The Problem with Purging

These last few days / couple of weeks, my life has been occupied with caring for my wife and newly born son.  It has been a tremendous shift in many ways, but the full impact of the reality of my status of FATHER has yet to occur.  The dynamics and feelings that are engendered by this change are subjects for another day.

Today however, I’ve been working on the ongoing project of consolidating my and my wife’s life.  Our marriage and subsequent merging of households means that we have an abundance of … stuff, and not enough room for all of it.  Of course since we’re both “full-time Christian workers,” we travel a bit lighter than some in the “stuff” department, but there is still quite a lot of accumulated goodies from the nearly four-score years of our combined lifespan.  Now we have a baby, and baby has his own “stuff” which also takes up room; room that we don’t have.

The commonest solution for this curse of accumulation is to buy more storage bins, find more places to cram things, and inevitably to move to larger quarters.  That’s the American way!  However we both are convinced that our modestly sized home in the inner city has more than enough room for 3 people and their “stuff” to live comfortably, and neither of us wishes to get into the habit of “building bigger barns” so to speak, which leaves us with but one option:

We purge.

That is we have to make choices about what will stay and what will go and just how many copies of Leading Across Cultures by Dr. James Plueddemann is enough for one household (if you think that’s odd, don’t ask about her book on Burmese culture, my Western Civ textbooks or the multiple copies of Too Busy Not to Pray that I’ve always been too busy to read).

The problem with purging though is not just in weighing the relative utility of whatever stuff we’ve happened to acquire over our years of life and ministry.  It is that so many of the decisions are fraught with emotional content.  Why have I waited so long to get rid of the set of Chinaware I found for $12 in the back corner of some musty Salvation Army store and have only used two or three times?  What is it about the long disused winter coat or formal gown that travels from home to home growing ever more out of fashion and yet ever less dispensable as the years wear on?

It would be easy to attribute such acquisition to a materialistic approach to life, but in reality each of these items, marginally useful though they might be, touch keenly on what have been termed the mystic chords of memory.  Dining from those dishes, gazing at that gown, touching the spine of that book which never quite makes it to the bedside reading pile all transport us back to moments in time, seasons in life, that were and are precious to us.  They may not perhaps be profoundly significant, nor even memorable moments, but it is the succession of such moments that make up our lives.  Washing that particular set of dishes reminds me not only of their purchase, but of the visit to staff colleague in Florida and the dishes they had which I liked, and the struggles of their young marriage with wanting children but being unable at the time to conceive.  Seeing that book takes me back to seemingly endless conversations with my campus minister about the importance of prayer and the devotional life.  To rid myself of these simple objects seems to be more than just making room for the NEW and IMPROVED.

Besides all this, that we have so much is itself a striking reminder of the impermanence with which our modern / post-modern lives have become infused.  There was a time when choosing the china pattern for ones dishes was of great importance, for those dishes would travel with you throughout life — through Thanksgivings, Christmases, Easters, weddings, and funerals.  They would be the never fail companions to every moment of significance in ones life until in old age or at death they would be passed down, broken gravy dish and all, to whatever child or grandchild had need or sentiment enough to want them.

Now of course dishes are just dishes — made, bought and sold, used up and discarded, like so much of life and so many of its people.  Grandma’s china ends up gracing the back aisle of a dusty second hand store while the local BIG BOX retailer sells antiquity in a box, made in China and shipped without sentiment straight to your door where it waits in boxes for the necessary purge of the old to make room for the new.

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Capacity

Oh the arrogance I possess, and how profound is the need for the gracious hand of my God to be upon me for strength and fortitude in the face of daunting circumstances. It has but a few days hence that I found myself apologizing yet again for the inadequacies of my leadership only to discover that the things I thought had been covered were also lacking. In short, I have yet again overestimated my capacity to take care of things.

Amazing is it not, how regularly I and we spend away our futures by making commitments which are predicated upon some imagined future state in which I will possess limitless energy and time. This is my sin and error. I have discovered, and am discovering more and more all the time, how limited I am and how very often the things I desire to happen are simply pushed to the side or done with much less attention to quality than I would like. As a single person, I am well aware of the social cost I pay, as well as the cost to the quality of my life. The fact is, when I give time to things like work, prayer, or sermon preparation – the quality of my life is greatly degraded. This is not because work, prayer or sermon preparation are wrong things; indeed they are not. It simply is that anytime given to the maintenance of those commitments mean that something else must suffer.

