Sunday, September 30, 2007

September 28, 2007

Lord,

This sure has been a long week. It is so interesting how these past two weeks have been so distinctly different. I began last week reflecting on things like poverty, exclusion, or my personality, and now I find myself pondering and constantly praying about grief, loss, and pain. You have given, and you have taken away. But somehow there is hope and grace and love in that. God, Melissa and I continue to grieve and I’m not sure if that pain will ever exactly go away, I just know that we will be comforted. Time will take the edge off but this loss will always be in our memories.

Thank you for being here, for sending love through others and for just sitting with us, crying with us, and laughing with us through this whole process. You’ve shown yourself in the way that things have been orchestrated, the fact that this miscarriage occurred this past weekend, and not on the weekend before where I was 2500 miles away from Melissa attending a wedding. Or the fact that our health insurance was activated literally hours before had to go to the ER. Three months waiting for insurance coverage and HOURS before we need it you provide. I often doubt your immediate control on things in this life Lord but how can I doubt the fact that even through this time of confusion and pain you have shown grace, control, power, and mercy?

We love you Lord and thank you for the lessons learned, for the growth that we have gone through and for thankfulness we can have even though it hasn’t even been a week. You are truly a God of love and we thank you.

Amen

September 27, 2007

I got an email from a good friend yesterday. He was sad he could not be here to sit with us. Anyone else might think that odd, but to me that meant so much. It hit a spot deep in my heart. I desired to just sit…with him…with Melissa…with Christ.

Life has been hectic since we found out this weekend that we suffered a miscarriage. Balancing grief, pain, school, listening, and talking has proven tough at times. My focus has not been on this program or on my future work as a development practitioner, but as a husband, and as a father. I have grieved the loss of a child, of expectations I didn’t know I had, and have had to refocus on things like balance sheets, budgets, and bankruptcy. After I read that email, and spoke to that friend on the phone, I simply desired to sit, to be, to rest.

There’s a video I watched recently by a pastor in Michigan named Rob Bell that touched on this point beautifully. In the video he reflects on the loss of a friend and the painful process of mourning. He spoke of how oftentimes people don’t know how they are “supposed” to feel. In times of grief often the things people try and say, things which would normally comfort us, don’t. And we are stuck.

That’s when he brought up the Jewish concept of sitting shiva. Shiva is a Jewish custom when someone is mourning wherein the family members go to that person and sit with him/her, just sit. I think it is a profound representation of what Christ is already doing with those in pain. It is a reminder that the present Christ is with us, grieving our loss, and bringing about restoration. Shiva is a beautiful way to practice community, to bear each other’s burdens through a gift as simple as our presence.

This idea of sitting shiva reminds me of when my sister had a stillborn baby. After the family found out we all flew to Colorado to be with her and her husband. The most powerful time for me, of the whole weekend, was when she and I sat in her living room, and said nothing. It was so inconsequential that she probably doesn’t even remember, but to me those moments of time spent with others, of peace and space and silence, were some of the most healing times during the process of grief.

So as I read that friend’s email and remembered Rob talking about grief, I realized that I wanted people here with Melissa and I, sitting shiva.

September 26, 2007

Our professor of economics opened class today by sharing an interesting metaphor. He was quoting someone else when he said (and I’ll paraphrase):

The Christian Life is like a journey down a road in a city, with high buildings all around. In front of you are the gates to heaven; the kingdom of God is near. And as you are walking down that road you notice large windows in the buildings around you and you see the devil’s minions with their faces plastered against the windows, yelling, taunting, discouraging you. The reality is that the work of Satan cannot actually forcefully stop you, but it can discourage you enough until you sit down in the middle of the road, in the middle of your journey, and give up.

I liked this visual on how it feels to follow Christ in this broken world. I have definitely felt discouraged at times, and none more discouraging than the present, but through it all I have continued to hold onto the fact that no matter what … Christ prevails. When it comes down to it Christ already won. It’s over. And the discouragement Melissa and I have felt this past week has only been from some “minions” high up with their face against window panes, yelling at us and wanting nothing more for than for us to stop, become complacent, and give up. But we will persevere.

