The Glass Darkly

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Re-Entry from Abroad

What do I say to those who return from a year in another land and culture . . . a year of new and stretching experiences . . . a year of pruning and new growth . . . who return to a place and culture that once was security and now is a place of uncertainty and strangeness? What do I say to these people -- to preserve their fervor and temper their emotions? To encourage their questions and help them cope with the silent tears of their hearts?

They need to re-acculturate. They need to speak carefully. They need to have love for both worlds. They need to believe Christ is at work in both places. And, yes, they need to always strive to reveal a more full picture of Christ and His Body to those around them. Most of all they should never be fooled into thinking that they are somehow more superior to others, but rather chosen to be God's seekers . . . seekers of how we can better be the healing hands and feet of Christ to a broken world . . . seekers of justice for all people in all lands . . . seekers of ways to live as the Kingdom in our time and generation.

Jesus, you are the Great Questioner.
Keep our questions alive,
that we may always be seekers rather than settlers.
Guard us well from the sin of settling in
with our answers hugged to our breasts.
Make of us a wondering, far-sighted,
questioning, restless people.
Give us the feet of pilgrims
on this journey unfinished.


Monday, July 23, 2007

In a dry and weary land . . .

Psalm 63 has been on my mind lately. Our pastor in Cambodia once did a sermon series on David and the wilderness. I couldn't identify with it totally at that time, but I feel like I can now. Dry/wilderness places are good for us at times, so he said.

But why would I feel like I'm in a dry place right now? I can't imagine why. I have recently gotten a chance to travel and connect with Christians from many places. I have had a chance to connect with people who are preparing to travel abroad or are returning to their home countries after serving in North America for a while. That usually excites me. There is something beautiful about the world when people are reaching out to one another. There is a wellspring of hope and love and joy that flows when people care about what will make the world a better place . . . and what will make Christ become real to those around them, inside and outside of the Church. There are many things about the Church that excite me, yet I feel, at this time and for some strange reason, detached from much of it.

In fact I have this picture in my mind I can't get out. I feel like I'm paddling around on the surface of a large body of water, looking at it (I'm not even sure what all "it" is. But I'm guessing that "it" includes all the good and perfect things God desires for the Church). It's like looking deep down into the water and seeing the beautiful flora and living things there . . . but it's just there . . . much of it not accessible . . . too deep. I want to reach out and bring it close. I want to make a wave to bring it close or change the flow of water so that others can get close to reach out to it. I want the beauty of it to spread and grow. But the impact of my presence alone is like throwing a small stone into the ocean. Who am I? Just a wistful gazer, a water strider. So I retreat to my dry place and look at it from afar. I point to it to encourage others to look. Wouldn't it be great to dive in together? There is something calling from the deep. But going deep is hard work and, I conceed, sometimes dangerous. I guess it's safer to stay on the surface.

Maybe I am just getting into one of my comtemplative modes again and that either makes me passionate or mopey. I hope I am not falling into the latter. Part of it is that we are doing the American thing as of late . . . home improvements! Yes, it is exciting to think of what our home will look like after our "improvements." But I don't like it when we start focusing on ourselves again. We get caught up in "us" and our comfortable life and then I start to get really uncomfortable and frustrated.

At a convention I was recently at we were encouraged to "Live the Call!" We were asked to think about our "call." What is it? I came back with a list of things the Church should be about. Exciting to think about, but how do we get there? And, I never answered the question, "what should I be about?" I think I need some "wilderness" time to soak myself in God's perspective. I have never felt so "uncalled" in my life. I used to feel called as a teacher. I used to feel called in the Church and mission. I know I am supposed to feel called as a mom, but it's another place where I feel so inward focused - "just me and my family." It takes the vision of Abraham to see how focusing all one's energy on only one (or even three little people) is worth being my only call at this point in my life. What about those around me, the Church at large, the nations?

Maybe I need to just sit in a dry and weary land where there is no water for a time so I see and hear and feel what it is like there. Then maybe I can better hear what God is calling me to.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Airing our Dirty Laundry

Americans are funny in the ways they find to "appropriately" air their dirty laundry. When I was a child, it was an unspoken rule in our home that you not "air your dirty laundry" related to family dysfunction, even when I think most people knew there were problems. I think when people believe they will receive pity or understanding related to injustices, they are much more comfortable in "airing" that which may otherwise be seen as shameful. I'm not sure the "airing" is necessarily right or wrong, but perhaps how it is done is more what I am pondering.

I finally flew for the first time in almost three years, a record length of time since my first flight in 1997. Flying within North America with American companies reminded me how wonderful the Asian companies were and how spoiled we were when flying international. This time we flew on United Airlines -- no warm or cool cloth to wash your face, no slippers or movies or even meals for that matter. You're lucky to get some drinks and a cookie or tiny pretzels. And as the one stewardess explained, we were cramped on Boeing 737s, one flight was for nearly 3 hours. Those jets were made to be shuttle planes for short stints from city to city. Now because of company cutbacks, they are using the 737s for full capacity and longer flights. The service people need to work harder because they don't have the carts and cabinets that the larger jets provide for kitchen supplies and storage on longer flights. This was one of several references to company problems I heard on this trip. I was surprised how open the captains and service personnel were about their job problems.

In fact as we were sitting at the gate ready to depart on the last leg of our return flight, a young women in the row in front of us nearly had a panic attack when the captain explained in technical detail that our "APU (auxillary power unit) was overheating" and so he needed to shut down our electricity and airflow for some time. He also explained that the extreme hot weather in Denver, CO, caused lots of problems for airplanes so we would have to do some unusual things to actually get off the ground and conserve energy. Though he kept giving detailed updates, he consistantly failed to state the fact that this problem did not affect our ability to fly nor did it compromise our plane's safety. The woman in front of us kept asking questions about what the captain meant until the steward suggested that she leave the plane. In the end, she talked to the captain herself and seemed ok after that.

What nearly cost the woman her flight was the fact that the captain was irritated by the lack of personnel on the ground to get the plane ready. He wanted the passangers to know that United is not doing a good job in service and in paying/providing benefits to its employees. A person next to me mentioned that another captain on another plane, after waiting on the tarmac with a full plane for so long, announced that his shift was over and that they would be returning to the gate until another pilot could be found. He was not going to work overtime if he wasn't going to get paid for it.

While I sympathize with the United Airlines employees, I found it interesting how they were so open about their problems. In many respects, the USA is known for it's emphasis on personal rights, human rights and employee rights. We uphold fair practices and expect that people will not blame someone for demanding their rights. So I suppose it is not surprising, then, that they aired their dirty laundry, perhaps to vindicate themselves and invite pity for the injustices which they felt they suffered.

But in a twisted way it ends up benefiting the company. While I am sure a number of people will speak up about problems they encountered on the flight, I think a lot of people felt bad for the crew. I didn't hear any complaints on the flight about service. We all just made the best of the tight quarters, few bathrooms (even when having to change a messing diaper!) and limited ammenities. What I find ironic is that in the end, our pity and compliance ends up helping United Airlines save money!