I am at capacity and perhaps over. This is why God has given us Sabbath; so that we might be reminded of our capacity and the limitations of our ability. May God grant that I have the humility to accept the limitations of my nature and to rather bask in the grace of God.

What dreams may come….?

So this will be a bit more personal post than I customarily write, if for no other reason than the subject matter itself, that is, my dream life.

Last night, for some reason entirely beyond my cognitive ability to discern, I had a dream about meeting Eugene Cho, the two fisted blogging pastor from somewhere out west where I suspect it rains a lot. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Cho (Cho moksanim) except through the blogosphere. So here it is, as best I can recount it.

In the dream, I and Eugene are walking through what appears to be conference center of some kind, but which really looks like a student center on a college campus. As we walk I am explaining to him something about this “event” that we are apparently both a part of and which I am evidently in charge of coordinating. While walking through we pass by a number of rooms in which various student gospel choirs are preparing themselves for a concert. We also passed by one of my current student who I recognized only from the back of his head, as he was busy studying. Then (this is really weird) we passed by Wayne Park, who I have also never met, but who is sitting with his laptop typing something. Eugene greets him, and I am surprised they know each other, but say nothing as I remember that they do indeed know one another. All the time we’re walking, I keep thinking to myself, “Eugene is a lot shorter than I thought he would be,” and “wow, his hair is really interesting.”

We finally arrive at “the room” where Eugene’s presentation is to take place. It is a very nice room set up amphitheater style with large red very modern sofa type seating arranged in a semi-circle. Eugene comments that it is just like his church, but I am confused because I thought his church met in some other kind of space, but again I say nothing. Of course I’ve never seen his church either. He leaves the room to go get some “equipment,” and I again wonder why he isn’t taller than I thought he would be. My last thought before waking? I really like this room.

Questions that arise from this weirdness:
Why the heck am I dreaming about Eugene Cho? I’ve never even met the man… what the heck?
Why is Wayne Park in my dream? Again… never met him… no idea what’s going on here…
What is the significance of red sofas (come to think of it, there was lots of red in my dream)?
Why is Cho-mksnm hair so interesting?
Is it really interesting, or did I just make that up?
Is there some hidden gospel message in this dream?

Any dream interpreters out there wanna take a shot at this?

There Goes the Neighborhood

Today I saw something that confirmed what I’ve been suspecting for a while… my neighborhood is changing.

I’ve been seeing the signs here and there, but bravely have tried to ignore them in hopes that perhaps I was wrong. You know how it is; just little things: A white woman walking her dog, a young Asian guy driving a late model Honda down the street, a Volvo parked inconspicuously in a driveway while the young, vaguely hippie looking homeowners enjoyed a drink on the front porch. All of these things were signs that I’ve been trying valiantly to ignore.

But what I saw today was something I could not ignore nor misinterpret, despite all my efforts. There he was in all his trendy splendor – a young white guy, casually dressed in the kind of clothes that look like they’re from Wal-Mart but you know are really from Banana Republic… sitting at the edge of his walkway, innocently, unobtrusively, and completely naturally – playing a guitar. There he sat, in front of an appropriately trendy Craftsman style home, barefoot, and playing his guitar in the calm of a late afternoon as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

My neighborhood is officially trendy.

White folks drinking wine on the front porch I could ignore; the White woman walking her dog was harder to rationalize, but still I made the effort. But this, this cannot be denied or explained away. It is only in trendy urban neighborhoods that White guys play guitars while sitting out in front of their houses I knew it was coming, but I didn’t expect it so quickly.

Before I know it, there will be coffee shops with bearded baristas and black rimmed glasses wearing Mac users. The ubiquitous loud young Black girls with too much saunter and not quite enough jeans to cover their shape will be replaced by svelte looking people who ::gasp:: jog!!

I’m not quite sure what to make of it all. There goes the neighborhood.

Missions & Mission

I am attending a missions conference for one of the churches that supports my work with students. The conference is quite the “deal” with the entire congregation mobilized to welcome, support, care for, and encourage their “partners” in ministry. This morning I heard a wonderful sermon on John 3:16 about how we are all sent, and that wherever we are is the ends of the earth to someone else.

