Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Best Birthday Present Ever: Deflated Soccer Balls

I’d like to introduce you to St. Andrew’s youngest missionary (at least in spirit) – Emma Angilan, who just turned 6.

A month or so before her birthday, Emma came up with an idea that never would have crossed my mind at her age: For her birthday party, she wanted her friends to bring presents not for her but for “the kids in Haiti.” (Our congregation has a partnership with a school in Maniche, Haiti, which serves about 150 students.)

The challenge is how to get anything to the kids at our partner school. There is no parcel-delivery service in rural Haiti – not even mail (not even roads, in the sense we’d understand that word). But a group of missionaries from St. Andrew’s will be going to Haiti on Nov. 12; so Emma’s parents, Jason and Courtney, came to me to see what the students might need that we also could carry with us.

Finally, we found the answer: deflated soccer balls and an air pump.

Kids in rural Haiti don’t have toys other than what they make for themselves, usually from trash. And the school in Maniche certainly doesn’t have any athletic equipment. But they do have a yard. And now, thanks to Emma’s bountiful generosity, the kids at this school will have 12 new soccer balls to kick around.

It will likely be several years before Emma goes off on a mission trip. But in a sense, she’s already long gone. At 6 years old, Emma understands at a deep level that God is sending her somewhere – for now, in her heart – to “seek and serve Christ in all people.”

We don’t have to fly to a distant location like Haiti to be missionaries. Any of us – all of us – can be missionaries like Emma, being sent by God into relationships with people we’ve never even met. All it takes is a heart filled with love, a touch of creativity, and a willingness to follow where God leads.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Swimming Out of the Whirlpool

I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed this week. The specific reasons don’t matter much – they won’t be resolved anytime soon; and even if they were, new stresses would take their place.

A lot of this stress comes from my job. But working as an ordained person doesn’t necessarily mean I’m under any more stress than anybody else in this culture. The stresses are different, but their effects are not.

When I feel this way, my reaction is to look for ways to pull back emotionally from the sources of the stress. That’s not a bad idea, particularly if it helps me identify ways I’m using time or energy unproductively.

But I’ve also learned, finally, that feeling overwhelmed is a symptom of spiritual illness: too much reliance on oneself to cope with pressures and meet expectations. At times like this, I find myself asking God questions like, “Is this really how you want our lives to look?” or “Is this really how you intend the Kingdom to feel?” And I’m both blessed and stopped short by the answer: “No.”

I believe God does not intend us to work ourselves to the bone. I believe God does not intend for discipleship to feel like a burden. And when I stray into that territory, it’s a sign that I’ve forgotten where solutions to my problems really lie. I cannot rescue myself from the whirlpool du jour. I can only rise out of what brings me down “through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) – “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Avoiding the Sabbath

It might seem strange to be writing about keeping the Sabbath (or not) on a Thursday. For most of us, Thursday is just another workday, a marker along the journey toward the end of the week. For me, at least most weeks, it’s a day off. Clergy can’t exactly take Sunday as a day of rest, so we’re supposed to find another day during the week to make up for it.

It’s tempting for me now to launch into all the reasons why I and my colleagues often don’t get a day off to make up for Sundays: Everybody else is at work on a weekday, and you fall behind if you don’t join in. Church events can’t be scheduled around clergy days off, so you often have meetings or gatherings to attend anyway (like this afternoon and tonight, for example). Pastoral issues don’t take a day off, so people often have needs (real or perceived) that lead them to expect relatively immediate attention. And then there’s the work itself, which will never be “done” until God sees fit to bring in the Kingdom in all its fullness.

All these things are true. But they aren’t the reason why I avoid taking Sabbath time.

Properly observed, Sabbath is about putting into practice God’s direction in Psalm 46: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Because of the way we’re wired, some of us just have trouble being still; and I’m not sure that’s anything needing forgiveness. It’s the second part of the verse that’s problematic: “Know that I am God.” If we actually took Sabbath time, if we really took a break from our obligations (and the hyper-scheduled “fun” that wears us out), we might hear something from God that challenges our independence and our self-importance. If we actually took Sabbath time, we might realize that God really is God, and we are not.

Hmmm. Probably time to move the laundry. And maybe check e-mail, just for a minute. Something important may have happened, and I wouldn’t want to miss it....