Friday, June 24, 2011

Relationships- The Glue of Humanity

So what do you do in the summer?

As a teacher I hate that question because I always assume that it is seeded with contempt that I've got three months of vacation.  First of all, June 15 to August 15 is not three months.  Second, I don't just lay around the house all summer catching up on the soaps or lounge by the pool all day.

This week, the first full week of summer vacation I traveled with twenty-two teenagers to Southeast Roanoke.  While there, we ran a day camp for children in a rather neglected community.  I got to watch a sixteen year old spend her mornings working with a three-year old autistic child.  I saw a fourteen year old deal with a child who came to camp every day with a different name.  A rising eigth grader bonded with a third-grader who still showed the effects of an unlucky birth to a crack-addicted mother.  We painted the porch of a WWII veteran because his elderly neighbor cared enough to seek out help and struggles against the odds to make a neighborhood neglected by the city look presentable again.  We entered the house of a woman who had a hard time getting rid of things, and help her pack things away and clean up her house.  Calming her anxiety was a bigger struggle that sorting through the accumulated stuff.

I learned last week that relationships are the glue that holds humanity together and when relationships are neglected or put on the backburner for other things-- humanity breaks apart.  I went to the home of one elderly lady.  When she started down the front porch steps to meet me I was afraid that she would fall.  Her feet were too sore for shoes.  Looking down I could see that her greatest need might be as simple as someone to trim her nails.  A lawn mower sat in the lawn, but grass was growing over its deck.  Her mental health matched her physical health.  She didn't understand that we were offering our services for free.  She insisted that her grandson would take care of it.  He is a landscaper.  He just cant work on her lawn as long as he has paying jobs that take the time.  Her neighbor knew her two sons.  Apparently they were alcoholics that caused her more harm than good.  In this poor old woman, I saw a soul without another soul to care for her.  Society has neglected her.  No one desires to have a relationship with this lady.

The veteran that I mentioned before, he's no better off.  He was so eager to share stories and talk, probably more so than getting his porch painted.  It seemed that his only companion was the nurse who came to his house every day to take care of him. 

We spent our week in a pocket of poverty.  It wasn't as bad as it could get, but compared to my lifestyle it was bad.  These pockets are easy to overlook.  They're out of the way.  We keep them clustered away from the paths that we cross daily.  As long as we have food on our table and clothes on our back, we can lay our heads in our comfortable beds and sleep well at night without a thought for the children who aren't sure what if anything they will eat for breakfast in the morning.  When we grab a to go cup of coffee and drive to our next destination it's easy to forget the poor old lady who can't get around because she can't get shoes over her untrimmed toenails. 

We drive by, we walk by, we fly over, but we seldom stop.  Stop to just see and hear America, the world.  Outside of our immediate five senses we allow ourselves to become ignorant of the reality of life.  We build an excellent buffer with our nicely trimmed lawns, personal automobiles, membership only swimming pools, and comfortable if not pretentious churches.  A buffer that we mistake for reality to mask and hide the ugly realities that we'd rather not think about.

It's not that we should all be considering "selling everything and giving it to the poor", at least I'm not so sure that Jesus meant that command for everyone.  It's easy to think that our job is to go in and fix the problems.  Jesus didn't do it that way.  Jesus entered our humanity and lived it with us, and continues to live it with us.  He didn't die to end human suffering, he died to enter suffering with us so that we may overcome in time.  He performed many miracles, but he didn't end poverty, hunger, or oppression.  He endured poverty, hunger, and oppression.  By doing so he intertwined the fate of humanity with the fate of the divine.  He created relationship with the world.

That is true relationship.  Enduring the hardship and walking alongside those in need.  Being willing to suffer with another and not just thinking that because I wear better clothes, have my own car, and extra cash on top of it that I can just use my resources to rescue others from their difficulties.  Whether it is poverty of the mind, body, economy, or soul, none of us possess the ability to rescue another but through our willingness to live life together in genuine relationships with others.  Relationships that intertwine our fate with the fate of others.

Relationship is the glue that holds humanity together.  I would bet that where we find humanity in ruins, not just places where people are poor but places that seem empty of hope, we also find that the root of that ruin lays in broken and unhealthy relationships.

That's what I've done and learned so far this summer.  I've got a few adventures still ahead.  I like seeing the counter numbers and site traffic climb when I post frequently, but lately I've gotten comfortable knowing that when I only get around to posting only every few weeks or once a month I'm only going to get a few readers.  But I've got a lot to do if I really believe what I just wrote about relationships.  I'll try to post a few more times this summer if you're interested.  I've got a few family trips, a week at a youth camp, and a big U2 concert to attend this summer. 

So what do you do in the summer?

Sunday, June 05, 2011

A Sunday Prayer to Reclaim the Reality of God

Acts 1
6Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
 12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk[a] from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Dear God,

Weekends like this remind us that sometimes when things come to an end it isn’t the end at all, but a new beginning.  We thank you for being the God of fresh starts and new beginnings.  We thank you for being the God who will even work goodness through death.  When we forget that you have that kind of power, remind us God and help us to keep the faith.

Lord we just read today a story about your son, who walked among us, died because of us, and through your power ascended into heaven from where he came.  Don’t let us sit here today and just pretend we believe this, because if we really believe something like that really happened how can we be comfortable with just being comfortable.  Help us to ponder the reality of what we have heard and let our hardened hearts break under the weight of the mystery that God almighty cares about us and desires relationship with his creation.

We don’t get lost when we follow the leader; may you be the leader of our lives.  Help us to pursue you with an unfailing faith in your goodness, with a hope that we can become what you intend for us to become, with a love that overflows bringing blessing to all of your creation.  Forgive us for our boredom when we stop considering the power of your story and think it is familiar.  Forgive us for our apathy when we confuse a comfort that keeps us in our seat with blessing.  Forgive us for our selfishness when we strive to make ourselves first not remembering we’re headed for last place in that direction.

Most of us are here today for something.  Whatever the reason we came, I pray that we all would seek first your kingdom and your righteousness, that we would be willing to follow you into death so that we may learn what it means to live.  May we draw strength and encouragement from this community of faith as we journey in the path of God together.  For this we pray together the prayer that Jesus taught his followers to pray.  Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.   For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.