The Luxury of Division

First: Julie Rodgers (who apparently isn’t dead, despite the funerary tone of many articles) is a dear friend who has endured far more gross scrutiny with far more grace than most people would be capable of. Her urgent passion to serve those who have been marginalized by society has made the world a better place, and I am sure that wherever she decides to minister next she will witness to God’s love through deep friendships, hospitable spaces, and simple human kindness.[1]

Second: A few years ago I was visiting a small Palestinian town that had lost much of its surrounding land to illegal settlements and was facing restricted access to its ancestral olive groves. After a Catholic mass in the morning we all (local Catholics included) attended a lunch hosted by the evangelical church before being shown around the village by the Greek Orthodox priest. I couldn’t help but marvel at the familial closeness displayed between those from various church traditions as they worked together to welcome this obtrusive group of college students into their threatened home. It was more than mere cooperation; it was genuine friendship.

While chatting with one of the hosts I mentioned how struck I was by the ecumenical character of the village and the solid relationships between the different Christians. He tilted his head. “Our land is being stolen, people are leaving, the olive groves are being terrorized, and we are at risk of forgetting who we are. Unlike some places in the world, we do not have the luxury or the time to be divided.”

In 21st century American churches, however, division seems to be almost all we have time for.

This past week, like most weeks before it, has been a bit of a beast. I can’t be the only one worn down by the sheer volume of blog posts and Twitter explosions that dominate social media. I get it, though. Really. Theology is important, and the topic of faith and sexuality is deeply significant.

But what makes weeks like this so ugly is not the presence of controversy so much as the absence of charity. More exhausting than the immense drama that surrounds disagreements on sexual ethics, perhaps, is the sheer glee with which some people disavow/expose/denounce/break-ties-with others, the speed with which social media can become a mass-grave of ‘good opinions’ thrown out while they were still warm. Far too many commentators seem completely unconcerned that their caustic words are directed at actual human beings made in God’s image, unmoved by the reality that their sentences may be poisoning someone’s understanding of what Christian ‘love’ really looks like. I know quite a few people who have received this week like a wound.

We’ve forgotten that we, as humans, belong to each other, and I don’t know what to do about that except grieve.

But, actually, maybe that’s the appropriate response. Maybe that’s the first step to a more honest witness. Grief, at least, begins with an acknowledgment that people have been wounded, relationships have been ruptured, and communities have often been sources of pain and stigma.

Lament beholds the broken world as it is and forces us to consider how we might enter into that brokenness, how we might need to change to become more effective agents of healing and redemption. And this, I think, clears a small space in which empathy can take root and grow into friendship or community with people different than ‘us’ (whatever ‘us’ looks like for someone).

Friendship, or even just ‘relationship,’ isn’t some magic panacea that soothes all division and removes the need for difficult conversations. Hardly. There are still the fraught issues of policy and church life and public response and so much else to deal with. But at the same time I have been consistently surprised at how resilient friendship is, how it can bear the weight and tension of various disagreements and still be a source of beauty.

I find it hard to believe, then, that the most faithful way to pursue Jesus’ high priestly prayer – ‘that they may be one…’ – is through reflexive tribalism; there has to be a better alternative. Painful disagreement may sometimes be unavoidable, and division inevitable, but I think we suffer when we as Christians allow rejection and alienation to become habits, when we cease to lament the tragedy of fragmentation.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that Palestinian village this past week. I know it isn’t perfect, that there are still struggles and disputes and miscommunications, but I am thankful there are people in the community who, at the very least, have recognized that they need each other, that they don’t have the ‘luxury’ of treating each other as disposable. Perhaps it is unsurprising that the Christians in that village have a healthy relationship with the Muslim population as well – in their volatile context they each see the other as necessary for their own well-being and for the future of the community.

I’m not holding up that village as some sort of model or analogy. I’m not even sure what that would look like. But I am saying that I witnessed something profoundly Christlike in their acknowledged connectedness, something that I feel we in the States have too casually abandoned.

