Religion

Day 6

British airOn the sixth day Kate, Makena, and Starlette traveled from London to Houston. Quite a long trip. They arrived fine and were picked up at the airport and taken to Nederland, Texas. They plan on resting up for a few days and then the whirlwind tour of America begins in earnest. 

Texas

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, those of us left at The Shire had a quiet Sunday. Lazing around, listening to music, and watching a bit of television in the evening. Plenty of thinking and meditating time.

I spent some time with a passage from Matthew chapter twenty-five. I know I quote and talk about it often but it is worthwhile. Take a moment to read it yourself:

34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

This particular passage heavily influenced how I chose to live out my faith. Back before we moved to Kenya I found myself becoming distant from the way faith was being practiced in our church. Simply attending a religious meeting on Sunday and Wednesday, reading the Bible occasionally, and praying were not enough. (Especially after reading the Bible and seeing a different way promoted in the text like the one above.) I started looking for ways to actually practice my Christianity. 

Many years later I find myself still on the lookout for faith practice moments. I, along with my wife Kate, have actually done all the things mentioned in the story of the sheep and goats, and still do them on a regular basis with your help of course. We are not yet weary. In looking for those moments to live out faith we came upon another opportunity, horse therapy for disabled children here in Kenya. These children are some of the least in our community and we are reaching out to them.

This is one of the things Kate is fundraising for while in the U.S. Keeping horses requires effort and food. Getting the children here is another expense, and so on and so on. These children are worth the effort, and it is a great way to practice some faith. 

Matthew-25-40-101216


Less Facebook for Johnny

TMertonStudy"Thomas Merton described those early Christians in the wilderness as people “who did not believe in letting themselves be passively guided and ruled by a decadent state,” who didn’t wish to be ruled or to rule. He continues, saying that they primarily sought their “true self, in Christ”; to do so, they had to reject “the false, formal self, fabricated under social compulsion ‘in the world.’ They sought a way to God that was uncharted and freely chosen, not inherited from others who had mapped it out beforehand.”

 

 

This is a quote about the early Christians who left the Roman empire for the desert. They did so in order to practice a faith untainted by the empire's influence on the church. This appeals to me on so many levels.
 
This morning I was scrolling through Facebook, as I often do while taking care of my morning business, and I was struck by just how much I do not like what I see on Facebook. So much hate and misinformation being spewed. It is as if the screen provides some kind of need to become the worst we can be. I tried the whole unfollow thing, but some folks I unfollowed for posting political junk are people I otherwise like. Then there are the people who I tend to agree with, but they post something so stupid and offensive I click the unfollow link. (Blatant racism will get you booted altogether as one of my connections.) By the time my unfollow link cooled off I was left with only a handful of real people in my feed. The rest was filled up with groups and a musician or two.
 
I ended up re-following everyone and trying to ignore the bigotry, false news, and just plain ignorance. It is getting harder and harder to do so, at least on my phone. Interestingly enough I see a more wholesome feed when using my computer. Either way I am inclined to become more like those desert dwelling early Christians, "who did not believe in letting themselves be passively guided and ruled by a decadent state,” who didn’t wish to be ruled or to rule." 
 
More books, less Facebook for me. 
 
 

Money Lessons

Many things happened in 2005, which was when we moved to Kenya thirteen years ago. 
 
 
It was one of those years that thirteen years later seems to have been o.k., but during that year it was pretty rough. Actually, it was mostly hard work and upheaval for us. We decided to move because we felt that was what God wanted for our lives, and we also felt that we should abandon traditional fundraising methods. This proved easier said than done. We sent out a letter and that was about it. The response was great but slow. 
 
We were still deciding where we fit in the Christian religion, and well, folks tend to give to missionaries who believe like them and follow all their religious rules. We came from a charismatic background, and our church was relatively conservative in it's theology. Personally, I (Johnny) was more theologically liberal back then and did not feel that my voice was appreciated. I also felt it necessary to challenge and raise difficult questions, often. Not the best case scenario for fundraising. 
 
Despite this, and sometimes because of this, we did attract a few donors. The church we helped to plant came on board along with several members and family members. We had no money for a car, no money for traveling, no money for furniture. Yet we knew we should make the sacrifice. 
 
We learned how the poor in Kenya survive. You grow your own vegetables and harvest wild weeds for food. (Once when digging around the garden in 2005, we came across a number of small potatoes. That night we partied with fried potatoes.) No air conditioning meant much lower electricity bill. No car meant no money needed for maintenance, insurance, and petrol. No electronics stores meant no new computers, phones, DVD players, nor really any entertainment at all. We learned to live on much less and to work around or with lack. 
 
