Exposure

I recently had the amazing privilege to walk on Honduran soil for five days as I visited a dear friend from Wheaton who currently works with streets kids in the capital city of Tegucigalpa.

It was an incredibly filling time of friendship, inspiration, and joy (and yes, Tyler, I’m aware all those things are found in My Little Pony). Or maybe it was incredibly filling because of all the food. Wonderful, blessed, ultra-tasty food. (I must comment on the amazing fact that, for all the sixteen countries I’ve been to, I don’t recall ever disliking the local cuisine. Obviously I haven’t been to England.)

Tegucigalpa sits in a valley bowl, which is brilliant for night-time views of glittering lamplights and torturous for walking. The roads appeared to be in competition with one another to see which could be the most vertical. They were all winners.

My host took me down those streets, through the markets, and brought me to some of the common haunts of the runaways – the drug-addicted, rejected children of Tegucigalpa, his friends.

I had never talked to someone as they drugged themselves. Sure, I’d worked with drug-addicts in South Africa for a few months, but always in the context of recovery. This was different. It would make for more dramatic prose to describe the feelings of shock and revulsion I experienced while watching twelve year-old eyes film over from the effects of the yellow glue, but then I would be writing fiction. I didn’t really feel anything more potent than a familiar sadness.

Drug-addicted homelessness, twitching survival, was simply their reality, and I was merely a guest. They didn’t seem to mind.* Some of them even wanted me to take pictures of them with their quarter-full drug bottles as one does with a close friend. That’s probably not far from how they see their relationship with the numbing inhalant. It makes sense.

Moving between the streets and The Micah Project, a community in which teenage boys can come out of alleys and addictions and be trained and nurtured, provided a nice counterbalance of hope, but the distressing ratio of success stories to crushing tragedies never totally faded from memory.

Living, as I do, in a closed compound with over 100 kids can make one (or maybe just me) a little complacent. Sure, we don’t have a lack of needs and struggles within these walls, but it goes a long way toward making the problems of the world feel “out there”, separate, un-urgent. But the trash-filled streets leave you as exposed to the real weight of brokenness and suffering as their inhabitants are to the cold night air.

Complacency is a defense mechanism, and it’s starting to weary me. It is, of course, entirely impossible to be fully aware of every injustice, and even if it were possible such awareness would crush us in a second, but I think we fear the discomfort and demand of exposure more than we should. We don’t serve an isolationist God who is afraid of pain, who shies away from the stark ugliness of our suffering. As he was willing to take a spear to the side for us, I marvel that we are often unwilling to get up off of our couches for others.

I had to ask myself why I should let the tragedy of what I saw in the streets of Tegucigalpa sink into my soul when I can’t really do anything about it right now. Why complicate my life with something beyond my ability to deal with? Wouldn’t it just cause unnecessary tension? No solid answers came, as they rarely do, but I was left with a distinct impression that, at least maybe for now, allowing their pain to disturb me, to linger in my imagination like a piece of dust behind my eyelid, is enough.

I can let their lives crack the shallow calm of my complacency. I can let the visions of scabs and scars and chapped lips and ever-present toxins remind me, whenever they come to mind, that, no, everything is not ok, that the world is a tortured hell for many, and that we can never tire of doing good. I can give them the dignity of changing me, of spurring me to love with greater abandon those who my hands can touch and my words can reach. 

I feel like I’m throwing in a mere penny in self-offering, but it’s all I have at the moment. And I praise God for the fantastic men and women who are daily giving all of themselves to serve those lost in the margins of society, and I hope my life, whatever direction it takes, will do justice to the examples they’ve shown me of grace and faithfulness for the sake of the suffering.

____________________

* Except for that one drunk lady. She did seem to mind. A lot.

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“…is this the real life?”

