Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Baptism Remembered

 I have remembered my baptism when gentle mist dampens me as I walk in the morning. Instead of church music, I hear the sounds of bugs singing in chorus. I’ve remembered by baptism at the Academy for Spiritual Formation by dipping my fingers in a bowl of water before entering the worship space. The “music” greeting me is the smell of fresh baked bread as I prepare to share the Lord's Supper within a community sharing life together. There are even days when I remember my baptism while taking a shower and a routine daily activity becomes an offering of praise to God.

In Guatemala I remembered my baptism by having a bowl of water from the new well poured on my head. The praise that greeted me was the laughter of children as they played in the fresh clean water. A muddy sugarcane field was transformed into a glorious sanctuary, rivaling the most magnificent cathedral! Worship didn’t look like it does at Mulberry on a typical Sunday morning, but as we laughed, splashed each other with water, and drank from the pipe that poured fresh water into the sugarcane, the muddy field became sacred space. We were standing on holy ground, our laughter an offering of praise to God, who was literally making blessings flow. I thought of a verse from Psalm 107: God can turn the desert into watery pools, thirsty ground into watery springs.”

Elizabeth Canham, author of Heart Whispers, notes that much of our education encourages us to move from contemplative wonder into the world of rational thought, which causes us to lose touch with the child within us “who wants to observe, play, and live fully into the marvelous world of God’s making.” When we are able to recognize the child within us, we can also recognize the “robust playfulness of God (who made Leviathan ‘for the sport of it’ (Psalm 104:27).”

On Friday, in that sugarcane field, God was at play, celebrating with the children of Monte Cristo and our mission team. In remembering my baptism that day, I was able to remember and celebrate the child within me, unburdened by rational thought, propriety or any need to “act my age.” I don’t really care if heaven contains streets of gold and mansions. I hope heaven is a lot more like a muddy sugarcane field in Guatemala, where God, children and adults splash and play and laugh “for the sport of it.”

Monday, September 29, 2014

Reflection on Philippians 2:1-13

Here is the reflection I wrote for the Mulberry Methodist newsletter to accompany our sermon series on Philippians.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hope That Doesn't Disappoint

Momentum can be deceiving. When life appears to be clicking along smoothly, one can get lulled into thinking that expectations will continue to be met.

But life really isn’t predictable, even when all indicators point in a certain direction. Palm Sunday turns into Good Friday. Good Friday becomes Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday is jolted into Easter Sunday. Highs become lows, and lows can unexpectedly become highs. The best way to handle life’s wild or even not-so-wild swings is simply to find God’s presence in every moment, low or high, and be grateful.

Our water well project in Guatemala seemed to be going according to plan on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday morning it appeared that we would dedicate the well the following day. Our translator, Blanca, and I went to the school on Wednesday morning to teach what we thought would be the final hygiene lessons. We told the principal that the dedication was planned for 10:00 a.m. the following day and she said the whole school would attend in their school uniforms. It promised to be a great day of celebration for the community of Monte Cristo!

But when we arrived back at the drill site following the dismissal of school at mid-day, we were greeted, not by anticipation and excitement, but by worried expressions and long faces. There was no water. The well that had seemed oh-so-close to completion was not producing water. It was a difficult afternoon and the ride back to Antigua in the van was the quietest hour and a half of the entire trip. We did not know what the outcome of our week would be. While we knew the community would get a well, we did not know when that would happen. I grieved for the families, for the children who would show up in their uniforms on Thursday, for Estella, at whose home the well was sited, and for the folks on our team who had put so much effort into drilling the well.

That night, I woke up during the night and was thinking about the turn of events. A phrase from scripture popped into my head: hope does not disappoint. I held onto that phrase, a gift and a promise from God.

In a marathon day on Thursday, a new well was begun. Word had travelled through the community and when we arrived at the school, the children were not in their uniforms (which was a relief to me). We taught more lessons, primarily about how to have a healthy community. I could not help but think that one way a community is healthy is by bearing one another’s burdens. In our shared disappointment about the first well, the village sustained each other and us.

On Friday morning, when fresh, clean water poured out of the new well, it was glorious! I think we were even more excited because of the disappointment we had felt two days prior. Hope did not disappoint us!