September 25, 2007

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4

I’ve always thought I understood this verse. Many times as I have read over the Sermon on the Mount I have even skipped over this verse. It seems like a no-brainer. God will comfort someone who mourns. I have mourned the loss of important people in my life--my grandparents and niece especially--and I felt comforted through those experiences. But in retrospect most of the comfort I felt was through people, through others around me. It was the type of comfort that comes in meals cooked and dropped off, or through flowers and letters. It was the type of comfort that comes in words like “I’m sorry” or “I know what you are going through.” These comforts are necessary and a part of healing, but I’ve come to understand that these are not what Christ was talking about.

That day, when Jesus spoke those words, he understood and was speaking of a deep comfort that comes only from God. I now have experienced that comfort. Having experienced the loss of a child, the loss of so many expectations has caused me so much pain, pain I never knew I could experience. But there has been comfort. Jesus was right, I have mourned—deeply, openly, with rawness—and I have been comforted. Those peripheral comforts have been here, people have said their kind words, and dropped off their much appreciated dinners and flowers, but nothing has sufficed quite like the comfort I have felt deep in my soul. A comfort that says, “I love you. I’m here. I know.” And those words are what keep me looking to the future, trusting that God’s plan and God’s love will redeem this situation, this pain, this world.

No longer will I skip blessed are those who mourn and go right to blessed are the peacemakers (like a good Quaker kid is taught to do), but now I will stop, reflect, and thank God for the pain I’ve experienced and the comfort I have received.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4

September 24, 2007

It’s interesting how things interrupt life, how life interrupts life. Things are rolling in one direction and suddenly it feels like it all takes a u-turn. I’ve just taken a u-turn.

Recently things changed in my life, expectations changed. But the unchanging component has been God. Through this change in plans I have realized what it feels like to cling to my faith. I have sensed God challenging me to take this change and allow it to teach me about the other interruptions that are inevitable in my life and the life of those I will touch in the future. God has challenged me to not allow this u-turn to direct my path, but rather for me to turn back around and face life head-on, while not forgetting the experiences of the past.

God, may you continue to guide and direct, love and comfort. May your hand be evident as we turn back around and face the life that we know has been set out before us. Thank you for friends and family, for their love, support, and listening ears. And God, thank you for challenging me to cling to you, to cling to the promises and love that you have given me. I pray for anyone else experiencing a u-turn right now. May you be with them just as you have been with us.

September 21, 2007

I’ve been wrestling with Jesus’ words to the rich man to “sell everything you own and give it to the poor.” I’ve grown up with the mindset that this was to be a literal command from Jesus to us all, that it was an argument for simple living and equal distribution of wealth. But as I study economics more and learn about markets, economics, wealth, and poverty, I see that it not as simple as it appears to be.

Today in class we were asked whether we thought the Bible teaches completely equal distribution of wealth, or whether it supports some people being rich and some being poor. As I thought through the words of Christ (“the poor will always be with you”) and his parables (Parable of the Talents), I began to realize that it wasn’t complete equality that Christ was calling for, Christ not calling for a purely communistic system, but Christ was calling for the non-poor to give what they had to the poor. He was calling them to live lives of love and generosity that allowed others to be blessed and sustained. He challenged the rich to sell all they owned because those rich had never felt what it was like to not have, what it was like to ask, and what it was like to receive. Nevertheless, Christ was not denying that there will be rich and there will be poor.

Christ seemed to understand that human nature is still part of the equation, that we will never completely eradicate greed and selfishness. But he did seem to desire a dramatic change in the way we view money, the way we share our resources and support each other in times of need.

We, as followers of Christ and as a global community of followers of Christ, have not done this well. We have not checked where our hearts are and given all that we have to those in need around us. We have maintained the status quo, helping out here and there, giving our tithe here and there. If we truly took Christ’s words to heart I believe we would not have to sell all we have and become poor ourselves, but we would feel compelled to progressively give more to those around us, never being satisfied with how much we have given already.

What ways can you work toward giving more of your time and resources to those around you who are in need?

September 20, 2007

I spend much of my time reading these days. I have been devouring book after book as I journey toward a life of helping the poor and the oppressed. There have been moments of awe, frustration, and joy as I have flipped the through the many pages of text. God has truly brought me here and it has been so evident that this school, this program, is where I am supposed to be.

A foundational book to what this program on International Economic Development is about is called Walking With the Poor: Principles and Practices for Transformational Development, by Bryant Myers of World Vision. In it Myers tries to get the reader to understand that poverty is much more complex than we would like to believe, that poverty has a whole host of problems and there are no simple solutions. He says at the core of the issue is problem of relationships, relationships with ourselves, others, God, and our environment.

