The Glass Darkly

Friday, August 31, 2007

What do we live for?

I keep pondering the concept of being called. I really struggle when people ask questions like, "what do you feel called to do?" or "describe your calling." Should my calling be much different than others? There have been times in my life when I guess that was true, but not always. And is there one particular thing I am called to do? I don't know that I've ever felt called to one thing. I just have served where there are needs.

Let me be clear, there have been times I have felt called to particular things for a time and I believe people when they say they feel called to certain roles or tasks. But I've been wondering how many times we try to piece together a particular "calling" because we feel pressured that it is the spiritual way to do things. There has to be times in life when God just wants us to enjoy being called as His child. He is our Father. Our life of worship and discipleship is a calling in and of itself for our lives are living testimonies to Christ and His Body. I am called to live in Christian community and can fulfill that calling by the power of the Holy Spirit.

A friend of my family who has been a pastor for many years recently wrote, "[over the years] my greatest mistake was living for the call of God instead of [living for] the God of the call."

Sounds a bit cliche-ish, but it spoke to my pondering mind anyway. Thank you, friend, for that word.

Monday, August 27, 2007

School Days are Here Again . . .

I know most people have started back to school already. My children start later this week. I can already feel the excitment building in me - change of pace again. I'm not even returning to the classroom myself but am excited for all who are. A new year has begun!!!

Here's a typical primary school building, built in the French style in Cambodia, where students are assembling for special classes during the "summer" months (actually the rainy season months). No big yellow school busses here, but the school buildings are often painted yellow. All students wear uniforms and go to school Monday through Saturday from 7 am to 11:30 am or 12:30 to 5 pm.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Church or Family First?

Thanks to Harvey Yoder this time for speaking to my pondering mind! Check out the Aug 21 issue of The Mennonite for his article. Of all the topics that keep regurgitating in me like a ruminant's cud since our return from overseas, this one has been most persistent. When we lived overseas, our life and work was in the Church and the Church was our life and our family. What made that kind of family most precious was not that we all got along all the time, and certainly not that we all came from the same backgrounds, but it was that we were committed to being a support to one another both in the physical and spiritual aspects of life. We were real and honest with one another and, in the areas that mattered the most, we held similar values.

Upon our return to North America, we struggled to know where to invest in relationships and time. Our main purpose was to re-connect with our earthly family (parents and siblings), but at the same time we felt a strong desire to stay connected to where we felt God was working. On top of the pressures of being "family" to our parents and siblings, we felt bombarded with advice on what we should be doing with our children, all the ways to "make memories" as a family, or what is necessary to enhance or secure our children's futures and that of our family. But my reaction to the "advice" was more of shock. Instead of feeling helped by that advice, I felt more and more alone. The "advice" I was getting was not settling in well with our values. I needed help, not so much with the work of raising a family, but help knowing how to live as a Christian family in this culture. What was more important than family to us then and now is living life and raising our children with other families who hold the values we believe lead us to live Christ-like examples and be His Body to the world.

In 1999, just as I was preparing to leave Cambodia for a family emergency in the US, I heard a sermon on God's call from the final verses of Luke 9 where Jesus reminds the disciples that our earthly families are secondary to God's call: "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." While I still took 2 weeks leave, those words weighed on my heart and mind! Family is important to us, but to us family is more than just us five and our relatives. Yoder writes, "In rearing our . . . children . . . I see few books and articles on marriage or family life even mentioning a larger context than that of the nuclear family unit . . . with the occasional visit by doting grandparents. The underlying notion is that parents do this by themselves . . . " After listing how we can, instead, make our church congregation our family, he writes, ". . . it takes a whole congregation to sustain a good marriage and to raise a whole and healthy family."

Upon our return in 2004, we chose to continue to make the Church an important part of our life. We made intentional decisions to stay close to the city and remain close to our home congregation. We chose to make our home congregation our family. We believed that God was calling us to continue our commitment to model unity and Christian community.

