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Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

It is interesting that we will explore Hannah’s Song at our Advent Vespers just one day after the globalized day of prayer against hunger on December 10.  Before we reach Hannah uplifting her prayer of thanksgiving about her son, we learn in the book 1 Samuel that Hannah had been rebuked for reaching for more food at dinner one night by her husband’s second wife, Peniniah.

hannahs-prayerEven in a prosperous household, food can be used as a weapon.  It is presumed that Elkanah’s household was affluent, which was why he could accommodate having both Hannah and Peniniah as wives.  Hannah was barren where Peniniah had many children.  Peniniah scolded Hannah for reaching for more food, stating that the extra food should go to her own children.  At that table, food was used to shame Hannah for the barrenness that was beyond her control.

It was this encounter that prompted Hannah to go to the temple and plead with God for a son.  She made a bargain, vowing that if she is blessed with a child she would give him over to God to be a Nazarite.  Soon after, she gave birth to Samuel, whose name translates “name of God.”  When Samuel was about 3 years old, the family journeys to Shiloh where Hannah gives Samuel over to the priest Eli, fulfilling her promise made in the temple.  It is here in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 we encounter her prayer of thanksgiving.

It was common for prayers of thanksgiving to be sung aloud.  Add that ritual with the literary structure and strong symbolism, Hannah’s prayer often referred to as a psalm or song.  Since Hannah was heading to the temple as she proclaimed this prayer, many traditions sing this song in advance to worship as a pietistic preparation.

Hannah’s song strongly parallel’s the style and structure of Psalm 113, a song of thanksgiving that is accredited to David.  The structure and style of songs of thanksgiving are somewhat formulaic in structure – they tend to begin with an word of praise, refer back to how God has acted on behalf of the people in creation in the past, and look to the future at how God will bring glory in the future.  Such a structure was useful when used corporately in an assembly, as it leads to natural breaks for call and response between the congregation and the cantor.

This structure for songs of thanksgiving is so strong that we see it repeated in numerous psalms, including Mary the mother of Jesus’ psalm of thanksgiving at the annunciation.  The similarities between Mary’s song and Hannah’s song are so strong that some scholars believe that Mary’s song was an adaptation of the familiar song from Hannah.

We explore Hannah’s song at 7 pm on Wednesday, December 11.  Dinner will be held at 6 pm for those interested.  Join us next week as we encounter the song of John the Baptist in Luke 3:1-18.

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The following sermon was preached at Bethel Lutheran Church in St. Louis on October 19, 2013.  This message is based on Genesis 32:22-31 and Luke 18:1-8.

It is somewhat hard to believe that our centennial celebration was just a week ago.

There was almost a surreal vibe floating around the office this week.  After months of planning, countless meetings, and seemingly endless hours looking at liturgy possibilities, it seems strange that the celebration has passed and life is indeed moving on.  If it weren’t for a vase of flowers still sitting on my desk, it could be easy to imagine that our 100th anniversary was celebrated weeks ago instead of days ago.  Time has become a little distorted.

When such a significant event happens in the life of the community, there is this moment when the projected reality shifts and the new reality sets in.  Throughout all the planning and preparation, we worked to create something that we hoped would happen.  In many ways those hopes rang true.  But in the aftermath a new truth shines forth, and we realize we have been transformed in ways we could not anticipate.

The conversations floating through Bethel this week have been equally as evocative as the festival worship itself.  These conversations speak of a renewed commitment to God and service to the church.  They voice the reality that there are unknown challenges before us, and thanksgiving that no matter what lies ahead, Christ stands with us and for us.  There is a renewed hope for the future, and a slight apprehension that the next 100 years seem more ambiguous than the first.

It is striking that in the week that is filled with first steps towards the next hundred years, our passage from Genesis shows one of our great ancestors wrestling with God at the dawn of a new day.  Jacob is blessed with a name that is even more perplexing, the name Israel, which is translated as “he who wrestles or strives with God.”

It is similarly striking that our Gospel lesson is beckoning us to strive for justice.  We are cautioned to remain faithful.  Our ministries are to be focused on God’s intention for all of creation, and not for self-congratulating ourselves by humoring the less fortunate or doing work that is societally trendy.

The dawn of a new day in faith is filled with the certainty that the chosen people will wrestle with God.  Much of that wrestling is discerning the faithfulness of our actions.

For the past snakeoilfew months, Pastor Bill and I have been exploring the possibility of Bethel becoming involved with the Magdalene House St. Louis, a new start up that will provide holistic healing and housing for women who have been sexually trafficked and abused.

This venture is using the model that has been supporting women for several years in Nashville.  Magdalene’s founder is an Episcopal priest named Becca Stevens, and part of my research about this ministry has involved reading Pastor Becca’s autobiography, entitled Snake-Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling.[1]

In it, Becca shares about the own moments in her life that she has wrestled with faith.  She shares the struggle of keeping the times she was abused a secret because she did not want to upset members of her family.  She wrestled trying to explain to her son that the billboard for a strip club filled with women dressed as kitty cats was something that was sad even though the billboard showed smiles.  She writhed in her faith when facing the reality that most women who become prostitutes have either been survivors of abuse or were sold for drugs when they were mere children themselves.

