Tag Archives: What Are You Afraid Of

Guest Post: Breaking Normal

10309652_10101980061293181_2687677473573907955_nThis blog is committed to getting a “fresh perspective,” so I asked my friend to write about his recent experience in the Middle East.  Sean is a good friend, teacher, lover of coffee, thinker, husband to Jenn, and a recent camel enthusiast.

I should be writing this guest blog post with a very bad attitude right now. It would be forgiven. It would be normal and expected, under the circumstances. Because those circumstances are so annoying.

You see, I was on my way to a coffee shop this morning to get some work done, but mostly to play chess on my iPhone, when my rear wheel began thumping and shaking and all sorts of other -ings that one is afraid of when one has no mechanical expertise whatsoever. So, annoyed, I called AAA, and annoyed, I gave the service rep my information, and annoyed, I pulled out my phone to kill the 15 annoying minutes it took for the tow-truck driver to show up.

After the annoying three minute drive to the repair shop I had to wait another 10 annoying minutes in line before ordering up two new tires (I ordered an extra back tire to pre-empt any possible annoyance come wintertime).

Now I’m writing this post from an air-conditioned coffee shop while I wait for my chicken sandwich and still feel…privileged. Convenience is my normal.

One month ago I was driving along a highway through the desert in the Middle East, and I wondered what would happen if I popped a tire or if the engine overheated. With only pavement and sand on my horizon, without exits or rest stops for miles upon miles, I became nervous. Then I wondered what the normal response for an annoying situation in the desert was.

Then I wondered if there is even such a thing as annoying, or inconvenient, or mildly frustrating in the Middle East desert. Because after 11 days between two countries, the collective psyche I picked up from the people fluctuated between that of welcoming, hospitable, friendly, and aggressive, crisis, “get it done.”

It seemed like the world was only made to play in, until talk shifted to a local refugee crisis.

It seemed like all people knew how to do was talk and laugh and loiter, until you heard what life was like as a marginalized, displaced person.

It seemed like everyone was so proud that there home was the birthplace of so much ancient history, until you find out that so many people are not allowed to return to their actual homes.

So why would there be categories for trivial issues that can so readily alter the mood of an average Western person, when they so pale in comparison to the depths of love and longing that are experienced on a daily basis?

Maybe these categories do exist where I visited, and I was simply culturally blind to them while adjusting to normal: military officers walking the beat; women wearing layers of covering over their bodies, yet not failing to wholeheartedly express themselves through laughter and smiles and all the emotions communicated through the eyes; witnessing police checkpoints and interrogations from a distance while getting the privileged, trusted American treatment.

I was shocked at how quickly strange became normal. The only true difference is that I had to become aware and make adjustments in the Middle East. By the third or fourth sighting, I hardly noticed the military presence. By the third or fourth conversation, fully-covered women posed no ideological difficulty for me.

(Funny what an encounter with humanity will do to ideology, isn’t it?)

Back here, I don’t need to adjust to a flat tire —> tow-truck —> repair shop —> air-conditioned coffee shop on a laptop experience, all within two and a half hours, because over here it’s just annoying. It’s a lack of convenience turned into the very definition of convenience, with barely an appreciation for it.

So I’m trying to train my mind to relive the trek across the desert, the interactions with expressive eyes, the historic conflicts that are occurring on historic land. Because at this point it does not much matter what constitutes normal. It’s the blinding familiarity with it that can keep us from a full life.

Most good stories don’t contain much normal; we crave fantasy, suspense, adventure. Even so, our favorite stories can become dangerously familiar and routine. As can our daily experienced stories.

And that’s why we ask for a Second Story — to break us out of our normal.

So read on.

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With

With.  A word that turns something into a connection:

She’s with me.  They’re with the family.  He’s with the band. 

In Mark 14, Jesus is at a table, and a woman comes up behind him, breaks a jar of perfume, and covers him with a scent. Imagine breathing in that rich smell; this perfume was not an everyday-use variety.  It’s price went deeper than an annual income.

It would have been heavy in that room, saturating the senses of everyone at the table.  The gift was overwhelming.

And the attention was riveted on this woman.  “Why the waste?” I can imagine them slowly shaking their heads, frowns growing deeper.  “Many poor people could have been helped with the money she squandered.”

At the retreat I attended two weeks ago, we were asked to put ourselves into this story. I could hear the irreparable cracking open of the alabaster jar.  When it was broken, there was no rationing that could be done; no socially harmless, secreted gift.  Just lavishness.

The ones accusing her of doing more harm than good spoke with voices familiar to me (I ask similar questions, particularly of my own life).  And the consolation baffled me as it may have confused them.  “You can help the poor anytime.  They’re always with you.  She did what she could.”

I sat in a coffee shop a few days ago, phone in hand, checking a facebook account for news on an event happening in my NY home congregation.  They were seeking His presence, listening to good teachers, and celebrating it through posting videos and quotes.  I had come to the coffeeshop for my own time with God, but my heart was focusing on not being with them.  Homesickness ebbs and flows oddly enough.

A song reminded me of the one thing that motivated me to arrive there: His presence.  The same thing that motivated my friends to gather at a downtown brick structure in NY, had me sitting in a coffee shop in the Middle East, with strangers’ not-so-subtle glances and a mediocre drink and a reason to sit and to wait.  Impractical in the eyes of outsiders, invaluable to the one whose presence I am seeking.

And somehow alongside the bitter dish of being without, I am tasting the sweet wine of with.  Not a pairing I would have chosen.  God with us– in the longing, and the fulfillment.  In the community, and the quiet.

It’s that with that I bring with me, to the homes of local friends, to the community center with my Arab mommas, to the university classroom, to the basement space that is my home here.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Afraid of…?

Today someone asked again.  “What are you afraid of most?”

Perhaps I should put the answer on this blog’s “Questions and Responses” tab, as it frequently comes up.  But I always pause– not because I’m not feeling anything, but because I am not sure “fear” is the word to describe it.

Yesterday a young woman said to me, “Don’t be afraid.”  She is from China, and was the only believer in Jesus in her family.  After a long season of prayer, some quietly courageous acts on her part, and God’s work in their hearts, her mother and sister chose to follow… and eventually her father as well.  My friend knew I am heading overseas in a few weeks, and after telling the story of her family, she told me to be courageous.  To go and to not hold back.

I think I’m “grieving” more than fearful.  I have wonderful friends and family, people close to my heart, with whom I enjoy walking through life here.  What I fear is that I’ll say the goodbyes, go to the Middle East, but it won’t make an impact on people there.  Would I be content going even if I don’t see change/transformation right away, or even for awhile?

I will take my friend from China’s advice.  I will not hold back, I will go, and I will leave results in the hands of the one who made me and my friends-to-be in the Middle East.  He is the one who transforms, and He is the one who calms fears.  Thankfully, He is also present in the sorrow.  But that’s a second story.