In every border post
There is something insecure
Each one of them
Is longing for leaves and for flowers
They say the greatest punishment for a tree
Is to become a border post
The birds that pause to rest on border posts
Can’t figure out
What kind of trees they’ve landed on.
That at first, it was people who invented borders
And the borders started to invent people.
It was borders who invented police, armies, and border guards.
While borders still stand
We are all in prehistory
Real history will start when all borders are gone.
Excerpts from Fuku, Almost at the End
Prayer is not a matter of coming to God with our wish list and pleading with Him to give us what we ask for. Prayer is first and foremost the experience of being in the presence of God. Whether or not we have our requests granted, whether or not we get anything to take home as a result of the encounter, we are changed by having come into the presence of God…In congregational worship, regularly scheduled services on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I have come to believe that the congregating is more important that the words we speak. Something miraculous happens when people come together seeking the presence of God. The miracle is that we so often find it. Somehow the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. A spirit is created in our midst which none of us brought there. In face, each of us came there looking for it because we did not have it when we were alone. But in our coming together, we create the mood and the moment in which God is present…We don’t go to church or synagogue at a stipulated time because God keeps “office hours.” We go because that is when we know there will be other people there, seeking the same kind of encounter we are seeking.
Rabbi Harold Kushner
Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith…And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.”
Matthew 8: 5-13
When I was 16, I was an exchange student to Panama for 6 months. This was my first time leaving home and no experience thus far in my life has been as impactful. Growing up in a predominantly white, rural, Christian county in West Virginia, I had not known diversity. I met my first out spoken atheist from Iceland during our arrival orientation. Maria and I could not have come from more different backgrounds. This may have been the cause of us hating each other for the first month. She and I were both placed with families in Panama City and out of default were practically forced to hang out. Little did I know, our relationship would change my life. Typically we would try to avoid conversations about faith and politics because one of us would end up angry and we wouldn’t speak for a day or two. I remember once, we were sitting at a strip mall and the conversation about God came up. She asked me if I believed she would go to hell if she died. Being from my evangelical background, I quickly said, “unfortunately yes.” That answer broke both of our hearts and we didn’t speak for several days.
For me, it didn’t break my heart as I had expected. This was the first time I ever told anyone they were going to hell and my understanding of being a Christian was that it was my duty. I should have felt broken hearted because my best friend was going to burn for eternity because she didn’t believe in God. However, my heart was shattered because deep within me, something was not right. I didn’t feel “sorry” for Maria, I didn’t feel glad for doing my duty, I felt ashamed and unloving. Although we ended up speaking again and she has remained one of my best friends for 10 years, I struggled with that moment for several years. What is my job as a Christian? To save souls?
I have never met someone with as much passion and faith as Maria. In the story of the centurion in Matthew, Jesus didn’t treat the pagan Roman soldier as just another soul that needs saving. He treated him with respect and love, because that soldier had faith that good was to come! He had love for his fellow human and believed in hope, kindness, and respect. Maria has taught me more than I can imagine about unconditional love, hope, and respect. She’s been an example for me when other Christians have let me down. Although we have spoken briefly about this moment, I’m not sure if she knows the sorrow and pain I feel for the selfish and self-righteous words I spoke to her. I hope she knows that according to her faith, I am able to continue in my own.
Next month I have the opportunity to participate in a Border Awareness Experience program to get a better understanding of the situation on the US/Mexico border. The educational and awareness component will take place in the largest metropolitan area on the border: El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico.
Several weeks ago, I was nervous how I would approach this experience with an open mind and heart. On New Year’s Eve, those nerves were diminished by observing my nine year old nephew while we waited in line at Epcot’s Test Track ride. In the gospel of Matthew it is written that Jesus called a little child to him. He said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I surprised my nephew with a day trip to Epcot to bring in the new year. I expected the park to be crowded and the lines long, however, I never imagined I would have the patience to stand in one line for four and a half hours! After about an hour and a half I began wondering if it would even be worth it to continue waiting. As I contemplated jumping ship, my nephew began to become friendly with three kids in front of us. Two of the children, a girl and boy, were from Venezuela and didn’t speak English. Dylan spent the next three hours playing, “talking”, and interacting with these kids without any hesitation. I stood there watching them having full conversations with each other without understand a word. It was truly amazing.
The words of Jesus spoke loudly to me that day. There was no hesitation on Dylan’s part to enjoy himself with these children. He didn’t get angry because they wouldn’t speak English, there were no concerns regarding immigration status, no uncomfortable feelings based on skin color. They are just kids being kids. It made me realize how much influence adults have over the minds of children; how prejudice, bigotry, hate, intolerance, racial differences, etc. are not innate qualities, but attitudes that are instilled in our minds.