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[1] Julie, if you’re reading this, please wait at least two years before becoming a psychopathic axe-murderer or else I’m going to look so stupid.

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Poem: Good Friday

So, a goal of my Lent this year was to reflect upon the coming Easter weekend through the lens of the various realities that Lent so inevitably confronts me with – human mortality, desolation, need, and disorientation – and then to (probably unadvisedly) respond with three poems, one for each day (Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday), addressing how these days, too, can be sources of pain and confusion in their own ways. (Especially since they came up too fast to really finish the poems!)

All that obnoxious introduction to say: they’re messy and maybe a little bit blasphemous, but perhaps only in the way Psalm 39 or Christ’s cry of abandonment on the cross might have been. Feel free to ask questions.

____________________

Good Friday:

 

I swing passion like hammer blows
to pin you up, keep you
from peeling off
blood-keeping beams –

I need time to see meaning in this,
more time to find mystery or some
shook-foil reflection flipped in your
concave chest as it dilates

wild eyes sliding down you like sweat
that makes the coverslip stick.
And yet for all the burnt-black prayers your
flat stare sees crust over white-knuckled believing

every fucked up year
isn’t it us you leave hanging

because one-thousand nine-hundred and eighty five
days of you dying have not been enough to
explain this earth
you so love

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Label Makers

Well, three months of pretending I had better things to do than blog have come to an end. I have a new post over at Spiritual Friendship on labels and social identity and why the energy some Christians are putting into fighting words is preventing them from truly serving others. Check it out here.

An excerpt:

‘In high school, before I ever used the word ‘gay,’ before I had even admitted to myself that I wasn’t attracted to women, I was being psychologically torn to pieces by other Christians’ (and my own) manner of talking about gay people. Even as I trumpeted things like, “There’s no such thing as a gay Christian,” “They chose to be that way,” and other homophobic aphorisms, I knew that something about me was a lot like something about them and that I could never, ever be open about it.

 

By trying to clearly maintain a linguistic boundary between gay people and people in the church, Christians not only make Church teaching unnecessarily unintelligible to non-Christian gay people (and, really, non-Christians in general) but run the risk of inflicting harm on young people in the church. Whether people want it or not, some youth in the church will see aspects of their experience reflected in the broader culture under the social category of ‘gay’ and not be able to simply divorce their self-understanding from it. Nor should they have to.

 

I choose at times to use the label ‘gay’ both to remind church communities that they cannot talk about LGBT+ people as if they aren’t sitting in their congregations or aren’t beloved friends and family and to provide a visible example that might help other sexual minorities who are wrestling with their self-understanding to avoid some of the trauma I experienced. I didn’t have any role models for this while I was growing up and I desperately needed one. Out of fear of compromising its sexual ethic the Church has inadvertently compromised its more foundational witness of God’s reconciling movement toward humanity.’

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When Snow Fell In Summer

I would always sit in the back so I could kick off my flip-flops without anyone noticing; for some reason I preferred church barefoot. Besides, with only thirty people in the room on any given Saturday evening the back was still closer than most get on a Sunday morning, which meant I didn’t know what to do with my eyes during the sermon.

When I wasn’t preoccupied with proving I was attentive to the message, I liked to watch people, how their heads bobbed up and down in agreement or how, for some, their Adam’s apples would plunge as if a profound “Amen” was thinking about emerging from their throats only to realize that this was a white-suburban-Baptist church and crawl back into their spirited lungs. (Affirming and thoughtful grunting was, however, encouraged.)

One evening, as I scanned the blessed others surrounding me, I was startled to have my stare met by two restlessly blue eyes, widening for an instant and then shifting somewhere beyond me. The young boy twisted in his chair to touch his sister’s shoulder. She didn’t look up from her fierce scribbling and he didn’t care. He glanced back toward me, then his sister, then me, then nowhere in particular, slowly sliding off his seat in clearly-beloved airplane pajamas.

