Thursday, August 30, 2007

How Not to Park a Pickup


Until I hear a voice that I know to be God’s, booming out and telling me what to do, I won’t lay claim to having had Divine intervention. This little event, however, brings me the realization that prayer may well have saved my life.

It was the first day heading to our building sites in Tijuana and I was the second vehicle to try to make it up this very steep and dusty dirt road. What I didn’t notice was that the first truck gave up and went around the corner another way, so up I went. It isn't shown well in the picture, but look at the slope the house is built on behind the truck and that is what I was trying to drive up. For a little bit anyway. Then the wheels started to slip so I gassed it more.

Now I consider myself a driver. I’ve been driving fast and hitting apexes since I was 14, I’ve done racing classes in a couple different kinds of karts and hung out with stunt drivers swapping stories of daring do. None of that prepared me for being on a dirt hill sliding backwards with all four wheels locked up as the valley below used gravity to pull me backwards.

So there I was, foot firm on the brake, sliding backwards to the very real possibility of death arriving sooner than expected. Amazingly, the first thought that came to mind was, “Well, at least I’m ready.” It wasn’t too long ago that I didn’t have Christ sitting next to me and that really was my first thought, “At least I’m ready.”

All this went through my mind and I was still sliding backwards. Yep, seatbelt on. Yep, about 60 of my fellow faithful watching this all take place and me just thinking I can’t turn the wheel because the wheels ain’t turning and it won’t do any good. Take my foot off the brake to let the front wheels do their job of swinging the front end around and I’m more likely just to go off all the more quickly. I decide to keep foot on brake and contemplate my life.

Don’t worry, I won’t go into that here.

Suddenly, with a bump a grind and a thump. I’m stopped. Thankful. Breathing again. Walking it off later it was all of about 60 feet that I slid backward with the wheels locked and all that stopped me from pretty sure death was that someone had decided to dig out a piece of the hill so they could park there. Without them having done that I have the sure sense that this could have turned out very differently.

I know many of the folks of our church were praying for all of us while on that trip. It isn’t with light hearts that many moms and dads send their kids across the border to work in the poorest parts of Tijuana. Believe me, they believe in God and pray to Him for our safety. And the prayer partners are rightly called "prayer warriors." But it really made me think in the following couple of days about God being “outside of time.”

Given that God always was, is, and always will be; and that all of eternity is before Him at any moment, I wonder when did he hear those prayers and inspire that wonderful person to dig out that little parking spot so that I, yeah, little me with the prayers of a congregation looking out for me one of many, so that I didn’t die that morning?

And then I realize I may never know. But I smile, thank the unknown person who dug that out, all who pray for us while on mission, and God.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Amor Mission Memory

Following is as written for my church's newsletter following the return of a high school mission trip to Tijuana with Amor Ministries. Our congregation supports us financially and prayerfully. In so doing they are certainly with us every step of the way. With great diversity in age and growing diversity otherwise, it is our various and many outreach groups that pull us together as a community of God working here on planet Earth.

Our thanks to every prayer and mission partner for the safety and support your gave us on our trip to Tijuana this year. By building three houses we again have made a difference in several peoples lives just as they have made a difference in ours. As I am often reminded, tho, it isn’t just the houses that this is all about. Here are two moments from the trip:

It’s Monday afternoon, the slab is starting to be poured, and I need to ask the owner a couple of questions. I go to knock on the door of the shack, really the doorframe because the “door” was just a blanket hung over nails and pulled back so it was half-open on a diagonal. I need to ask, with my limited Spanish and hand signals, where the door and windows would go on the house we were building. But before the words were out of my mouth, or my knocking hand even to the door's frame, I saw the toddler.

He hadn’t been walking long, not much more than a year old, but there he was, waddling around the room in his diaper, talking up a storm in the language only babies know. Then I saw his mother, not moving at all, lost in deep thought on the bed with tears running down her cheeks, staring out the windowless window-frame. Even though I am all of about eight feet from her, she is not yet aware of my presence. I hesitated a moment and took it in. I had heard her husband had just recently left her, and could only imagine the loss and fear that must have been enveloping her. Perhaps a half-dozen heartbeats later, yeah it was a while, I knocked and everything started moving again.

She quickly got up from the bed, wiping the tears away while doing so, and smiled broadly. Her desired appearance, and she almost pulled it off, was that she had never cried and could not have been happier in her life. These are strong people. I asked her, “¿la puerta y las ventanas, por favor?” moving my hands as best I could to indicate, ¿aqui? Or over aqui? And she quickly and very politely responded by pointing in several spots, “Si, la puerta aqui, las ventanas aqui y aqui.” Smiles all around, “Gracias” too. She then quickly back inside the shack that they will keep as extra quarters, gathering up the bambino in her arms, giving it a koo and a kiss while turning on the hot plate. I back to the work at hand.

Another moment –
Late Thursday night, houses done and we have all just arrived back at camp from our celebratory dinner out. It’s 9:45 and about 15 minutes until quiet time, too late for our normal campfire worship. Rather than a homily we have a small prayer and then we’re singing. The fire had been set before we left, so it’s up quickly, guitars strumming and voices ringing out. It’s loud, happy, thankful and fun. I don’t recall the exact songs, but it was good. We continue until about 10:15 when I realized we had to quiet down, for sure, but we weren’t quite ready to be done yet. So we sang some softer songs quietly, letting our prayers, thanks, and praise rise gently to the heavens with a weary contentedness filling our voices and some tired eyes staring into the fire. It is at that moment that I am most thankful for this church, for these youth and adults that are each in a relationship with God as they perceive him, with the love of Jesus Christ in their hearts and a hammer in their hands.