The poor are poor largely because they live in networks of relationships that do not work for their well-being. Their relationships with others are often oppressive and disempowering as a result of the non-poor playing god in the lives of the poor. Their relationship within themselves is diminished and debilitated as a result of the grind of poverty and feeling of permanent powerlessness. Their relationship with those they call "other" is experienced as exclusion. Their relation with their environment is increasingly less productive because poverty leaves no room for caring for the environment. Their relationship with God who created them and sustains their life is distorted by an inadequate knowledge of who God is and what God wishes for all humankind. Poverty is the whole family of our relationships that are not all they can be.

How am I “playing god” in the lives of the poor? Is there anything I can do to right those relationships?

God, continue to challenge me and cause me to grow. Be here as biases break. Thank you for bringing me to this place, with these people, so that you could change my mind and heart.

September 19, 2007

We did a self-assessment today in one of our classes. We were given six different categories to choose from to describe our personalities. There were categories which stressed working with your hands, being goal oriented, being organized, being analytical, being creative, and being social. I have done activities like these before and I struggle every time. Today was no exception.

I constantly have a hard time defining one area in which I find myself fitting best. I enjoy creating things, leading, being organized, being social, and analyzing issues. And I enjoy almost all of them equally. At one point when we were to move around the room in order to separate ourselves by our top choices I just stayed in my chair. Finally I stood in the “social” group. I have been realizing more and more how much of a social person I am. Even though, as an introvert, I need to reenergize individually, I constantly enjoy being with people I know and I enjoy face-to-face interaction. The second group I put myself in was the investigative, analytical group. I highly value and enjoy learning, analyzing, and investigating issues.

After we finished with that exercise we moved on to answering some questions on our own. The professor instructed us to finish the following sentence as best we could: "I am most happy when __________." Again. . . I just sat there. Nothing was coming to me. “I am most happy when I am eating.” No. “I am most happy when I am being social.” No. “I am most happy when I have money.” No. finally it came to me. I had two separate ideas in mind of times I think I am most happy.

I am most happy when I am serving people.
I am most happy when I am in community.

It was not until I was forced to go through the motions of exercises like these that I realized just how valuable people are to me. Tonight was a great picture of what that looks like. My classmates all went to one person’s house; we cooked dinner together, talked, listened to music, did homework, and laughed a lot. That is one time when I am most happy, when I am enjoying the group of people that I am with, when I am getting to know these people on a deep and vulnerable level. To me, that is community.

September 18, 2007

I never thought there would come a day when Tony Campolo would call me a liberal intellectual. Really, I never thought there would come a day when I would even meet Tony Campolo.

It was a week ago Friday when Tony spent a day with our class. He was talking at length about local community development and the potential to eliminate poverty through job creation when I spoke up. He had given an example of a town that started a business out of a need the town had for batteries. The town had been buying batteries from the town next door and so someone decided to offer rechargeable batteries at a much lower price while recharging them from solar panels. The conclusion of the story was that by developing jobs a town’s economy can stimulated greatly. But I asked “What about the other community?”, since they would no longer be selling batteries. “Aren’t there consequences in that situation that negatively affect another group of people?” I asked. “Why would we want to just transfer the poverty? Isn’t there a way to stimulate the struggling economy without adversely affecting the other?”

“There always has to be one in the crowd,” Tony retorted. “You’re just a liberal intellectual that has to think of every possible outcome to a situation. Obviously there’s no perfect solution.”

And then, just yesterday, I had to write a paper reflecting on a certain topic in anthropology. As I wrote the paper I found myself criticizing the author for being too optimistic and not practical enough, for not thinking through all the possible problems with his theory. Again, I was being a “liberal intellectual” according to Tony Campolo, I was allowing my questioning nature to look for every possible negative aspect of a theory without recognizing that no program or theory is perfect.

Through these two experiences I am working on approaching situations with much more optimism in order to find the benefits before finding the faults. I do this with people just as I do this with theories. Everyone deserves a chance and I will work much harder at offering that chance. Besides, being the guy that constantly rains on someone’s parade isn’t very fun.

After the discussion was over Tony leaned over and said to me, “besides Michael, the people weren’t putting another small company out of business by offering rechargeable batteries. . . they had been buying the batteries from Wal-Mart all along.”