We learned to relate. We learned what it means to rely on someone else to get to the hospital with a sick child, who was not breathing due to a feveral seizure. (Our landlord lived next door and felt that she needed to stay home that morning. She found out why when Kate ran over to see if she was home and if she would drive us to the hospital. Butterfly was the child and had malaria and pneumonia.) We learned to rely on our community to help feed our children and theirs. (I went around preaching in that first year that we should take care of each other. That the first church had no needs not because of miracles but because they took care of each other. A few congregations took me seriously and helped us out from time to time.)
 
Thirteen years later we still have to work hard to raise money and have to budget very carefully most months. Yet the donors have grown in number, and we have learned new means of raising money. I think my biggest lesson has been to just trust. If myself or Kate feels that we should do something, then I have learned to trust that the budget will be met. Often times in creative ways, but the money will come to accomplish the project. We have learned that it is o.k. to ask for help, because people really want to help. You guys are great. 

Happy Easter!

Easter is my (Johnny) favorite holiday. Searching back through my memories it seems that I have always loved this holiday. Certainly as a child it was more about candy, getting dressed up for church and egg hunts than any faith related event. There is just something about searching around the back yard for brightly dyed eggs and those oh so precious plastic ones full of jelly beans.

When I decided as a teenager to get serious about figuring this God thing out, which I still have not, the holiday became more about the resurrection of Jesus. Remembering the crucifixion and all the events leading up to it took precedence over the candy and eggs. I even adopted a few years back the practice of meditating on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Morning on the fact that the original followers of Jesus did not expect his resurrection. They would have been devastated at his murder by the state and trying to figure out whether or not it was worth following his teachings even though he had been so easily captured and executed. I like to think, or hope, I would have still followed his teachings and example, even without the hope of the resurrection. Guess I will never know, since I learned the end of the story first. 

I know there is a lot of theological debate about the resurrection and the events leading up to it. There must be thousands of atonement theories out there. Many people, there are even some days I must admit I am one, cannot even accept the resurrection. It is just too big a magical leap for a good number of us educated folks. There are times when I get bogged down with the details and theology. I have to be honest and say that I do not mind getting lost in the story and trying to figure it out. I love that kind of stuff. However, that is all it is when you deconstruct it, stuff. 

What really matters is what does the resurrection of Jesus mean to you? How it works is just fun talk and speculation. Not a single person reading this was there in Jerusalem a couple of thousand years ago. No one wrote down details about the event; first century Palestinians did not write play by play accounts of events. If we are being honest, or at least honest enough, we have no way to know definitively what happened on that day.

I can already hear/read the response, "I know what happened on that day. It's in the Bible. If it's in the Bible it must be factual." Today we are celebrating Easter 2017. That is the year 2017. This year. We know stuff. We know stuff about stuff. Our stuff knows more stuff about stuff than the smartest person knew in the first century. There is no scientific evidence that the resurrection took place. None. Zip. Nada. Yet I still believe in the resurrection. Why? I choose to have faith.

Faith is not scientific. Faith is not black and white. Faith is not measurable with a scale or a ruler. Faith is believing in something unbelievable. Living for something bigger than understanding. Faith transcends science. Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. It is not something provable, which is why it is called faith. 

I believe in the resurrection because it gives me hope. I have hope in Jesus. In him. Not the religion that Paul and others founded in his name, but in the man Jesus who was from Nazareth. Jesus came and preached a radical anti-empire anti-religion and pro-people message. He did this knowing that the Empire regularly crucified people for doing that very thing. He continually admonished his followers and listeners to love their enemies knowing that these very people where longing to overthrow their oppressors and mete out justice on them. He willing went to the cross in faith that his message would be preserved and passed down the ages. 

This brings me hope. The God I grew up with would never have endorsed the Sermon on the Mount. No sir. That god wanted to squash me for looking at girls. That all powerful god needed my money, or rather as I was taught in church he wanted his money back. The god I grew up with hated people so much that he created a place of everlasting torment just so he could watch them suffer. That god scared me; in fact that was the point. Hope dawned as I read the Gospels for myself. I was stunned. After that I read the entire protestant Bible front to back several times in a row. Then I parked myself in the sermon on the mount. This Jesus was a man that I did not have to fear. He did not want to stab out my eye, or deposit me in hell to be tortured day after day for all of eternity just because I forgot to dot an i or cross a t. He was lovable and full of love. 