Some faint whisper of a recent conversation suggested he and his sister had just been adopted, but I couldn’t remember if they were biologically related. It seemed unlikely that two siblings with Down syndrome would be born within a year of each other, but all I remembered from high school genetics was that I lacked talent at sorting fruit flies.

Anyway, that didn’t matter.

As I watched him play on the ground and watched her excitedly draw… something began to press sharply into my soul. My eyes widened in a sudden panic and my body jerked awkwardly.

It wasn’t the most stable time of my life, and I had spent much of that gentle summer being stalked by one red-toothed question:

Why do beautiful things have to suffer?

It had found me again.

I blinked, embarrassed, and then had to keep blinking to stop the tears from brimming over. I wanted nothing more in that moment than to know that these children would make it through every day without ever having to hear someone argue that their lives weren’t worth living, that their joy and sorrow and laughter were formed of some cheaper thing. I needed to know that the bloodless ideology of efficiency and pragmatism would stay the hell away from them. And I knew it wouldn’t. I knew they’d have to learn, at some point, that there are people who say they would have been better off dead.

The boy smiled at me.

And the savage question bit down.

My soul darkened, twisted in confusion, and I left church with a furious prayer blooming around me like a thunderhead on what should have been a cloudless evening.

At some point earlier in the year I had forgotten how to trust God. It probably happened during one of those sleepless nights where I curled up in the corner and begged him to be who he said he was: protector of the orphan, father of the fatherless…where my hope was eventually suffocated by the crushing inevitability of statistics and “Every three seconds…”

So I sped toward the reddening Oregon hills, my prayers lashing out like mindless lightning – striking broken systems, human sin, my own weakness, and God with abandon.

I turned on some music to drown out the fury, and burst into tears.

But nothing could halt the implosion and I became more manic with each turn, the blushing serenity of the mountain fields amplifying the dissonance within me. I needed rain, I needed nightfall, I needed chaos.

The warm breeze whipped around me as I took each corner, repeating over and over and over in a frenzy

Why do beautiful things have to suffer?

and

Why do beautiful things have to suffer?

and

How dare you let beautiful things suffer!

And with a last crank of the wheel I found myself in a midsummer snowfield.

I slammed on the brakes, leaned out my window, and released a low, inhuman moan.

Scrambling out of the car as quickly as possible I rushed toward the animal that served as the quivering point of a fifteen-foot exclamation mark written in lace. Laying on the darkening asphalt, surrounded by a pinion snowfall, was a white peacock.

Oh God no, no no no no, please no!

I tried to get closer but it immediately grew agitated, swiveling its head around and emitting a hoarse, rattling cry. I froze, just staring at it, trying to assess the damage the unwitnessed collision had caused.

There was blood, the albino-red of its eyes spilling haphazardly onto its face, and I realized it couldn’t see.

Not one more thing!

With trembling hands I tried to pick it up and move it out of danger, but the moment I touched its wing it panicked and stumbled onto its feet and let loose a series of horrible gasps. It limped noticeably.

“Stop moving, damn you, stop moving stop moving stop moving!” I screamed, unsure what to do as it tripped at the edge of the road and fell into the shallow, grassy ditch, once again screeching in confusion and pain.

The next thirty minutes passed in a blur. I called my parents who lived right nearby; they knew the peacock’s owners; the owners arrived and wrapped up the struggling animal; their red Land Rover disappeared around the forested bend; I picked up three shimmering tail-feathers; the sun finally collapsed into the bruising horizon; and I was suddenly sitting on the edge of my bed, trying to figure out if I was supposed to think any of it meant anything.