It is not always easy, especially in Lancaster County where most people in our congregation have relatives who live just around the corner. It is also not always easy to jump into a place of established friendships and support networks. Friendships take a lot of work, reciprocity and patience -- adjusting to the idiosyncrasies in one another. There is a forever-feeling period of vulnerability and it takes a lot of courage to overcome insecuries and feelings of failure or rejection. Just like there is no earthly family where everyone is exactly alike, we know that there is no church congregation where everyone will hold the exact same values and views. But choosing to be a family means commitment and intentionality.

I so much appreciated Yoder's clear message that family time should not always mean skipping a church service for a weekend get-away, but rather looking for times when our relaxation time or even vacation time can include our spiritual brothers, sisters, grandparents and cousins. The informal times together are just as nurturing to our children and own well-being as a Sunday School class or worship service.

I pray that Christ will continue to build His Church in unity and love. I want my children to grow up with a sense of security in life's storms that is modeled in a stable loving family. Our earthly family can give some of what they need, but what's great about God's family is that we can offer together a whole lot more -- I like to think of it as a bit of heaven on earth, by God's grace.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


This is great!!! I don't know how many people shop at Weis Markets, but these bags are wonderful. They are easier to use than the GIANT ones I've been using and are much cheaper (though I give GIANT lots of credit for having come up with the idea of selling re-usable cloth bags a long time ago). I guess I should have felt my nerve taking GIANT bags along when I shopped at Weis Markets, but I couldn't help but wonder when the idea of being environmentally friendly would catch-on. Now I have two cloth bags from each store. Check-out clerks are always surprised how much these bags can hold. I load all my heavy things in them and they have proven to be very strong. Tonight I fit $60 worth of groceries into two of them (I would have probably had at least 10 plastic bags had the clerk bagged my things as usual). Tonight I used only one plastic bag for my bread and eggs and I carried my gallon of milk and laundry detergent separately. That one plastic bag will serve as a trash bag for our small trash can in our bathroom this week and I don't need to store or throw away 9 other plastic grocery bags.

Looking for a creative way to care for Creation? This is a handy way to curb the amount of plastic we add to our landfills.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Freedom, but not Equality

I've spent months pondering a particular issue of power and oppression that has plagued not only our churches, but our society for centuries. In fact, most issues of power and oppression which we deal with today, have been around since humanity fell to sin and lost the perfect and intimate relationship with God which provided a model for relationships with one another. Interestingly, what I thought would end up being a "freeing" study, has, unfortunately revealed more clearly the sad reality that no matter how far we believe we have progressed as a developed, or modern, or democratic, or even Christian society, we still participate in and often unknowingly continue practices which perpetuate racism, sufferage or class prejudices.

I have heard testimonies and examples where people have felt the abuses of power or oppression. It is something most of us have a hard time comprehending and most people in my circles rarely encounter in a personal way. In fact I have heard individuals deny the fact that oppression still occurs, for we are a free nation and our Constitution ensures the freedom of all people to seek happiness and enjoy the rights guaranteed them.

But what the Constitution cannot guarantee is that we as humans will overcome our tendancy to desire superiority. We have resolved ourselves to the concept of freedom, but I doubt equality will ever truly be understood or practiced in our society. Oppression is something that occurs not only on a personal level, but is ingrained within systems and institutions. I can now understand more personally how feelings and practices of oppression persist. Actions as simple as discreet manipulation; ignoring or pretending not to see someone; saying things like, "I don't see color," or "women are equal to men;" contriving reasons to dismiss someone from a particular position, exclusive comraderie, are all ways humans have knowingly or unknowingly applied power to ensure that, though we say all people are free, we are not all equal. I have encountered the painful realities of some of these situations and have become much more sympathetic and attuned to various other forms of oppression.

People who say all people are free and equal in American society are either naive or choosing to perpetuate discrimination. The root of inequality is lack of mutual respect, thus, equality will forever be an issue of justice, one Christians should be on the forefront of naming and fighting. For love is the root of respect and Christ calls us to practice radical love for all people.