Most importantly, she wrestled that God was calling her to serve such women, especially when society would rather not bother with them at all.  There was no security for Pastor Becca to serve these women.  Such ministry was not a trend that would have catchy hash tags appearing on Facebook feeds.  This calling was to heal those that the world deems to be untouchable.  These women are like the widows of Jesus’ time – societally devalued, without protection, a bother that the unjust judge no longer wants to be disturbed with.

Yet it was in her wrestling with God that Pastor Becca began to heal.  With every challenging story of loss and abuse, the wounds of her childhood began to mend.  With every obstacle from skeptical onlookers, Becca formed relationships with women who filled her life with hope and purpose.  Pastor Becca fought with God about ministering to these women, never realizing that it was in the struggle that God ministered to her.

There are moments in the days and years ahead that we will engage in our own wrestling match with God.  There will be times when we will feel called to a ministry, yet struggle with knowing the best way to live into that calling.

KAGOur mission board has been wrestling with the balance of calling and faith.  Bethel is feeling a call to feed our brothers and sisters who are hungry.  We have been struggling with the reality that there is no easy solution to the problem.  In a few weeks, we will be packing food with Kids Against Hunger, an organization that brings food to the hungry around the world.

Deciding on this ministry was a bit of a struggle.  We have wrestled in recognizing that there are negative ecological impacts with shipping large pallets of food across the world.  We have wrestled with the reality that in order to financially feed large quantities of people, it is likely that we are purchasing food from workers who have been inadequately paid.  Yet, we live with the knowledge that there are children and families who are starving, and programs like Kids Against Hunger offer a much needed temporary solution to a problem that requires long term systemic change.

As faithful people, we wrestle with knowing the right way to move forward when the calling is clear but the options for ministry are not.  There are times before the dawn breaks where we have only faith as our guide to lead us the right direction, taking one tentative step forward at a time.

Our Gospel beckons us to faithfully strive for justice, but we can be perplexed on what our next steps will be.  Jesus tells us not to lose heart, and gives us a tool that will serve as our guiding compass before the dawn breaks– the gift of prayer.

It is in prayer that our seemingly senseless wrestling’s turn into blessings.   It was in engaging with God that Jacob received his blessing and began his journey home.  It was in engaging in prayer that Pastor Becca Stevens realized that she was being ministered to as she ministered to others.  It is with prayerful hearts that Bethel will pack food with Kids Against Hunger.

In the moments we wrestle with God, it can be challenging to remember the power that comes with prayer.  It is in those moments we remember the most prayerful example ever provided us – Jesus Christ.

Throuprayghout his life and ministry, Jesus wrestled with the realities of the world and his calling to restore the whole of creation.  Time and time again, at each struggle and obstacle, Jesus turned to prayer.  He showed us how to pray with the Lord’s Prayer.  He blessed the food he shared with others.  Jesus would go on prayer retreats into the wilderness after he drove out demons and before he journeyed to Jerusalem.  In the garden he prayed while his disciples slept.

Even from the cross, Jesus prayed for forgiveness for those who persecuted him.  He repeated the prayer from the psalms of feeling forsaken, joining his prayer with the prayer of our shared ancestors.  Jesus prayerfully blessed the thief who hung beside him.  In his dying breath, Jesus offered the prayer which committed his Spirit to God our Parent, and in doing so, elevated us to new life.

Whenever Jesus was striving for justice and wrestled with the challenges before him, he prayed.  By the grace of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, we each are called to life of prayer and mission.  It is in prayer that we discern how God continues to spread the redeeming and reconciling love of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  When our hearts are filled with prayer, we can trust that we are sharing God’s love to the world faithfully.  When our individual prayers join the prayers of our community, we discern together how God will work through our shared mission to change the world.

The dawn is breaking on a new day.  As a recommitted community there most certainly will be moments in the next hundred years when we will wrestle to move forward faithfully.  There will be times when we will be called to discern if the ministries we embark upon are truly focused on God’s intention for the world.  With prayer-filled hearts, we open ourselves for God to work through us.

While we do not yet know what lies ahead, we stand empowered knowing that Christ remains with us and for us, guiding our steps through the mystery of prayer.

Amen.


[1] Stevens, Rev. Becca. Snake Oil: the Art of Healing and Truth-Telling. Jericho Books, 2013.

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Church Girl

A few candlesnufferweeks ago my four-year-old niece was in town and was playing with my candle snuffer.  I have several large votive candles on the mantle of my fireplace, and have splattered wax more times than I would like to admit, hence the snuffer.  It very much resembles the candle extinguishers used on a church altars.  My niece was super excited to douse the candles, and kept giggling as she said, “I’m going to be a church girl! I’m going to be a church girl!”