I just sat there, the news that the peacock would fully recover barely registering, running all the possible spiritual interpretations past my inner skeptic. I craved significance, and he was unimpressed – though really, what are the odds that the album I was crying to when I came upon the wounded creature displayed a white peacock on its cover?* – so despite the massive effort my head fell onto the pillow with the magicless explanation that some reckless driver hit a rare, domesticated bird, that I soon-after arrived on the scene, that the stupid bird decided it would rather blindly throw itself into a ditch than let me cradle it and weep into its plumage and revel in the tragic beauty of it all, that it was apparently far healthier than it seemed, that once its owners showed up I had nothing else to do except drive home, and that one of the tail-feathers I took was apparently off-white and ugly.

The world doesn’t owe you something profound, you know.

I know.

You’re not some great savior, you know.

I know.

You’re actually laughably finite, you know.

I know.

So stop trying so hard.

Whatever.

I mumbled a laughably finite prayer and for the first time in a few weeks fell asleep quickly.

_________________________________________

By Dina Dargo

By Dina Dargo

_________________________________________

* This one.

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Growing Pains

I was rummaging through old documents when I came across an unpublished post from November 2012, just before I left for Guatemala, signaling a more definitive break with my life in the bucolic Pacific NW. I was struck by how much more the hope I allude to at the end has continued to take root, especially as I build a life down here in So Cal. In lieu of not having time to write actual posts (finals week, guys… it’s the greatest), I figured I’d share this with you all. (NB: my parents continue to be awesome.)

***

What is it about a place that can exert such emotional power over the human mind? As if I stored little pieces of my sadness and sin in the pictures and trinkets that litter my room, which return to me the moment I rotate the cheap-gold handle. I’m quickly reminded the creeping spores of apathy and cynicism thrive in the damp chill of a Pacific Northwest winter (which lasts from October-May, for the uninitiated).

Welcome home.

Home, with the stairs that I have, generously, a meager 40% chance of running up without tripping. Home, where I spent countless hours staring across the valley at the horses running around, happy creatures unaware that they had never known freedom. Home, where I forgot how to cry, and where I sharpened a razor-wire tongue that made me, I thought, invincible, if only because I never bled first.

Home, where I taught myself to shave behind two closed doors, blushing and ashamed; where I watched dad take my brother to go camping on his 13th birthday to talk about what it meant to be a man, where I convinced myself it wasn’t such a big deal, anyway, because two years later he missed mine for a business trip. And besides, camping in the winter is stupid.

Home, where, at sixteen, I decided Jesus was worth giving everything to follow, where I encountered that contagious flame of passion that altered my life forever. Home, where I discovered that this holy flame within me wasn’t enough to stop me from looking at porn or to dull the hidden ache of loneliness, and every time I repented I knew that God knew that each sorrowful promise would never be the last, and I couldn’t bear to abuse his mercy so I stopped praying altogether. Home, which I then left.

I learned to pray again at college. I learned to feel, to love, to be loved, and to, for once, be honest with myself. Through a million little miracles, God repaired my maimed soul, weaving the fragments together in a painstaking labor of grace.

But then I would board a plane to the Northwest and the stitching would loosen.

Home, where I finally told my family that I’m gay; where they promised to love and support me, and where I learned that love and support don’t always look to the same to everyone. But we are growing together.

Welcome home.

I wonder how long it will take me to mature beyond the grasping shadows of a childhood ill-spent. I mean, look at me, my penchant for writing maudlin, self-serving complaints about my youth goes up by 1200% when I’m here. It must be all that My Chemical Romance I listened to.

I catch glimmers of hope. My dad and I have never been closer. I’m not hiding like I used to. I pray, often. I wonder what would happen if I stayed here longer, poured myself into reclaiming the history of this place. Maybe, just maybe, I could exorcise the bitter spirits and find that sought-after sense of integrity that evades me even still.

I may never know. I leave again in a week, this time for four months. Shortly after I return, bilingual and much better at soccer, I begin graduate studies 1000 miles away. I’ll continue to grow up, change, move deeper into the warm embrace of that blessed fire, and become increasingly aware of how fortunate I am to have the parents I do, to have lived the life I did. Perhaps the confusion will fade along with the myopia of youth.