It is such a great gift to be in a place and among people who see that what missionaries, both here and throughout the world, is a valuable and critical component of the mission of God. I am thrilled that this congregation takes so seriously the work of caring for missionaries beyond simply sending a check every month, although that too is important.

This stands in sharp contrast to the many conversations I’ve had through the years with potential donors and supporters of ministry, some of whom are not quite sure what we do, or if what we do is valuable, or even worse, view us as competitors to the ministry of the “church” what ever that means. I sure people don’t mean anything by the sometimes harsh comments they make to or about missionaries, but as someone who depends on the provision of God through the generosity of his people, it isn’t easy to hear from someone that they “cannot afford to give” when I supervise college educated people who make less than $20,000 a year. Even harder to hear is the critiques often lodged against missionaries or pastors for their “extravagant lifestyles” when the lifestyles of the average church member is not allowed to ever be evaluated for its closeness to Biblical norms.

Nevertheless, I am not writing this primarily as a rant against the some time stinginess of the church, but rather to raise the question of how “missions” and the “mission” of the church go together. Most of the financial resources of the church go mainly to creating programs designed to care for the needs of the congregation with missions and outreach receiving whatever might happen to be left over. In some ways this would be fine if members were mobilized towards active mission, whether on their jobs or in their neighborhood, or wherever. However, in most cases, mission giving ends up being nothing more than a salve to the conscience of believers who know that they are to be generous, yet cannot bring themselves to sacrifice the comfort of padded pews and the latest high tech multimedia to give to some missionary somewhere. Besides, aren’t missionaries and pastors supposed to be poor?

What is the mission of the church and how is it connected to “missions?” Are they separate things, united only by their common name? Is the mission of the church accomplished through writing the monthly check or by doing the occasional inner city (read poor people that don’t look like us) service project? What about all those people hell bound and dying who look to all appearances that the don’t need the Lord? Are they not an appropriate target for missions? What do you guys think?

Political writer’s block & uncomfortable questions

It has been quite some time since I’ve put the metaphorical pen to paper and written anything on this blog. In fact, I haven’t done much writing at all in any arena. I have felt busy and overwhelmed and the creative juices have not been flowing very well. That is at least the line that I’m holding to.

In actual fact, in addition to my so-called writer’s block, I have been radically reluctant to write anything because I’ve been thinking mostly about politics, and haven’t wanted to put my thoughts out for the world to see in the midst of campaign season. It is not that I believe anything I say influences anyone in any particular way. I just don’t want to be misinterpreted and misunderstood. I also am tremendously picky about my word choice. I won’t say much today either, but here are some things that I’ve been thinking about. Maybe I’ll blog about these things at some point

Black people supporting Barack Obama largely because he’s considered “Black” but really he’s biracial and his background is really pretty “White” by some measurements

Racism in politics is bad, but sexism is ok, as long as you disguise it well

Candidates or political messiahs; why democracy is deceitful

Why whoever is elected won’t really change my life that much

There are so many other thoughts rolling around in my head that I cannot articulate. It is not an easy thing to put into words political thoughts because people hold their politics more seriously than their religion.

Miscellaneous thoughts about travel and assorted other things

I traveled today and yesterday and noticed people in the airport who seemed to be entirely extraneous. By this I mean that they were carrying no bags, and were walking with apparently no purpose whatsoever. In addition, they did not seem to be workers. They were just… randomly in the airport, seemingly purposelessly. I wonder why they were there.

Have you ever met someone with the gift of holding a conversation entirely by themselves, with or without your participation? I sat next to such a person on my flight to Florida. In addition, she had less than minty fresh breath, if you get my drift. I certainly got hers.

I’ve noticed that security people at airports are much more “vigilant” if the airport is really small. I think it makes them feel important and as if they are contributing mightily to our nation’s security. They serve an important function I’m sure, but it is rather interesting.

Even though I’m a “pastor” and work in full time Christian ministry, sometimes I don’t feel particularly spiritual. I hope that doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

I really like preaching. I got to preach yesterday night and it was great to share what I’d seen in scripture. I was a little surprised because people laughed and responded verbally. I wish I could preach more often so I could get better. Is that vanity?

You ever notice how the phrase “a bad neighborhood” is really just shorthand for any place with a lot of poor people or Black or both?

Ok… back to traveling. I’m a big boy Ms. Flight Attendant. I can drink a full can of juice.

I don’t care if it is in the airport; $2.75 is too much to pay for a 20oz. soda.

That is all for now