Friday, October 9, 2015

The Play of its Pulse | Pirates, Coffee, God-Walking

“The sail, the play of its pulse so like our own lives: so thin and yet so full of life, so noiseless when it labors hardest, so noisy and impatient when least effective.”
-Henry David Thoreau

The rope in my hands gave me a sort of empowerment that thrilled and frightened. The power of the wind was nearly overwhelming as I braced my bare feet against the wooden deck, holding my entire body tight against the pull. There is an indescribable balance that can only be felt as you hold the two ropes that guide the sail. You aren't in power as much as you are feeling for the unseen power of the wind.

Life in Guatemala this past week has been a tense hold of those two ropes. How can we maintain our daily mission while thousands are buried underneath a recent mudslide, texting desperately to those above who are helpless to release them? A nation watches while phone batteries die, and the hopes are banished of those hands that hold them.

I am subject to the wind. 

The sky grew dark outside of the coffee shop as cool rain clouds gathered. I was reminded of something at the back of my mind that seemed just out of reach. 

Times like this feel too overwhelming. How can I abide here? I sat in a coffee shop with twenty some other folks that carry the name that rests on my shoulders, of "missionary." We were commissioning the grand opening of a ministry that reaches out to countless families in multiple parts of the country, revitalizing coffee and providing employment to countless families both in the country and in the city. And still... here we all sit, drinking lattes and expresso as children die underneath the rubble. What a hypocrite I must be as I fiddle while Rome burns.

I banish the thought as I chose to close my eyes and remember laying on the deck of that catamaran as the wind rippled the sail underneath lazy clouds. I breath deep and consider that we each have a specific purpose. Created for this time, placed among these people. I must not shut my eyes to the reality of the world, and yet I cannot allow that reality to devastate my effectiveness where I stand.

We faced pirates on the water. Sort of. What is my life if I can't see it through child-eyes? Our small craft was docked in Livingston when 5 guys came in from the caribbean waters on jet skis. They swarmed us like angry bees and one of them collided into the side of our boat. We quickly examined the hand-crafted wooden side... and saw no damage.

The man on the jet ski shouted a casual apology as they all shot off to a nearby dock. I climbed underneath the hull and saw the inside of the wood had splintered inward from the force of impact. Within minutes we had the five men with us on the dock in an uncomfortable conversation. We were outnumbered and their behavior felt like hidden aggression.

The two soldiers that were guarding the port nodded to each other and walked away. Our small group now found ourselves alone with the men as conversation heated. The lead man stepped in to say, "Look, we're just here to have fun. Don't ruin my day."

They refused to exchange information and laughed at our suggestion to file a report with officials. They asked us, "what do you want, a million dollars?" They laughed and walked away. After a conference with some locals hanging around, we determined they were likely Columbians, in Livingston unofficially, without passport, conducting business. The situation was not in our favor, and we were likely dealing with some hardened guys. 

Our nature was to pursue them and to demand payment. And yet, our losses weren't great, the boat was still sea-worthy, and our mission wasn't at risk. An old country song came to mind, 

"You've got to know when to hold'em. 
Know when to fold'em. 
Know when to walk away, 
and know when to run. 
You never count your money 
when your sittin' at the table. 
They'll be time enough for counting, 
when the dealins' done."

It's simply not in our nature to run. We're not here because we're timid. But we're also wise. We have more to lose than we have to gain, and this is no time for chest-thumping. There is nothing to be gained in discovering what weighs down the packs around their waists.

We scrap our plans for a burger on the pier, untie the ropes, and make our way into the open water of the Caribbean. We're delayed by the incident and we're aware that we're in a race with the setting sun. Our craft has no lights.

My memory fades out as my consciousness is again in the coffee shop. My life is this odd collision of contexts. How is it that I can feel more uncomfortable surrounded by friends with a warm beverage in my hands than on the run from Columbians as the sun falls and a storm approaches? I realize that I fear the state of my own soul far more than threat of physical death. Somehow that self-awareness comforts me. 

I think back to sitting on the deck of that boat. This time the waves crash over the front and soak me in salt. Darkness threatens and our destination is no-where to be seen. We've passed the last three points we believed to be our safe harbor... and each of them failed us. The information we'd been given was that we'd see a lighthouse.

We began to seek out a place on the shore with large trees that we can tie down to for the night. It looks like we have no other option than to hunker down and ride out the storm in the hull of the catamaran. We review our provisions, we have plenty of water, apples, oranges, granola bars, and beef jerky. Should the craft break apart, we have plenty of floatable objects, and the shoreline. Not knowing what to do, I pulled from my pack a photocopied page from my online studies of the theology school and began to study.

