Monthly Archives: April 2014

Testing Our Courage

Exam grading at the University:

My friend has a tall hair, and a green eye. 

Talking with my students about why this sentence is incorrect led me to a deeper understanding of how difficult English can be.  Last week, we went over the most frequent wrong answers, to this and other questions on their midterm.

The students want so badly to be perfect. I try to affirm them for taking risks with the language, for trying different things when still unsure of their use of words.  (Like the student who, when asked about her interests during the spoken exam, grinned and said, “I love evil.”  I broke in at that point: “Excuse me– could you repeat that?”  She replied, still grinning: “Oh yes.  I love eevviil. Eeevviiil Tower– Paris– right?”)

But my students are still gripped more by what they missed than by what they accomplished.

As is our practice each time we meet, we reviewed quotations.  The students have learned a new quote every week, and have practiced explaining the thought behind each of them, quotes like:

  • Experience is a hard teacher, because she gives the test first and the lesson afterward. –Vernon Law
  • It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving. –Mother Teresa
  • Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. — Helen Keller

Last week I found out, minutes before my class was to begin, that there would be a university-wide seminar on “violence against women.”  I reminded my students that some of our conversations about speaking up– or our quotes– might relate.  We went to the auditorium together.

Injustice and inequality were portrayed in the stories of four women, in a well-made film by Half the Sky; the power of educational opportunities for women was emphasized.  When mediator opened the floor for comments, a young man stood.  His words prompted the student on my right to murmur disagreement, shaking her head.

“What did he say?” I asked.  Among other things, she translated, he said that women could avoid being hurt by simply staying at home.

Fire in my stomach.  The mediator responded; another student, one on my left, reached for the microphone.  She trembled, but barely.  “If a man and a woman make the same mistake,” she said, “the woman is treated differently.  This is not fair.  I have had this happen to me.”

By the end of the discussion, the young man had gently backpedaled on his statement.  Several female students had told their experiences, perspectives, and passion for change to be made.  They had not waited to make their every word perfect.  They had no knowledge of how he would respond.  But they spoke anyway– and the world spins a little more justly today, because of their words.

May we have their courage in the small things, not just the seemingly big moments.  And may our tastes of justice create hunger to know the One who made us, to live in shalom with with Him, the self, the creation, and each other.

 

 

 

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Wildflowers Live Here Too

I was riding on the back of a motorcycle in Asia when I glimpsed it.  The “motorcycle taxi driver” had taken the long way home. Tired, I wished I had remembered to tell him about the shortcut back to my host family’s place.  I was staying with them for a month while researching their city, and it had been tough– beyond anything I had experienced in the previous year of living in the country.  But we were too far in to take a shortcut.

This route brought us to a different horizon, on the city’s edge.  Instead of smothering smog and sun-concealing concrete, I saw low houses and fields lit up by a glorious orange sky, that was fading to pink, then to dusky blues.  My breath was caught.  Now I wanted the ride to be as long as it could be.

A talented friend, Shawna Handke, gave me a piece of her artwork while I was still in New York (you can see more here at her website).  Wildflowers Live Here Too, she calls it.  I love the movement, the color of the flowers–IMG_1082 and the stark beauty of the solid buildings.

The stories this week include some large piles of concrete, hard edged, pretending they possess power to delete the sun from the sky and keep the ground without life.  I will tell you only one: from a woman who eagerly helped our group pack first-aid boxes to give to refugees.  She is also here in flight of that war.

She showed pictures of her two kids, her mother, her sister, all smiling.  Then she showed a picture of dust and rubble.  “That is all that is left of our home,” she told me.  The difficulties of displaced people go far beyond material provision– loneliness, lack of family network, loss, insecurity… Although now she has become part of community exercise, she said she would go for weeks with no one to talk to, when she first arrived here.

The Wildflowers picture looked bare on my wall, and I found no frame.  So one night, inspired by Brene Brown’s challenge in Daring Greatly that gratitude is a PRACTICE, I grabbed a post-it note, jotted one thing to be grateful for that day, and stuck it on the edge of the picture.  Same thing the next day.  Two days after that.  The frame is a work in progress– sunset-colored notes reflecting the flowers that, in Shawna’s art, tower over black-and-white buildings, and somehow seem far more permanent.

  • My friend’s 6-year-old daughter smiling and greeting me as “Khalto,” the Arabic word for “auntie.”
  • A quiet place outside to sit with my music, journal.
  • A trio of messages from dear friends, coming when I needed them.