In the end, the ride was not worth the wait, but the experience of embracing diversity that my nephew needed was priceless. He has no idea how remarkable those interactions were, but I hope that his willingness to keep his heart and mind open to differences will stay with him through his life. It was the reminder I needed before participating on my trip next month and I will remember the actions of Dylan as I embark on a similar experience.
I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, I will not forsake them.
Isaiah 42: 16
Through my years of growing up, I had pastors, youth leaders, and coaches. I respect them and believe each had some impact on who I am today. It wasn’t until I reached Queens that a bond was formed and I found one of my most trustworthy mentors. Diane Mowrey is the chaplain at Queens University. It wasn’t until with her, I felt like I could truly seek a deeper understanding of my faith. Because of my conservative background, I felt like I couldn’t be myself 100% or ask all the questions that rattled around my mind. Diane provided and continues to support that space for me. Before meeting Diane, I felt like I was walking around blindly just running into things. When I would get hurt, I didn’t feel like I had anyone to turn to or guide me. Not only did Diane lead and guide me during dark times of my life, she pushed me to reflect and embrace the darkness in order to see the light. Many times, she just provided an ear for listening and that was all I needed. She taught me that sometimes we are not called to figure out all of life’s problems, but just be present holding one another’s hands in the darkness.
For 7 years, she has provided an encouraging voice during the moments I wrestle with tough questions. Her presence, guidance, and understanding of living a Christian life is one of the most influential reasons of why I want to go into ministry. I hope that my own ministry can mirror the love and guidance that Diane has shown to so many through her years of service.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he ask Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”… “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” -Luke 10: 25-37
When I was 11 years old my maternal grandmother passed away. Although I remember her well, I spent most of my teenage years paying little mind to the impact she had on my faith. Personally reflecting back on her life, I’ve realized that she led by example two of Christ’s most important teachings. Everything she did, she did with the love of God in her heart. I’ve yet to meet anyone with her passion. Her daily life was proof that she loved God with all her heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Furthermore, she loved her neighbor. From my memory, and well before that, she worked as a cook in a men’s correctional facility. Last year, I remember driving passed this place and several of the inmates were out in the courtyard. As I drove by, several middle fingers flew up in the air. I don’t know why and it isn’t my place to judge, but I quietly thought to myself that these are the least among us. They are the reason we lock our houses and cars. The men we pass on the street without taking looking into their eyes. They make us uncomfortable. For years, my grandmother, without complaints, enter this facility. I don’t believe she did this just for a job, but to live out her ministry.
After her death, I do not remember spending too much time mourning. I don’t think I truly understood death at the time. However, for some reason, I remember asking to take a few drawings home with me. I remember sitting with my grandmother and she would explain some of the drawings to me. She would tell me stories of the men who drew them. I still have these drawings in my possession and I now understand why I wanted them. My grandmother formed personal relationships with many of the men. One of the only ways they could show her appreciation is draw pictures on scrap pieces of paper. She would write the date on the drawings and their names if they hadn’t already signed it. She cared about the people she served. She is the one that showed mercy. Her love of God and neighbor were not just in her words, but in her actions.
It has been a while since I’ve posted! I am certainly a slacker when it comes to blogging, but I knew that going in. Last week, I finished my first semester of seminary. People keep asking me questions about my experience so far: what I learned, what I like, what I dislike, is it difficult? Honestly, I’m never really sure what to answer. I keep mulling over the semester and it is hard for me to give clear answers. I have learned a lot, there are things I like and dislike, and yes it is difficult. I am realizing that most of all, it is emotionally draining. As I reflect, I’m not discouraged by this emotional and spiritual struggle. Quite the opposite actually. I feel hopeful. 2014 has filled me with a hope that I have not felt in a long time. It certainly hasn’t been an easy year, but there are many blessings I’m grateful for.
For one of my final papers, I took the opportunity to reflect on the impact that others have had on my life and faith. I think a lot about what it means to live out scripture and have a life that is defined by my faith in Christ. For me, Paul’s powerful words spoken to Colossians have strongly influenced my thoughts on a Christian life.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.-Colossians 3: 12-17
Am I living this message? Does my life reflect one of compassion, love and kindness? Am I grateful and at peace? I’m also learning that reading through scripture, I can’t beat myself up time and time again for my shortcomings or brokenness. The Word is hear to remind us of the hope that, as humans, we must live.
My next few blog posts, I’ll be sharing a few people who have greatly affected and continue to influence my journey! During this Christmas season, I am attempting to be more grateful for all the people in my life that have helped define my life.