The sky is nearly black now as the store rapidly races towards our forward approach. There has been no sign of a lighthouse. As we head towards the shore for a desperate attempt to tie down, we spot what may be the mission we're searching to find. We decide to head towards it. We've made our choice. We're going to tie down there, on the distant dock, whether it's our destination or not. 

The winds increase and the waves lift us violently up and down. We reach the dock. It is the mission we seek. 

Our attempt to secure the boat is met with the storm. Rain begins to fall as we battle the wind, the waves, and the boat that could easily be destroyed against the pier. I watch my friend fall on the deck and strike his head against the anchor. I leap from the dock, across the waves, onto the boat to check on him while our captain is pulled by the rope connected to the boat, and clings to the wooden post of the pier like a fireman clinging to a pole. 

We regroup. Mission staff come to help us. We secure the boat. We are bruised and sore, but we have no serious injury. As we walk up the path to the mission above, the Caribbean storm opens up with a full force vengeance. The dark sky is now a void that punishes us with wind and unrelenting water. We all think how bad it would have been had we tried to tie down on the shoreline. 

A medical team from the US happens to be at the mission. They invite us to share dinner with them. We sit down to the table and as I eat the food from my plate, an image appears on the plastic. 

It is a lighthouse.

I think of the play of the pulse in my life. We were on open, dark waters, the light fading, the storm approaching, searching for a lighthouse. As has happened so often in my life, I have been given exactly what I need, but not as I expected. 

The mist of the rain takes me back through the steam of my cappuccino. I take a deep breath on the wooden bench of the coffee house as my mind returns to the business of drinking the double-shot of spiced Guatemalan goodness.

My path has led me through many places these past few weeks, on the seats of a van, the bench of a bus, the deck of a boat. I've seen beauty and I've touched calamity. The pulse of God is a rhythm flowing through it all. The balance of the ropes of peace and desperation pull against my hands as my feet are anchored in the knowledge of the one who created it all. 

In this moment I realize that I have only one response. It's one that has been echoed though the centuries by so many of those the least likely to serve the God of everything. I smile as I realize that so many of them were really the worst qualified, but they were used by Him because of their response.

The only response I know. "Here am I LORD. Send me."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Blasphemy, Treason, and the Son of God | The Book of Mark

I must confess that Mark has taken on new and exciting meaning in my mind. Seeing it as the telling of Peter through Mark is a fascinating contemplation. This is made even more so with the understanding of the period of the Jewish Revolt against Rome and the coming destruction of the Temple. I am reminded of Dicken's writing in A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." 

Certainly the message of Mark resonates with me strongly today, like it has resonated with readers of all times, since we can identify these characteristics of things to come, and things that are ending... a departure of the past, and a fear of the future... of a need for a messiah.

Surely however, I digress from the assignment at hand. The multiple understandings of the phrase, "Son of God" add great depth to this discussion.  As I come to understand the phrase was used commonly with the proper names of Gods, such as Alexander's title of "Son of Ammon" or "Son of Zeus", I begin to see the significance of this title being used of and by Jesus. Certainly it provided a context of thought that could be grasped by the citizenry, but it also was alarming and threatening to a government whose highest official already bore that title. This lead to the charge of his crucifixion, treason.

Likewise, the blasphemy charge of the Sanhedrin, that Jesus would have the audacity to refer to himself as God. How interesting it was to learn that the religious leaders didn't have trouble with the reference to Son of God since it could refer to those who had intercessory roles to God such as prophets, prayers, circle makers, deliverers, messiah, and the Caesar. The line of blasphemy was crossed when Jesus said he was the great I AM, and that he would judge them all.

And so, the context here is the problem of the claims of Jesus. He was seen by the Jews as a blasphemer and so they handed him to Pilate who saw him as one who committed treason. The way of Jesus could be nothing then but the cross. The followers of Jesus then are simply those who take on his perceived roles of blasphemer and traitor. Of course then, our destiny should not be expected to be any different than his own. 

We are called to suffer and to be persecuted. And yet, the Gospel of Jesus as spoken by Peter and recorded by Mark doesn't leave us there. The first will be last and the last will be first. The persecuted will rise again. Our suffering, while sure, will not last forever. 

This was a response to a question: "What do you now know about the Gospel of Mark in its context? How does 'Son of God' resound in a 1st century Roman context?"