The resurrection is God's stamp of approval on Jesus. It is God's way of saying this guy is worth paying attention to and following. Easter brings hope. I have hope that if we can live the message of Jesus, our lives, the whole world, will become paradise.

 

“Where there's life there's hope, and need of vittles.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings


Not Just Words

Our monthly newsletter recently went out (if you are not getting it sign up here,) where I wrote about the passage in Matthew 25 concerning the sheep and the goats.

Here is the part I quoted in the newsletter:

Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

This is one of my favorite passages in the New Testament. Lovely little story that I decided to dare to believe one day. In fact Kate and I rearranged our entire lives in order to live out this story. 

No fear, I have not gone off the deep end. My feet are firmly on the ground, and I am not keeping a tally of sheep or goat personality traits. This is not something to take literally. God is not actually sorting people out like they are sheep and/or goats. Nope. Stories do not have to be factual to be true.

We should care for one another, and we should care for those that society or culture has rejected or ignored. That is the truth.

I graduated from high school in 1992. Glad to be free of that indoctrination machine, I have not really spent much time since then reminiscing. Yet as I was thinking about this passage from Matthew yesterday a memory surfaced. I was reminded of a time when I failed to be there for one of those in my school who was bullied, oppressed, and rejected. Personally I was on the bottom of the social ladder. Fat and antisocial I just was not cool material. Honestly this did not bother me. I thrive by myself and loved all the free time to read. Bullies quickly learned that I fought back, and would leave me alone. Unfortunately not everyone can fight back. There was this one kid who was a complete outcast. Awkward to the nth degree, but always trying to be a part. He or she, I cannot remember now, used to come to school wearing Star Trek uniforms. Needless to say this was before cosplay was mainstream. I do remember thinking on more than one occasion that I should reach out and be a friend. I never did, and I regret it.

In each of our lives we have these "least of these" type of people. Kate and I decided to move to Kenya and work with orphans, especially orphaned girls, because they are overlooked and ignored in this culture. Each time we pay a school fee, buy a school uniform, buy food, or take one to the hospital we are reaffirming that they have value. We are saying "you are seen. "

Thank you to those who help us to love these children here in Kenya. We, meaning us and them, appreciate it dearly.


Thriving

I cannot think of one aspect of us or our "mission" that is unorthodox. Almost from the beginning we chose to start down paths that would lead us into uncharted territory for missionaries. Do we dare go where no cross culture minister has gone before? Apparently we dared.

It all started with the feeling that we should not make our lives about fund raising. We worked up a budget, sent out a letter to everyone we knew, asked our church for funding (they said no,) and prayed. One is not supposed to set off for the foreign mission field without having raised a majority of the support needed. We had about two people committed to give monthly and $400 when we set off in January of 2005. Not a typical start.

We did not even know where we were going to live. Not that we did not have a house. We did not even know what city we would end up in. Just a vague idea and a couple of guys we know from the first time we were in Kenya. In fact almost as soon as we arrived our plans changed.

A lot of stuff happens (you will have to wait for the book,) and we decide to leave organized religion behind. This is by far the biggest departure from normal missionary behavior for us. Sure we have met others who are in between churches, but never someone who closed that door. We do not attend church meetings. We do not belong to any religious organization. (I, Johnny, am actually a member of a Christian Universalist group, but since paying my membership fee a few years ago I have not actually participated in the network.) We have no scheduled prayer times, Bible studies, or any other religious paraphernalia. We do not attempt to indoctrinate our children, nor yours.

It can be lonely, but we have found a way to survive. No, that's wrong. We have found a way to thrive. Freedom from religious obligation has been one of the greatest things to happen to us. Not only do we have more time, but not being afraid of failing a pastor, elders, or God is truly life changing. Should be required of all missionaries.

Not that all is rosy all the time outside of Christian institutions. Finding donors can be difficult, sometimes downright impossible. We do not have a system to rely on in times of trouble or crisis. Remembering all the forgotten religious language for the missionary fellowship is a challenge. 

Actually now that I think about it the bad side is tiny, minuscule really, compared to the positive side. People help us financially. We sometimes have special campaigns that get funded, and folks (more than 2 now) give on a monthly or semi-monthly basis. (Of course we could always use help in this area.) We have made new friends here in Kenya, and across the internet. Not bad at all.