(From June 19, 2010)

We live on a planet called Earth. On a daily basis we interact with thousands upon thousands of material objects, whether it be a crunchy piece of gravel beneath our feet or another human being. We sense things, we know things. This is real life. This existence of ours is true and good; it is not an illusion from which we must break free in order to reach some spiritual existence beyond our mortal chains. I am not arguing for the rejection of this reality in favor of another. Rather, I am arguing for the transformation of this reality by the truth of another, namely (and solely) the eternal kingdom of God and the inauguration of the Church through the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is more than just a moral transformation. The purpose of Christ’s coming was not to change us from bad people to good people upon our conversion which then allows us into heaven (or more popularly, saves us from hell). His coming changed the very nature of our existence. In an admittedly limited sense, our conversion is akin to transplanting ourselves into a foreign culture. If you wake up some day in Uganda, it would be remarkably foolish to assume that adhering to the norms and cultural rules of America will get you anywhere. It would also be remarkably foolish to assume that you are no longer American now that you are in Uganda. A posture of humility and learning must be adopted as you try to understand this new context. You have a cultural reference book that seems strangely inadequate in some situations and a native guide who you wish would be a little more direct. You mess up. A lot. But your hosts are gracious and you continue to become more accustomed to your daily life. There are some things that you were able to do in America that are simply impossible now, some things that are strange and bizarre to the Ugandans that you should probably avoid, and some things that are acceptable and good.

Such is our arrival into the kingdom of God, only completely different and multiplied by infinity. It is our tendency, at least in America, to assume that our conversion only changes our character and moral axis instead of transporting us wholly (or opening our eyes) to a new kingdom, a new reality (which really is not very “new” at all) that functions entirely uniquely to anything we have previously experienced. We are now first and foremost citizens of the all consuming kingdom of heaven, manifested on earth as the global body of Christians as one unified and unbreakable Church, bound together by the love of Christ poured out for us as a sacrifice upon an altar composed of sin and constructed by our own hands. This kingdom is not something we are journeying toward nor is it something we are trying to create on earth; we are already in it and it is already established. It is not yet a complete kingdom, however. It cannot be because then we would not so desperately long for the return of Christ, nor would we need Him any more. We who have entered through the narrow gate could only have entered by passing through Christ who now stands between us and the world.

The implications of this are, of course, rather daunting, as events which demand of us everything tend to be. Some people have called Christianity the “upside-down kingdom”, but I don’t think that’s correct because it makes our mundane, secular existence the normative experience and the kingdom of God a radical departure from the apparent. Instead, the kingdom of God is the truest truth, the most real reality, the basic actuality by which all humanity must measure its existence. We do not, we must not begin with our secular lives and from there gauge how we should act. We, as Christians, begin and end with obedience and submission to the reality of Christ’s call on our lives. This call will often (in fact almost always) demand that we act in defiance of what we and the world perceive as real. Our defiance will bring persecution upon us because it is so thoroughly distressing to be confronted by the revelation that everything we have accumulated and striven for on this earth is ashes and dead weight that drag us willingly to hell because we did not first have Christ, in and through whom alone we find the redemption of our being. As the anointed bearers of this glorious reality, we gain the added benefit of no longer fearing what the world may do to us because it will never be able to change the eternal reality that Christ has called us into communion with Him.

Christ’s call does not lead us out of the world, but rather directly into the heart of it. We must not reject the world and its troubles because we have found something better. If Christ had done that we would all be in hell right now. We must follow Christ into the darkest reaches of the world (which are never far away), armed not with judgment or condemnation but with renewal and transformation, healing and acceptance, love and love and love and more love that flows through us from the fount of the Cross and empowers us to do all things.

This is Christianity. It is not an institution, a moral guideline, a secluded retreat, a facebook note or a comfortable existence. It is the eternally present reality of our complete and total bondage to Christ and His kingdom which frees us to joyfully and powerfully seek restoration in all the earth to the glory of God. It is a reality that not only extends beyond borders but destroys them, not only reaches through socio-economic differences but renders them unimaginable, not only gives us a reason to live but makes life everlasting. It is a reality to which God has drawn us. It is Himself.

And we reject it, we reject Him, every day. We reject Him for the things of this world. We reject Him because the world has told us to act a certain way, to see a certain way. It has told us that our allegiance is to arbitrary and divisive political systems, that our brothers and sisters, fellow members of the kingdom of God to whom we are inextricably linked, are “others”, different from us. It tells us that the demand of Christ to live entirely for Him, to serve with our whole lives, to cling to nothing except to Him, to go to the poor and needy, to seek peace with all, is not really what the Bible says, or that it does not matter what the Bible says because current “reality” seems to say something different and God most certainly could not demand something impractical of His children (such as dying on a cross).

I reject God every day because I just cannot yet accept the full demand of my conversion. I’m scared, I’m weak, and I love too much that which I should not. And yet the pursuit of this reality has been the most life-giving aspect of my entire existence. God is so faithful and is forever with me and my broken, failing, beautiful brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world.

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