A fistful of wildflowers.

And perhaps, I can be a friend– a wildflower to my new acquaintance– as she, with her dedication to helping other displaced people in this town, is a wildflower in my eyes.

 

Sleeping Jesus

IMG_1016 Someone starts a new venture, with clear confirmation that this is what they should do.  Things move forward, and as they do, God seems silent.  But no concern arises; the person is confident that they know what to do.  They have knowledge, expertise, the right equipment, and even clarity.

Then things get hard.

A storm renders the usual equipment useless, and their expertise doesn’t fit the new situation.  They look to God, who seems silent but present.  “Why isn’t He moving?” they ask themselves.  At last they throw Him their question: “Don’t you care that we, we who are carrying out Your commands, are going to drown?”

It was Jesus’ idea to cross the lake.  His friends, many of them fishermen, didn’t worry– they had the knowledge, expertise, and equipment, and then they had Jesus telling them to do it.  So they loaded the boat. 

While Jesus was sleeping…

The storm came.  He didn’t rise.  They knew He could help them.  He woke up responding to their shaking, their begging– or accusing– question, “Don’t you care if we drown?” 

A sunset a few days ago that I accidentally spied, in between dinner at a friend’s house and an evening language class, became a “best” moment in my week.  Walking past an empty lot of desert rock and sand, my eyes were drawn to the sunlight streaming out behind a few clouds, not yet hidden by the mountains that form the town’s western border.

It was a five minute walk.  The wind was the sole sound.  My camera just served as a reminder that some things can only be captured by memory.

Rob Reimer is a wise mentor, who points out how we often ask God, “Do you love me?”  God proved that through the cross, and instead asks us, “Do you trust Me?”  Moments of sunset colors remind me of the beauty and love of God.  He doesn’t say anything.  He just reminds me of His presence.

I hold memories like that for the moments when the storms come.  The presence of Christ is real in moments of silence, whether accompanied by sunset colors or storming waves.  Can I trust a sleeping Jesus?

–Heard for the first time today, and perfect for today’s thoughts:  You Make Me Brave, from Bethel Music

 

Wholistic Community– A Story of Beginnings

What significant conversations would you have, if you knew you only had a few talks left with someone?  

Seven years ago, in Southeast Asia, I visited a remote farming village with an amazing husband/wife development pair.  Spent the last 15 minutes trying to remember their names, but with limited success.

I will always remember what they taught me.

Before we went to the village, they sat me down on a weathered gray couch, and spent hours talking through:

  • the origins of humanity (delving into Hebrew translation the first three chapters of Genesis)
  • the theology behind “wholistic” community development (from the first three chapters of Walking with the Poor, by World Vision‘s insightful thinker, Bryant Myers).

These together had shaped their work with rural farming families.  The idea is that we were created to walk in shalom— more than peace: wholeness and restoration– with God, other human beings, ourselves, and the rest of creation.  We fell; and evil separated our ability to connect healthily with God, others, ourselves, creation.

Ah, but the second story… God did something to restore those broken relationships.  And as our relationship with Him is being restored through the Son, we also experience healing with regard to others, ourselves, and the rest of creation.

So on the farm, families talked about being made in the image of God (a concept shared by Christians/Muslims), and how this would impact their interactions.  My hostess tirelessly modeled caring for one another, walking from plot to plot to pick bugs off plants and swap stories with women, in a local language.   The families refused to use the prolific chemicals that made land temporarily productive but barren after only a few years.  In that way, they found an untapped market for “organic produce” nearby.  Starting with an understanding of who they are in relationship to God, change was happening in their relationships with their community, the rest of creation, and themselves.

Friends and I here asked each other the question, If you only had a few conversations left with someone, what would you want them to know?  We were full of ideas.  For me, it always comes back to the conversation on the worn couch: people made in the image of God, in perfect relationships, broken.  Unable to find restoration again, without Jesus’ reconciling presence.  A second story.

A couple of days ago, a few university students and I talked about the beauty of confidence.  Their faces, framed by scarves, shone with delight as they realized that significance is not about appearance or performance. It does have something to do with knowing who you are, and aren’t…and I realized that I am on that journey with them.

I’ve been restored to God, and am being restored to Him, others, myself, and creation. So when we talk about development of body, mind, and soul, I come as a sojourner, a co-learner.

And A & T– I did remember your names in the end– if you see this, deep thanks.