September 17, 2007

“Can I just say right now that those people in no way represent who I am and what I believe.”

I said this line to a friend this weekend. I felt it was necessary in order to validate the fact that I am normal and a follower of Christ, that those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

You see I spent the weekend in San Diego taking part in the wedding of a high school friend. It almost felt like a mini high school reunion, but with people you actually wanted to see. We all had a great time together and it reminded me of how deep relationships really run, even if it has been years since you’ve seen them. The most interesting part about the weekend was watching the wife of one my friends (not a follower of Christ) observe the rest of us who do claim to follow Christ. It was fantastic. I was given a running commentary on my sub-culture from an “outside” perspective. As the weekend progressed she continued to say things like, “I just don’t get it,” or, “I don’t even understand what they are saying right now.” As we did the wedding rehearsal and then interacted with the wedding party afterwards I began to interpret things for her. I had to translate jokes that weren’t funny to her or tell her what some phrase really meant.

It was actually a painfully embarrassing process for me because it showed me, in real and immediate ways, just how exclusive a simple thing like language can be to a person who is not from the same spiritual paradigm as me, or from any spiritual paradigm at all.

As we left the rehearsal dinner I observed the way some of the other people in the wedding party were acting. The moment we got in the car I said the line, “Can I just say right now that those people in no way represent who I am and what I believe.”

The conversation that followed was one of the most encouraging conversations I’ve had with an “outsider.” I was able to be open about the fact that my faith is so deep and so integral to who I am and what I am doing that I get so frustrated when it is trivialized and commercialized by people who want to turn it into something it is not.

“I do not follow Christ so that I can fit into a mold and have somewhere comfortable to go every Sunday morning. I don’t believe this stuff because I think it will make me cool or rich. I believe this because at my deepest parts I know it is true. As much as I might not want to believe it sometimes, I am compelled by the words of Jesus and I can do nothing else but follow him.”

The other people in my car responded positively to what I had to say. I can only trust that those words and our friendship might be the beginnings to a movement in their lives where God will be revealed. They remind me of the many people in Dan Kimball’s book, They Like Jesus but Not the Church. People who admire spirituality, admire the life and words of Christ, admire people in their lives that live that out authentically, but are appalled and distraught by the state the of the local church.

God, may you work in the lives of those out there that like Jesus but not the Church. And may you also work in the lives of those out there that like the Church… but not Jesus.
Writing for Barclay Press these past two weeks has been a very therapeutic coincidence. God's timing has baffled me throughout this whole process of having a miscarriage, and writing for Barclay Press seemed to be part of God's plan for how I might process this loss. I initially was scheduled to write in October, but due to a last minute changed I was bumped. I'm very thankful that these were the weeks I was assigned to as I learned that writing can be healing, vulnerable, affirming, empowering, challenging, and a discipline.

I'm going to go ahead and post each entry for these past two weeks. Partly for those of who didn't happen to stroll over to the Barclay Press Website each day, and partly for me to keep an archive of what I have written.

Enjoy!

Friday, September 21, 2007

"What is this... a school for ants?"

That's how I felt tonight. As you may have heard, we had trouble with moving our box spring in a few weeks ago. The stairway was too tight and only the mattress would fit up the stairs. Well, we went into downtown Philly tonight to pick up a couch and chair off craigslist. We found the place just fine and got the the couches loaded up. Got back to the apartment and the couch wouldn't fit up the stairs. We got it to the top and nothing happened. It wouldn't budge. We tried three or four more times, took the railing off, took the legs of the couch off, everything. It wouldn't budge.

Since we already paid for the couch we figured we might as well put it to use. We knew our friends had an empty office room that needed more seating so we thoguht we might as well put it in there for the year. We got it over there, got it into the hallway, but could not fit it into the room.

Not again!!!

So, we left it in the hallway, ready and waiting for the next craigslist shopper to come and get it and try to fit it up their stairs.

At least we got the overstuffed chair and ottoman in. Now at least we have somewhere to sit other than our dining room table.

What is it with all these small houses and narrow hallways? Did early Philadelphia homebuilders think that furniture would actually fit in the tiny spaces they created?

Unbelievable. . .

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Beginning tomorrow I will be writing the Daily Journal over at Barclay Press' Conversation Cafe. Head on over and check it out.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I've been enjoying classes a ton so far. Seeing the people in my cohort is always a highlight in my day. We have fun together, and already care for each other and we haven't known each other very long.

