Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Exciting Nature of Missions

We're off! My partner-in-crime Bob M and I are loading into a HUGE white van with 7 eighth and ninth graders this afternoon. In moments, actually.

If I'm honest, I'm exhausted. I know I'm not sleeping enough and this week is not going to help that. I desperately need to work on my Sabbath-taking. On the other hand, I'm excited about spending time with these folk--they're awesome and excited about the trip, even though it's to Cincinnati, where we're from.

Exhaustion and excitement. Ambivalence and happiness. Bad and good. Isn't that always the way?

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Problematic Nature of Mission

Leaving for final youth trip of the summer on Sunday: a fabulous mission trip to...wait for it...Cincinnati! That's right, we're doing mission in our own backyard. And I say, "why not?" You don't have to go to an exotic, tourist destination to find poor, suffering people. It's even a bit selfish to spend so much money getting somewhere via plane or car, expending the fuel and time, when the world needs help where you live.

More to the point, it's not about us "working amongst" folk, condescending to offer our wisdom and cash to those less fortunate. Obviously, there are millions less fortunate than those of us in the middle class--look around you and see that we don't live in a perfect world. But that phrase, "less fortunate," is a comparative one. They are less fortunate; we are more fortunate. It almost implies that we are somehow favored or more beloved because of what we have. That we are better because we're not hungry, drug-addicted, or brown-skinned. I'm sure most folk don't mean any of that when they use the phrase, but when your intent is to go help a group of people, it is necessary to pay attention to your own motives and how they may be seen by the folk you want to help. Even if the work you're planning is desperately needed in a community, a superior attitude or an unwillingness to understand and participate in the culture will kill it dead.

So what is it about? Mission, it seems to me, is about developing relationship and opening our eyes to the world around us. We all live in a bubble of some kind or another. We can talk about "the plight of the poor" as long as we like, but won't understand it until we talk to someone who's struggling with feeding their children. We have to experience it ourselves before we'll truly get it. Jesus said to Thomas "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe". They may be blessed but few of us can believe like that. We need something to cling to, something to relate to. We need to be in relationship, knowing the other as a person, as one with thoughts and feelings and concerns and not just a statistic. We take teenagers on mission trips partly because they are a good source of labor for projects that need doing but mostly for them to discover just how big and complex this world is. They don't always see it, but when they do, you can see God on their faces as plain as day.

Book Thoughts--Girly Edition

DC comics has debuted a new line of comics aimed at teenaged girls that are actually good. Yeah, they're written and drawn by men, but not in the normal, creepy superhero style of exposed skin and little brains. These girls know who they are and what they want. I've read the first three and, though I am not a teenager, I am a girl and I love them.

Plain Janes by Castellucci and Rugg
Arty types all named Jane react against exclusivism and stupidity with guerilla art. Loving Husband says ending feels unfinished.

Regifters by Carey, Hempell, and Liew
Second of the Minx line and much better. Cute Korean girl faces her demons and kicks ass in martial arts. From the geinuses who brought you My Faith in Frankie.

Clubbing by Watson and Howard
The art's much prettier but the story is less satisfying than previous books. Goth chick goes to the country and solves a paranormal crime.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Book Thoughts

The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan

A modern Chinese-American woman with problems of her own just doesn't understand her mother. Mom, in turn, didn't understand her own mother. From different eras, they each reveal pieces of their stories which ultimately form a connected whole. Well-written and engaging. Better than "Oprah-lit," I'd say, but only a little better.

I wonder, though, if I'm reflecting the cultural bias against women's stories. With notable exceptions, women's stories are traditionally centered around home, children, "women's work." When they're not about such things, they're more about feelings, emotional stories of coming-to-grips with something. Men's stories, to make a huge generalization, are about things happening, reasons being given, things changing. Moby-Dick, arguably the manliest book of all time, is all about reasoning out the parts of the whale and whaling. It's about hubris and close, manly relationships. It's about Whaling and Death. It's epic. Frequently women's stories are much smaller, less grand. My ambitious self wants stories about people who make it big, people who do great things, people who change minds and hearts and are vindicated. Many women's stories are about small things. Am I undervaluing Bonesetter's Daughter because it's too small and womanly?

A friend recently forwarded me an article on the same subject. The question was, if love and home are so very important to all of us, why do we undervalue stories about them regardless of who wrote them?

Independence Day

I spent Independence Day doing what every red-blooded, patriotic American does: I worked on home improvement. We worked on fixing our deck, digging stones out of the back yard, and removing some truly monstrous roots from the garden. Seriously, one of them looks a bit like a huge horseradish or maybe a small mole.

At dinner with my parents, my mother and I were musing about Independence Day and what it means. So often you hear, "Give thanks for those who died to make this country free." I do give thanks for them, but that's not what we're celebrating. This is the day of the Declaration of Independence, the Colonies' beginning their insurrection against England. My mother put it well: "We said, 'NO.'" That really is the spirit of the holiday--we said no to tyranny and ambivalence and being subject to. And we said, "YES." We said yes to life, liberty, and happiness. We said yes to carving out our own destiny. We said yes to the possibility of failure. And we won.

I am very much an advocate for the separation of church and state. That said, there's a distinct similarity between that NO and YES and the NO and Yes we're asked for as Christians. The prophets and the mothers and fathers of the faith are remembered for standing up to tyranny, for saying "NO" to the powers that be. And they are beloved for saying "YES" to free will and compassion and love.

There is no guarantee that we'll succeed in this world. There is no surety that the garden I worked in today will be mine next year or even next week. There is no reason to believe that the Kingdom of God is ours here and now, and yet we Christians make the choice every day to stand up for what's right and to open our arms and hearts to the stranger. It is our experience of the holy in one another, in the Created world, in the structures and chaos of our lives which points to God.

It has been said that humans make their governments into idols. We see the safety and generosity and organization and we say, "Indeed, it is very good." And often that government can take the place of God. Ask yourself which you would choose: what is right in the eyes of God or what is right in the eyes of the government? This is not to suggest a rebellion here and now but to remind myself of where my priorities should be. God is the top of the hierarchy. I am in relationship with God as are billions of others--how do I then see the world? What does Creation look like through God's eyes rather than my own?