Curtains

A curtain keeps the neighbors out
And keeps my sleeping darkness in
Or rather keeps the morning out
And keeps me, lonely, in
A curtain kept the west at bay
And comrades in in East Berlin
A curtain held the people back
And kept the ark from sin
But one man hated curtains
And said, “Let all men tear
My flesh,” when he was lifted up
The curtains fell, with him they tore

Mumbai and Money

Americans often come back from the Majority World saying, “that gave me good perspective.” However I think this “perspective” could actually be two different things, one of which–the more common of which–is subtly quite selfish, the other of which is an important “perspective” for rich Christians to somehow gain.

When I went to Tijuana with my youth group in 9th grade, I saw poverty for the first time. We built houses outside the city, and the half-clothed children startled me. I felt pity, and the situation really was pitiful. I felt noble, and I do believe our service was respectable.

However, many of us came back with “a new perspective” that sounds Christian but has very little in common with the self-giving love of Christ. We said again and again, “When I saw how little they had, I realized that I have so much, and I should be thankful.” Parents love to hear this last part from their children’s lips, and they should. Gratitude is good. If we arrive in Mexico ungrateful and depart grateful, that is a good development. However, as Christians who will stand before God, it’s insufficient.

It’s insufficient because we only saying, “I’m thankful that I’m not in their situation,” but what about them? Do we now care that they might be rescued from this situation? When we encounter destitute poverty, there’s something very selfish about walking away primarily with gladness (about my life) and not grief (for theirs).

To do so is like saying, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled (and thanks for the new perspective).”

However, on this trip, I’ve gained another type of “new perspective” from being with those who have less than me. It didn’t come from my time with the poor. It came from my time with the Indian middle class. I was invited to spend the night with a local pastor and his family, a totally new experience for me, and it taught me something about my own life.

Compared to my life, they do have less. The shower was cold. The mattresses were hard. The junior high-aged kids sleep on the (tile) living room floor. Three generations, 6 people, live in a place about the size of our 650 sq. ft. apartment. Yet, this isn’t poverty. There isn’t something wrong here, something to be fixed. This is a family who has chosen less than they could have in order to devote their lives in ministry, but this “less” isn’t a problem. They’re content, and well provided for.

In the past, others’ sadness challenged me to be happy. On this trip, my brother’s happiness is challenging me to be happy. This trip is reminding me that I have enough, not by showing me that others don’t (and somehow derive self-centered satisfaction from that) but by showing me that others do. Others with less than me have enough. That gives me a new perspective: Less than I have would be enough.

However, this does come back to those in dire poverty. It brings us back to that first new perspective, because the first paradigm shift said “now that I see those people don’t have enough, I realize I have enough,” but the second says, “now that I see these people do have enough, I realize I have more than enough.” If we let it, this new perspective can free us to actually do something about those who actually need our help.

The lesson for me is: I need help. I don’t need financial help from my brother with less, but I do need perspective help, wisdom help. With his help, perhaps I can be a better help to my sister who needs to be rescued.

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothes and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warned and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17).

Mumbai and Feeling Inadequate

The sounds of Mumbai blare through the window, and they’re different than the sounds of wintry Massachusetts: car horns, a broom on concrete, motorcycles, and crows.

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Having been here for almost 24 hours, I’m already very thankful for so much: Our gracious hosts have lavished us with their time and taught me a great deal about India as we’ve driven and walked through this part of town. Our guest house is actually a convent, and the sisters are very kind. The food is delicious; I can’t quite figure out if Pastor Shirish is taking it easy on us or if lots of Indian food is similar to the Indian food I’ve had in the States, but either way we’ve eaten two delightful meals with a few delightful people, and that is my favorite symbol of God’s everyday grace to us. Even when we go somewhere “to serve,” we still need to eat, and we so often get to enjoy it.

However, internally, being here has been hard. I feel very inadequate for this ministry: Will my contribution really be worth the pastors’ time, our money, others’ money, and missing a week of class? I doubt I’m the only one who feels this way on “mission trips.” I said that at least half of our goal in coming here would be to learn, but honestly learning, in the moment, can feel so…selfish.

I’ve been praying about it this morning and I don’t think there’s any peace in trying to make my contribution “worth it.” In fact, it may not be “worth it” in the end, and though I will do my best, worrying about it won’t make it so or make it better. This idea of being “worth it” might be one of the habits we Westerners need to kick if we want to move from patronizing to true partnership with our brothers and sisters in the Global South. Practically, if I am trying to be “worth it,” every kindness from my Indian brothers will be received with greater anxiety, not joy, and that’s just rude. Theologically, keeping track of whether I’m “worth it” is contrary to the gospel, since I never will be nor was to be worth Jesus’ loving sacrifice for me.

So, I’m committing to let go of “worth it.” I would love for you to pray this for me and to join me in this commitment for you own life, where you are. I think that God’s word encourages this shift in focus from ourselves to our God and spiritual family, as expressed in these two verses I’ll be clinging to today:

“With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted, it is the Lord who judges me” (1 Corinthians 4:3-4).

“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our hearts before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 John 3:19-23).

I can focus on those two today: believing that the risen Christ is here among us and loving like him. I’m going to devote my energy to continuing in those two things rather than trying to be (or even judging) whether I’m “worth it.”