All prayers, thanks and glory to God, and again I thank God for the mission partners that fund us and pray for us. Without you we would not be there. Without you we would not be nearly as safe. With you we can do amazing and wonderful things, changing lives in greater and lesser ways. With you we are given the opportunity to disconnect from the everyday, seeking something higher and in some moments, brief as they may be, perhaps finding it.

We thank you, Lord, for each moment you give us.

I'll say it again - if your group or family are looking for an opportunity to serve, Amor is a great way to do it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Conservatives

It was while watching the CNN report about Sen. Larry Craig, (R) Idaho, that I heard the description, “Senator Craig has been a life-long conservative. He has actively supported mining interests, timber interests…” and I missed the end of it because my brain was screaming, “What is so conservative about that!!!”

“Conservative” as used in the U.S. political scene these days is a misnomer. Back in the days of Barry Goldwater we knew what the term meant but it has become a framing device, a word that conjures up fiscal responsibility beautifully and ties to the concept of conservation at it’s very root. Nowadays the use is more often a deceit.

Isn’t it amazing that Democrats are now known for balanced budgets and Republicans for spending their grandchildren’s money, that conservatives are found to have dalliances with congressional pages of the same sex and seek the comfort of strangers in bathrooms. Amazing that the leading Republican candidate has had more mistresses than wives and lies about spending time at Ground Zero while sittin’ at a ball game.

But back to Senator Craig – I also heard that he was part of the group that lynched Bill Clinton over his indiscretions. Newt Gingrich, we may recall, was in the midst of an affair of his own while he participated in that same affrontation. I think the new connotation of “conservative” is “hypocrite.”

Yes, I know that all this conduct of the senator is alleged, not proven, and frankly I don't care what he does as long as he is decent enough to speak the truth. It is when our elected legislators support laws against their own behavior that I begin to believe they shouldn't be in public office, they should be in a sanitarium. It will be interesting to see if the people of Idaho choose to re-elect him this coming year.

America, you are truly beautiful.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

God's Warriors

OK, I sat through all 6 hours of CNN’s “God’s Warriors” and came away with one overarching sense that organized religion could possibly be the worst way to share the sense of unity that I believe God wants his people to have. And I mean all people, not just his chosen ones. Jews, Muslims and Christians alike all share a belief in the same God, and all share a belief that the Messiah is coming. Why can’t we all get along?

Simply stated, because man is broken. Greedy. Power hungry. Control freakish and unable to let go and let God run things. I guess it’s worse than that, actually. Man wants to run things but give the appearance that it is God doing so. Might that be blaspheme to the extreme? And I'm talking about faith communities here, not governments!

I have yet to hear a voice that says, “I am God and you shall listen to me.” I have yet to have a vision of God. Still, I have a sense of God in my life and in my community, a sense of God in this world. Nowhere in that sense is there a desire to kill another human being, especially because of the differences in faith among us. (disclaimer required - if attacked, fight back with all resources available and to a successful conclusion. If a pending attack against you is known with certainty the best defense is a good offense.)

Three questions:

Is it written somewhere that ONLY Jews can live in Israel?

If Islam is for peace and brotherhood as the Muslim moderates often say, why don’t they more formally denounce those extremists that say otherwise? Could there be a reformation of Islam? Would that make any difference to those Islamic fundamentalists that seek to kill the infidel?

And evangelical Christians, the definition of which I ascribe to if not the public perception of same, can’t seem to grasp that they too are broken and that their children are of the same blood, unable to be taught to lead a perfect life. What is it with the fundamentalist Christians that makes them think they can create laws for man to match the law of God and that somehow, because it comes from man, anyone would be able to live up to it?

CNN’s show came across to me as a proper attack on extremist religion in general and fairly well showed what I expected to see: each faith stating their superiority, each making what they consider to be a well-reasoned claim to the reason for their war, and each showing the incredible stupidity that is born of mankind.

Faith needs to be personal but shared with friends when appropriate. Faith needs to be handed down from generation to generation and sometimes taught from the child to the parent, with the awe of first realization of the love of God as a central tenet. Faith needs to be accepting of other faiths with the agape love of Jesus Christ saying, “You, my neighbor, have the right to believe whatever you hold to and we should all look forward to the day of the coming of the Messiah so that we will together look to Him and say ‘Oh My God!’”

Until that day though, it looks like a very rough road we will travel.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

GOP Healthcare Reform

I didn't catch it all, but tuned in when the Republican candidates were talking about healthcare and it all became so clear. I have Mitt and Rudy to thank for bringing it into focus. Tax credits for insurance payments and health savings accounts are a beautiful thing for their donors. Think about it - let's have the government subsidize the medical/pharmaceutical industry and then throw some money to the banking industry as well.

Until we get the GOP out of play the people are but pawns paid to spend as industry wishes. The government is in the hands, still, of the lobbyists and among the greatest contributors to campaigns are Pharma and banking.

Three words - single payer healthcare.

It is not the responsibility of government to protect business, but to protect and serve the people.

Protect us from the consortiums that contribute so heavily, please.

There is an assembly coming up in Los Angeles that I have been made aware of: Saturday, August 11th, from 1-3pm at Los Angeles City Hall. This is in support of State Senator Sheila Kuehl's bill SB840. I'll be there. Join me, please!