We are not typical missionaries, but then do you want the same old same old?


Words

Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never harm me.

Remember that from way back when you were still a kid? I grew up as a fat kid, which means bullying was an everyday affair in elementary school. While I can't specifically remember throwing this phrase at a bully, I for sure thought it in his/her general direction. Thing is it's not true, the phrase that is.

Words mean a great deal to me, and others. Taunting, name calling, and verbal barrages do more damage to me than sticks or stones could ever. I am not sure if I am too sensitive, or have simply read too many words. However I became how I am, I am how I am now. Words hurt.

I am sure one of the reasons I sympathise with the homosexual community is that I have heard a lot of bad words thrown at them. When Kate and I argue over parenting issues, words are generally at the core. Funny thing is I don't really use many words myself. Not talkative, describes me fairly well. I am not shy, and can speak at length (just come hear one of my sermons.) I just like to preserve my words. Not that I always think before I speak. Kate can attest to that flaw in my life.

Not sure why I am writing this, but words do mean something. Labels we put on ourselves or others can either be freeing or restricting. On the other side of the coin some people do not put such value on words. Words do not harm them as much, and often they fail to see the impact their words have on others. I try to keep in mind that just because someone speaks something negative doesn't mean that that negativity is in their heart.

 

 

 

 


Responsibility

Yuck. 

Responsibility.

That big word that divides children from adults. The word that either excites or fills one with a sense of dread.

Responsibility.

Parents at some point in a child's development start to try and instill a sense of responsibility in that tyke. Usually starts with picking up after yourself, or something like that. Works for most people. We learn how to be and that it is good to be responsible.

So who is responsible for problems like orphaned children? Sure we could draw a chart and place blame on that child's family, government, church, or community. Responsibility is easy to assign to someone else. Unfortunately at some point after we grow up some of us learn to shirk our responsibilities.

Justification is a terrible trait we humans possess. We can justify our bad behavior. Excuses can be found for not helping a child. Not helping a helpless child. Yes we can explain why they are not our problem. We are good at pointing fingers. 

Really? Is evolution going backwards? If we can find any, any, excuse to not stop and pick up a hurting child, then we are no better than the lion who eats the orphaned cubs of the pride he just conquered. 

The time has come for us to recoginize our responsibility. We, you and me, are responsible for each other. Which means we are responsible for the orphaned children of our world. No matter who actually made them orphans. We must understand that the excuses we give for not helping are moments where we deny our humanity and devolve into animals. 

Not all of us can come to Africa and rescue nine girls, but all of us can do something somewhere. 

Step number one: No more excuses.

Step number two: Be responsible. 


Take the Time to Look

Every now and then I will find myself going through life looking at the ground. Just marching along looking at nothing but where to put my feet. In other words only  concerned with myself or those I live with. Interacting with others, but just barely. Or rather just enough to accomplish whatever set my feet into action.
 
Yes even us missionary types can ignore those around us. (I am talking about people other than the herd I live with. You know folks in the community, cashiers, public transportation guys, etc.) It is easy to get distracted by one's own life. Especially if it is a life like mine. I'm pretty sure that I've been watching my shoes since moving to The Shire (our new farm.) I know, I know I shouldn't be too harsh on myself. It has been a big transition full of lots of work. Good reason to be self absorbed. Yet I do not want to live this way, thinking of and seeing only Johnny and my immediate family.
 
It takes effort to look at people, especially for an introvert like me. The rewards are fantastic, if I can only get my eyes up.
 
This morning I came to town to pay the school fees for our girls in secondary school. The first walk is down the hill to the highway. It's just a path, not a road. Most times I don't meet anyone else during the half hour walk. Lonely, but pleasant. Once at the highway I flag down a public transit vehicle, once it stops the tout jumps out and lets me in.
 
It was during the forty five minutes to an hour ride that I came to realize that I was drifting through life not paying attention to those around me. Usually at some point during the trip the tout, who is the door opener and  closer, will ask you for the fare. All this happened this morning, just like every other time. Nothing unusual, meaning I was able to coast.
 
What shocked me out of my stupor was realizing, as we were nearing the end of the line, that our tout was a woman. Now before you say "so what" you should know that female touts are rare. In fact this may be the first time I have ever ridden with one. I was shocked to discover not her femininity, but how easy it was for me to not notice. (She was not a dude, didn't look like one, nor sound like one.)
 
Once out I made an effort to look at people. Which admittedly made my trip across town take longer, but it was worth it.