I will say, however, that things are not entirely the same as they used to be: back then, I couldn’t love myself, but now I know without a doubt that God loves me, that even in the midst of my apathy and willful rebellion he still wants to be with me, to speak with me, to surround me with grace. And even as I’m unsure if I know myself as well as I think I do, I remember, resolutely, that he knows who I am, fully, and rejoices over me as I am conformed into the likeness of Christ.

Then, my inability to trust myself silenced me before a God I knew deserved better. Now, my inability to trust myself provokes me to cry out to him more than ever, because he is trustworthy and will not leave me to muddle through life alone. The former isolated me, the latter binds me closer to the one who saves.

I guess I am slowly realizing that, even though the dust of apathy rises up from the carpet and a whole host of other struggles seem to rematerialize every time I come home, the one demon that I haven’t heard from in some time is despair, and that has made all the difference.

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A Church of Pure Imagination

I’ve been asked multiple times in the past month why I am still side-B, why I am still pursuing celibacy as a gay 23 year-old in these United States of America. What is interesting to me is how, with each inquiring friend, it was implied that we weren’t discussing theology or the interpretation of certain notorious texts. The “why” was really more of a “how.”

It’s a refreshing change.

One of the more frustrating things about the current conversation is how it so easily gets sucked into the myopic quicksand of “what the Bible says.” Please don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the authority of scripture and the importance of right interpretation, and I probably wouldn’t be celibate if I didn’t think the Bible taught it, but there is a dangerous attitude of “the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it” running rampant in many churches.

The idea that the conversation straight up ends with interpretation is, honestly, lethal to true religion, strangling the imagination out of faith and poisoning the endlessly complex “how then shall we live” of the Christian life. I think the rate at which gay Christians are abandoning celibacy is a pretty good indicator of that fact; though not always the case, the majority of people I know who have made the switch do so not because they’ve been convinced by “affirming” theology but because celibacy and an abundant life seem mutually exclusive, which, I need to add, is a kind of theological reason in its own right.

I think what this is revealing about conservative American churches, and perhaps churches in general, is that they are deeply mired in a failure of imagination.

When churches neglect to preach and model the good of singleness and celibacy, when they glut themselves on the opium of romance or oversell marriage to the detriment of both married and single people, they aren’t just straying from the truth of the Bible – they are corroding and constricting the imaginations of those in the congregation. What the men and women and children sitting in the pews can or cannot imagine as possible or good is greatly affected by what the church speaks of as possible or good.

At its redemptive best, this imaginative proclamation allows aching and isolated people to believe that there is a God who loves and desires them and that they can know his transformative grace and be welcomed into a community of hospitality and passion. But, tragically, that proclamation is often drowned in a flood of toxic sentiment, leaving many unsure of their worth and unable to form healthy relationships with other people or even God. The callousness I have seen some church-goers display in response to this pain is incomprehensible.

So I am no longer surprised when a friend of mine “switches sides,” and I am beyond tired of the way some Christians demonize them as simply weak or selfish or histrionic.* Do I find my friends’ reasons for switching entirely satisfactory? Rarely. But I also don’t find most churches’ reasons for not switching satisfactory, either. Unless a community is seriously modeling a commitment to hospitality and grace for all stages of life, its sexual ethic, no matter how “orthodox” it may sound, will never seem viable or good in any meaningful way. This imaginative failure is also a moral failure, with churches leaving their gay members with little to no ability to actually live – or god forbid thrive – within the rich tradition of church teaching.