I was especially blessed when many of them came over Monday and helped Mel and I move. Balancing school and moving (again) has been a headache, but they all offered and where so giving. They all were dripping sweat in the Philly humidity, but because they helped we got our entire apartment moved in less than 2 hours. It was such a huge blessing.

I thought I'd also let you all in on what classes I am taking this term.

Mondays:
Cross-cultural Skill and Understanding
(basically Anthropology). The prof is great, she's an MK from India and has a ton of experience and knowledge on cultures.

Tuesdays:
Biblical Faith and Economics
This is an interesting course, looking at how our faith and our understanding of development and poverty converge. John Stappleford is the professor...hilarious, wise, mustached.

Wednesdays:
Managerial Accounting
This class was intimidating at first, but I've come to like it. We study how to be a good manager and how to be a good steward of the resources you have been given.

Thursdays:
Economic Development for Developing Communities
This is an overview of the development field and a study of what poverty is, and how we can help transform the world through development. The professor is Connie Ostwald, she got her and Masters and PhD in Denver but is originally from the Northwest. This is my favorite course so far.

Fridays:
Nada

We've been reading some great, great stuff so far. I'll fill you in more on that later.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

And from across the room came the question...


"Do you have to raise your hand in grad school?"

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The mail came...

...and it was good.



Two of my favorite things came in the mail today... a much needed paycheck and Relevant Magazine. As Melissa just posted, God has been gracious and has answered our prayers. Money has been tight as she shared, but things like unknown scholarships, random paychecks in the mail, insurance coverage, and a variety of other stuff keeps happening that cause me to be in awe of the power and glory of God.

Trust and Obey

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Class has been such a great experience so far. The program is designed around a cohort model. There are 10 people in the MBA cohort and we have all of our classes together. It has been great getting to know each of those people.

Mohamed is from Sierra Leone. He has some amazing stories of life in one of the most poor and corrupt countries on the planet.

Jason is the other international student and is from Jamaica. His desire to go back and change Jamaica is so great to watch.

Chris is a long-term missionary to Azerbaijan who wants this degree in order to help Azerians start and maintain small businesses.

Ross has been living and teaching in Asia for the past few years. He wants to get back and live there long-term to help translate Scripture and this is one way he can do that.

I have become good friends with a guy named Andy. He is from upstate New York but has been living in various parts of the east coast playing on different semi-pro soccer teams. The funny thing is his brother actually works in my old hometown of Newberg at C.S. Lewis, a local private school. What a small world. He and his wife have been great for Melissa and I to connect with.

Tom is a fellow MK and his parents currently serve in Southeast Asia. He is a great guy and one I'll love to get to know better.

On to the girls in the cohort:

Mari has some past experience in non-profit and economic development work. She adds some great insight into the discussions.

Mikhal is from Iowa and seems to bring authenticity and a depth of character to group.

Ruth has an obvious passion for helping solve the problem of poverty. She actually runs her own non-profit and she's my age!

Karri is the only married girl in our class. She and her husband moved from Indiana. She has been working for an organization trying to educate people about the crisis in Darfur. She brings a lot to the program and has an almost visible passion for helping the poor.

I didn't mean to go into detail about each person in my cohort, but I'm realizing how much I already value these people, and how close we will actually grow this year.
There is so much I wish to write about. Most of the time I have so much to say that I end up saying nothing. I even had a whole post written out just now but deleted it. I am amazed by God’s direction and the grace and mercy that God shows. This program is where I am to be and I could tell from the first moment I walked in the doors. Mel and I have met some great people, the types who will undoubtedly be life-long friends. We have a common burden for the broken people and places of the world and we are all so ready to learn.

What I was writing my now-deleted post about was the Lectio Divina we did during orientation. Below is the picture that came out of my time meditating on 2 Corinthians. This journey that Melissa and I are on is a profound shift in the way we have lived life for sometime now. On Monday I was able to sense the gravity of who it is Christ is truly calling me to be. This program, this faith, this journey we all have with Christ is truly about not living for ourselves. As I meditated on that I saw before me things in life which I must release… the desires, the comforts, the hopes… and I saw that they all must go in order for Christ to work through me in the lives of the poor and oppressed.

Pray for me as I continue to release my expectations to God.