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.(Romans 5:3-5)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reflections on Philippians

I am writing a series of reflections on Philippians over the next four weeks, to accompany both the Sunday lectionary texts and Mulberry's sermon series. Here is the link to the first of these.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Small Service

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin. . .
                                                                                                                Zechariah 4:10a

Drilling a water well for a village with no source of clean water is a pretty big deal. The residents of Monte Cristo, Guatemala, where our mission team from Mulberry Street UMC recently traveled, had been using their already meager resources to purchase safe drinking water. They knew their wells were not good. Bringing fresh, clean water was no small deal to them.

But the well was not the only work of the mission team. My role on the team was to assist our translator in teaching health and hygiene lessons to the women and children of Monte Cristo, so that once the well was complete, they would use good practices to be sure the clean water stays clean until they drink it. With such work, we do not see the outcome of our labor. What we do is make a small beginning, trusting that the lessons fall into good soil, take root and grow and that the children of Monte Cristo will thrive as they mature.

Some of what we teach goes beyond use of clean water. One point we emphasized was what they could do to enhance the livability of their community. Things we take for granted, like trash pickup, are unavailable in the rural communities of many countries. Our translator had reminded us that we were to be examples of good practices for the community, and one way that could happen was by picking up trash from the ground and putting it into trash bags.

One day, as we were doing crafts with the women of Monte Cristo, I was picking up paper scraps, sticker backs and other assorted “craft debris” that had fallen to the ground. As I stooped over and picked up the small clutter, I recalled Brother Lawrence, who said he “would not take up a straw from the ground against [God’s] order, or from any other motive than purely that of love to Him.” As I picked up trash, I offered the work to God, my small sacrifice of love and thanksgiving. The dirt yard of Ana’s house became God’s dwelling for me in that moment. I was a joy to be able to serve Christ in a seemingly insignificant way!

So now that I am home, the challenge for me is to continue to serve in small ways, not because anyone notices, but because when I pick up even a straw from the ground, it can be an act of love for God.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mission as Pilgrimage

I recently returned from Guatemala, where I traveled with a team primarily from my church, Mulberry Street UMC, to drill a water well and teach health and hygiene through Living Water International. While we traveled with a specific purpose and work to do, the trip wasn’t just about accomplishing a task. Instead, it was about coming alongside a community, working together, and sharing relationships. It was more than a mission trip for me; it was also a pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place. A pilgrim differs from a tourist because while a tourist goes to see a place, a pilgrim travels to be in a place. A good analogy is in the ways we can read scripture. We may read it for information, as words on a page that tell us who, what, when, where and how. Scripture or other sacred reading approached in this fashion “arms” us with knowledge, which may or may not be used to help us grow in faith. Scripture read using the ancient practice of Lectio Divina is read for formation. We don’t act on the text. Instead the Holy Spirit uses the text to change us, break down our preconceived notions and to make us different as a result of encountering the text.

If a mission trip were all about productivity, it would not be a pilgrimage. Such a trip would provide ammunition to those who argue that it would be more efficient simply to send the resources to the place of need and not to invest ourselves in the process.

For a mission trip to be pilgrimage, we make a journey to a sacred place. In my experience, the sacred place is both within and outside me. Being part of the team, being in the village of Monte Cristo in Masagua, Guatemala, I realized by week’s end that I had made an inward journey, experiencing love and community as part of both groups. I sensed my belovedness acutely in this past week. I belonged, part of the body of Christ both on the team and in the community.

But it was not only the inward journey I experienced as pilgrimage in Guatemala. As we ate lunch prepared by the village, as we visited homes and shared work, disappointment, smiles, laughter, fun and prayer, I knew I was in a sacred place, a place where a week of shared life united us of different cultures and languages. Is not this a glimpse into the Kingdom of Heaven?

Pilgrimage is about transformation. Returning from Guatemala, I am experiencing an unfolding transformation, a new way of seeing and being. While I went to be part of an external mission, I now know that an internal mission occurred simultaneously with the outward work of the week.

In that sense, pilgrimage should be constantly occurring in the lives of us who follow Christ. The journey is ongoing, always wooing and pulling us toward the One Who loves us. May we follow the tug toward Christ wherever we are.