So when I am asked why I’m side-B, my first thought has little to do with how I interpret Romans 1. Instead, I think about how I was surrounded by a loving group of friends who gave me the space and freedom to process through the initial fear and confusion of realizing I wasn’t just “temporarily-not-straight;”

I think about how I was blessed with mentors and counselors who were constantly feeding me and challenging me and supporting me and blowing my mind with the truth of the gospel, who called out the lies that had been choking me for most of my life;

I think about the months I spent working in a drug rehab center in South Africa or an orphanage in Guatemala and how unbearably full and alive I felt, how enmeshed I became in those vibrant communities that taught me so much about hospitality and service.

I think about how all these experiences enabled me to imagine a future of abundant life as a celibate person.

For most of my college career I was haunted by a singular image that I thought would define the entirety of my existence: When I closed my eyes I saw, I felt, myself closing the door to a cold and dark apartment, entirely empty, devoid of anyone who would witness my life and show me that I was known and loved. The frozen silence of it all was terrifying.

That I thought this was my inescapable future after a lifetime of sermons and biblical education is unequivocally depressing. That this vision is hardly unique to me is even more so.

But then two years ago, while coming out to some of my closest friends as we prepared for graduation and all that lay beyond, that image of despair was finally replaced. As I finished up my story one of my friends looked at me and said, “You know, Matt, as you were talking I just had this picture in my head of you surrounded by laughing children, and you were so happy. Maybe that means something.”

That was a gift of imagination, my brothers and sisters joining with me to envision a better future, an abundant future, one that has empowered me to live more joyfully and passionately in the present.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. The number of stories where loneliness and isolation remain the dominant themes, where the message of the church is bound up with shame and hopelessness, is staggering. More truthfully, it is infuriating.

So I’m praying that churches would rediscover their blessed ecclesial witness. I’m praying that, in my own journey, I can do justice to the vision of abundant life the gospel and my community have helped me believe is possible. I’m praying that we would really listen to the numerous testimonies of pain, that we would repent, that we would learn to love better, and that together – because we can only do this together – we would become the kind of people that Jesus imagined we could be when he lived and died and rose again for all.**

Matt

* If you have come to find your capacity to feel hope and joy oppressive, take a peek at the comments section of any number of Christian publications about homosexuality and let the sweet, sweet darkness sweep over you.

** I am not saying that if everyone had my experiences they would have come to the same conclusions I did, nor am I saying that my anecdotal evidence can be applied even close to uniformly for every LGB Christian. But this imaginative chasm between “celibate” and “happy” is incredibly prevalent – evident in the number of times people say to me, “You’re celibate? But… you seem so happy…”

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Just Three Months…

One of the nifty things about being me is that I don’t wait until sad things happen to feel sad about them. Not wanting to waste a moment in which I could be sorry for myself, I start the mourning process as early as possible. This is why, two days ago, I could barely handle the fact that three months from now I would be back in the States.

See, the day was just too good, too much fun, too full of that thrilling peace of being included. And, of course, when things are so fantastic I am obliged to reflect on the fact that they will come to an end.

And they will, at 8:30 AM on Monday, April 1, 2013.

Maybe it’s just because I’m craving stability and the freedom to really put down roots, but the act of leaving is starting to wear me down. And I’m only twenty-two. Kyrie Eleison. Seriously.

I imagine my life here in Guatemala will follow a similar path as my time in South Africa: I’ll be surrounded by a community of kind, inclusive men and women who fill me with warmth and a sense of belonging, I’ll develop a comfortable fondness for the country and realize that I would enjoy living here, I’ll begin to open up and experience the life-giving rush of new friendships, and I’ll slowly become a part of the furniture – an assumed part of the daily routine. And then I’ll have to find a way to live without any of it, and I probably won’t be totally successful.

There is, of course, a way around much of the pain; disengage, pull-back, reserve a little bit of myself, dissuade my obscenely affectionate heart from its usual exuberance. I could turn down invitations to impromptu worship and prayer sessions, go to bed early and neglect late night conversations with the kids in their rooms, care less about others, reveal less about myself, and generally convince myself that “it” simply isn’t worth the trouble.

