project . . . how much they spent or if I was helping to pay for it (as if my landlord hadn't told them already). I often got questions about my home country, my salary, my rent, why my children looked different than me, etc.

Americans often had a hard time with all the invasive questions Cambodians would ask in their "visiting" times. Visiting requires skill and some understanding of culture to make it meaningful within the context. But I find great joy in meeting people on their level and in their context.

And that sense of building relationships stirred within me again today as I chatted with a mother and grandmother about their young person. Sharing a little about myself and learning a lot about the other can go a long way in spreading care and encouragement.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I wish I had an inkling

I wish I had an inkling
of where I am to be
Here or there, East or West
It's hard for me to see.

I wish I had an inkling
of what I am to do
This or that, then or now
It's time for something new.

I wish I had an inkling
of what God plans for next
I try, I wait, I look, I pray
It's really hard to rest.

I wish I felt a calling
A sure sense of purpose
Instead I wander aimlessly
Feeling rather restless.

I wish I had an inkling
Of where I am to be
Place and presence go hand-in-hand
In the Missio Dei

Friday, February 05, 2010

Can we Imagine or are we frozen in time?

Tom and Christine Sine – Following Jesus in the Shadow of the Empire

What are ways we can help young people prepare for the future – life in the Church and lives of mission

A. Take the future seriously! Don’t be Christians frozen in time . . . in other words stop imagining more of what already is.

B. We need to help kids think creatively to cope with the future/changing times:

Students today are the first generation in America who will not surpass their parents economically.

· Communal living – future increase of mortgages means young people will not be able to own their own homes – need to learn to live together/share resources – creative thinking

· Craig’s list – what resources do we have to share?

· Petrol prices will continue to hike . . . making petro-based fertilizers unaffordable to poor farmers àcreate a food shortage à teach kids to raise vegetables and participate in coops

· Explore new models of communities of simplicity, celebration, sustainability and service.

Students of today and future are technologically addicted/emersed.

· Technology addiction has created a 24/7 connection to workplace – need to teach kids to set limits so they can remain faithful to Scripture, prayer and family

· Media consumption has become media emersion . . . we need to teach the need for and skill at finding sacred places and spaces that are media-free

· Look at the numbers of social networking media that has developed just in the last 6 years – imagine how many more will come about in the next 10 years – how can we use them?

Students are growing-up in a growing multicultural society:

· By 2040 the US will be the first Western nation that is not predominately European

· We need to teach kids how to live in multicultural settings – will raising kids in homogeneous suburbs preparing them for their future?

· We need to help youth see the power of our culture and the message of “cool” that has changed the traditional cultures in other countries – changing the views that youth in those other countries have toward their own traditions and cultures and changing how they live within their cultures

· Can we have American youth help change the standard of “cool” among youth of other cultures? (social networking can be a key tool) – dispelling the power of the message of cool flowing from our culture

· Look at the coming of the “new majority” Church – growing Church in Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia – help youth connect

Students are revealing our nation’s post-Christendom mentality.

· Barna likes to say that US has about 40-50% church attendance vs. 6% in UK and 9% in Australia

· Another study of actual attendance numbers shows that really only about 17.5% of Americans regularly attend church. Some only attend once a month . . . how do we build community in that kind of a context?

· Youth are less and less drawn to the church and remaining in the church after leaving home

· Can we imagine new ways of doing church? Does our Christian education/formation really doing the same job it has for the last century?

· Are our church buildings and traditional activities which have served our previous generations going to be the form of church our youth will connect to?

· Allow youth to imagine and experiment with new expressions of church

Imagining new ways to include young people – Advancing God’s purposes in changing times

· Learning how to raise food/participate in coops

· Teaching how to lead worship at a young age

· Create forums for young people who have new ideas about how to connect the Church globally

· Help youth discover their calling

· Christian education can be preparatory to these ends.