Saturday, August 20, 2011

On Beelzebub & Boils

I've been thinking a lot about the Old Testament of late, and just how does the version of faith and faithfulness we see there coincide with the faith that is presented in the New Testament by Jesus. I've been faced with this on a personal basis recently which has caused me to examine my own theology (never a bad thing to do) and has reaffirmed what I believe to be true about sickness and suffering.

For the past week I've been dealing with some incredible pain as I've broken out with some kind of infection on my side and back. I thought it was shingles; my doctor says it's not, although he's not quite sure what it is. Despite the penicillin and pain killers I'm on, the pain has been almost unbearable at times, making sleep especially hard to come by. The bumps, the rash, and the pain have made me think about Job and his response to the suffering in his life. I realize I haven't had my cattle stolen or had a building collapse on my offspring (I suppose I would need cattle and offspring for that to happen), but I can relate to the boils that covered him from head to foot. Why do these things happen and how should I/we respond to them?

While I believe that God occasionally does send affliction in order to mold us in some way, and while, just like Job, I'm sure Satan can be the direct source of our suffering at times, for the most part I'm a naturalist on the problem of pain and suffering. It's part of the human condition, one of the results of the fall. Sickness just is. I have some very good friends of the charismatic tradition who would likely disagree with me on this point. From their perspective everything from an upset stomach to cancer is a demonic attack and therefore, can be cast out in the name of Jesus. To be fair, and to avoid stereotypes, not all charismatic folks would believe this or may believe it to varying degrees, but far too often I have seen the flu attributed to the devil when it most likely should be attributed to the guy you shook hands with at church.

Now don't get me wrong, I've seen some miraculous healings in my time and I've laid hands on friends to pray for their recovery from more minor illnesses with an absolute assurance that they would be up on their feet in no time. In both cases however, I believe it was God who intervened into the circumstances of the present human condition for that healing to take place. There was no demon of stomach flu to be rebuked, but there was the very real presence of God who stepped in to repair that which was broken as a result of the fall.

Which brings me back to Job and my present illness. Whatever it is (and thankfully it seems to be getting a bit better this morning), I neither blame God nor do I think a demon has somehow afflicted me with painful red spots. I simply go back to what Job said after his oh-so-encouraging wife told him to curse God and die: "Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” Be it God, Satan, or just the fallen human condition, in this life I don't think we can expect to avoid all illness or never to experience pain. When it does come along, pray for healing, but accept too that whatever you are suffering from, it just may have to take its natural course before you get better. And be encouraged by the promise that one day, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain." (Rev 21:4) Now that's something to look forward to.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Favourite Lyrics #4: All My Favorite People Are Broken

I just can't get enough of this song by Over The Rhine right now. There's such truth and such beauty in the recognition that we are all broken. There's so much freedom to be found in admitting that you don't have it all together. That you are filled with anxiety, doubt, and fear...and so is everyone else you meet. Despite all of the junk, we are all loved by the Father, whether we choose to turn to Him or not.

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
Some prayers are better left unspoken
I just want to hold you and let the rest go

All my friends are part saint and part sinner
We lean on each other, try to rise above
We are not afraid to admit we are all still beginners
We are all late bloomers when it comes to love

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
Awful believers, skeptical dreamers, step forward
You can stay right here, you don’t have to go

Is each wound you’ve received just a burdensome gift
It gets so hard to lift yourself up off the ground
But the poet says we must praise a mutilated world
We’re all working the graveyard shift
You might as well sing along

Cause all my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
As for your tender heart, this world’s going to rip it wide open,
It aint gonna be pretty, but you’re not alone

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
Awful believers, skeptical dreamers, you’re welcome
Yeah, you’re safe right here, you don’t have to go

Cause all my favorite people are broken
Believe me, I should know
Some prayers are better left unspoken
I just want to hold you and let the rest go

- Over The Rhine

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Waking in Quito

It was exactly one year ago today that I woke up in the Reina Isabel hotel in Quito, Ecuador for the first day of a two-week visit that would impact my life significantly. The first week was spent with World Vision, traveling to various Area Development Programs to learn about the impact our work was having on the local indigenous people while the second week was pure vacation time. You can read all about the trip here.

Not long after returning home I was sharing with someone my excitement about the trip and the impact it made. "Life changing" is the phrase I, and so many others, use to describe an international mission experience. The person I was sharing with at the time said something to the effect of, "well that's great but let's see what kind of impact it has a year from now." In other words, has it really been life changing, or just a blip on my regular day-to-day life? It was a good question then and remains a good question today. Looking back a year later I would say yes, my two weeks in Ecuador were life changing, but perhaps not quite in the way I had expected.

When it comes to my work with World Vision, the impact has been tremendous. I had a really strong head knowledge about poverty and could quote statistics verbatim. My public presentations would be filled with facts and stats which, in the end, really don't motivate many people to action anyway. We all know there are a lot of hungry people in the world. But it is far easier to dismiss the facts about one billion hungry people than it is to dismiss the story of one hungry person. I never get tired of sharing the stories of the individual fathers, mothers, and children I met. My connection to them and to my job in general is far more emotional now. I don't do this because I need a job. I don't do this because I want to reach my performance goals. I do this because I love the people I met. And, while that was just a handful of people out of the billions who live in poverty, that handful represents for me anyone who struggles to meet their daily needs. Every time I say the Lord's Prayer, the "us" (as in "give us this day our daily bread") means far more than me or my family or my circle of friends. It means all of us. And if I'm asking God to give "us" our daily bread, and I have more than enough bread for myself (I'm using bread here metaphorically), then I'm the one who has a responsibility to share my bread with those who are doing without. We don't need Jesus to do another loaves and fish miracle. In developed countries we have more than enough bread and fish. We just need to loosen our grip on them to share with those in need. That's where it gets personal...and far more difficult.

I like to think I'm more generous with my resources - my time, talents, and treasure - than I used to be, but honestly, I just don't know. For the most part, I still get antsy when I'm in the grocery store or a shopping mall. When I first arrived home though, I couldn't actually stand to go shopping without having a bit of a meltdown. Seeing the unbridled consumerism of Canadian culture would make me angry...really angry. Unfortunately, my wife took the brunt of that far too often but was gracious enough to recognize where that anger was coming from. I know I've fallen back into just buying what I want (within reason) but my relationship with money and possessions is far more complicated now than it used to be. That's probably a step in the right direction, but it's not good enough. I know kids who will go to bed hungry tonight yet I really needed that new shirt I bought today (even though I now have to discard something to make room for it in my cupboard). Consumerism is a sickness, an addiction, but like all addictions, the first step to overcoming it is to realize you have a problem in the first place. I'm probably a few healthy steps down the road on this one but I still have a long way to go.

I wish I could say more, but it's late and I need to get some rest. If you've checked in on this blog from time to time you'll see that I'm not writing nearly as much as I used to. I find that when I write, even though it often appears on screen as an intellectual process, it comes from an emotional place inside. I try to give myself emotionally to my work so I find there is often not a lot of gas left in the tank to spend updating this blog at the end of the day. Also, Facebook and Twitter have been tempting mistresses that have pulled me away from blogging regularly but I'm starting to lose my fascination with them. Hopefully I'll get back in the rhythm of writing more often. Until next time...Dios te bendiga.