But then what would be the point of even coming here? So, really, there’s no way to avoid it: I’m going to dig deep for as long as I’m in this beautiful country, press hard into this place even though I know I’ll lose a bit of myself when I peel off and board that airplane.

I’ve found in my limited experience that there is a blessed encouragement in the fact that it hurts so terribly to leave: it means that I managed to encounter a vibrant community into which I was welcomed. It means that, for all my fears of rejection and loneliness, I have never once left a place in which I felt unknown and unloved. It means that, when I head off to Pasadena, CA for seminary, I can happily expect to discover a community that makes my heart turn to ash at the thought of being without it.

And, I think, that’s a really good thing. (Or it’s psychotic masochism – I’m often confused.)

So even though it’s inevitable that I’ll be sitting in another spontaneous worship session or running around worthlessly in another game of soccer and sense that all-too-familiar twinge of panic, I hope it will only inspire me to sing loudly and play passionately, for my time here is too short and too precious to waste on fearful apathy, and the greatest tragedy would be to leave here and feel nothing at all.

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Idioma Idiota

Things were going wonderfully until I forgot the word for “kitchen.”

That one inexplicable failing of my brain turned what would have been a simple communicative utterance into a veritable train-wreck of confusion and garbled syntax, as if the little workers that maintain my language center decided that if I couldn’t even remember “cocina” they may as well just abandon the obviously doomed ship.

I barely slept that night. Despite having only been back in Guatemala for three days, despite not having practiced spanish in a year-and-a-half, and despite some other, more successful, linguistic escapades, I concluded that I was quite probably the world’s dumbest person and that my interactions with the kids at the orphanage I now call home would be relegated to pointing and disappointed smiles for the remaining four months.

That was two weeks ago. I’m happy to admit that the future appears rosier, and that I only lose sleep when I have a virus that demands frequent quality time with the bathroom. The language barrier still frustrates me, as I’m sure it will for as long as I am here, but the, you know, soul-crushing angst doesn’t loom as large.

And so I go about my day, slowly progressing in the happy enterprise of understanding. Learning a language is a lot like receiving corrective lenses, only more gradual and more likely to expose you to rather humiliating social transgressions. The world around you becomes sharper and more intelligible. The personalities of those in your community subtly shift, develop previously unnoticed nuances, and gain that uniquely human depth that is so often flattened by non-comprehension. And you yourself navigate the socio-cultural obstacle course with greater confidence, avoiding that curb, dodging the ever-present edge of that table, and in general finding the world around you to make increasing sense, as if multiple times a day you are waking up to a startlingly beautiful existence about which you had only previously heard second-hand accounts.

I love it. I really, really love it. Every time I successfully make a joke, or am so unsuccessful that laughter still fills the air, I feel more alive, more awake, and less a stranger to this blessed place.

I arrived on December 8, squarely in the middle of academic vacations, and so I’ve been able to spend almost all day every day with the ten teenage boys that share a house with me. I don’t think I have any official job description, or if I do no one has told me what it is, so I simply “do life” with them – play soccer, dig up concrete, eat meals, joke, wrestle, laugh, discipline – and try to be a source of love and friendship. I have such a small amount of time here that I sometimes wonder what good will possibly come from it. I don’t know. But I have no doubt that being here, for as short a time as it is, is good, and so I look forward to seeing God work.

I imagine I’ll leave here still in many ways a stranger; I’ll never know the kids as well as I would like to pretend I do, I’ll never see much beyond the orphanage walls, and I’ll never be able to express myself with the confident ease of fluency. But there is so much life to be had in the process of it all! And to focus solely on what I’m sure I am missing would blind me to what I can see, and merely heap tragedy upon tragedy.

So, for these first three weeks that I have been here, patience and contentment have been the name of the game, and though I play it about as effectively as I bowl (i.e. it’s a miserable spectacle of incompetence) I am having a blast.

Anyway, I gotta go find out who stole my phone.

Peace.

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