My niece and nephew both love church, which is somewhat surprising because they are at church all the time.  Their mother is a music and youth director, their dad teaches music at a Catholic high school and I am in seminary training to become a pastor.  Between the three of us, they are in church more hours in one week then some people attend in a year.

advent-wreathWhere I would think they would be bored of church by now they love it.  They were super excited to help light the candles on the fourth Sunday of Advent.  My niece was going to start the prayer with my sister finishing i.  Before the service she practiced and practiced, her soft child voice repeatedly saying “Blessed be God, Blessed be God.”  She was ready to take being a “church girl” to a whole new level.

But when the time came to speak into the microphone from the lectern, my niece panicked.  She tucked her face into my sisters neck, shying away from the assembly.  When she came back to the pew and my sister returned to direct the musicians, my niece crawled into my lap and began to cry. “I was too scared to be a church girl.  I’m so sad I didn’t do it!”

A few days later on Christmas morning, I stood upon the altar and sang the liturgy for the first time outside of worship class.  Like my niece, I was terrified.  It is hard to stand before a community of people and share your faith in a new way.  It can be intimidating to want to do it right, to make sure you don’t make a mistake, to try to remember the right words at the right time.

When we sat down at the dinner table that afternoon and my sister asked for me to lead grace, my niece said, “Can I pray?”  With her strong, brave voice, she started us off, “God is great, God is good…”  Throughout the meal she kept turning to her two-year old brother, the two of them saying to one another, “God is great.  God is good.”  “God is great. God is good.”

I don’t think my niece will ever know that she was more of a “church girl” at that dinner table then she ever would have been by speaking into a microphone in worship.  It is one thing to say words of faith at the right time in the right place, at the perfectly orchestrated section of a worship service.  It is something else to take the reigns and lead others in an intimate way, being so over joyed with the day that you cannot stop yourself from saying “God is great.  God is good.”

My little church girl knows what matters and the reason for the season, and is a teacher to me in more ways then she will ever know.

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The Beckoning

I am currently into my second week of my chaplaincy internship at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital in New Hampshire.  Today, for about the millionth time since I began I found myself asking, why am I here?

Practically, I know why I’m here.  All ELCA candidates for ordination (that is a person training to be a pastor) must complete something called a clinical pastoral education unit (CPE).  Chaplaincy internships at a hospital are the most traditional avenues of completing a CPE requirement.  I am here because I have to be.

I am also here because I want to be.  I chose this site for a variety of reasons – I had never lived in New England, I really connected with the supervisor when I interviewed, it is the only neonatal clinic in this region of the country, it is a Trauma 1 center (which means a lot of complicated cases) and this site uniquely offers a stipend.

But today, as I was completing my rounds, I was overwhelmed with a frustrating sense that what I am doing is very foreign to the makeup of the culture here, and a type of ministry very much foreign to me.

New England is one of the most secular areas of the United States.  Organized religion is not only hard to find here, but often frowned upon.  Just this weekend, as I was shopping for my dad’s Father’s Day present, a sales rep heard my Midwestern accent and asked me what brought me to the upper valley.  I explained that I was a chaplain intern at the hospital, and very quickly she told me that she felt my role was unwelcome.  “We don’t like people telling us what to believe, especially when it comes from one of you ‘flat-landers’ (meaning non-New Englander).”  It was a surprising reaction mostly because I didn’t say anything else than, “I’m a chaplain intern”.

Even more so, this reaction is counter to what I’m doing here.  The role of the chaplain is not to evangelize but rather to accompany.   A large part of my training is to learn how to recognize my own cultural and religious perspective, and set that perspective aside so that I can hear what the patient and their loved one is trying to express about their own faith.  My role is not to tell them what to believe, but be with them as they uncover what they believe in the most trying of times.  Of course, it was clear this sales clerk was not invested in learning about my profession.  Instead, she was telling me something very clear about her own faith journey, and that deserved my respect even if I didn’t love the avenue which she expressed herself.  Part of this experience is being open to read between the lines even when those lines are as sharp as razors.  While I felt confident that I had navigated that experience in away that was respectful to her beliefs and my own, I couldn’t help but think, what am I doing here?

All chaplains and chaplain interns must answer to calls in all areas of the hospital when we are on call, but we are also assigned a primary unit.  My units are the Birthing Pavilion, Infant ICU, and the Emergency Department.  Today, I was supposed to be in seminars all day today, but one of my sessions got cancelled and I decided to make some rounds on my units while I waited for the next session to begin.

As I traveled to the Incant ICU, I learned that some of the patients I had been working with had a rough weekend, and that there is a high possibility that we may lose one or more of them throughout this week.  Finding out this news was hard, and after I scrubbed in and entered the unit, I was surprised to find it devoid of parents.  I have never been on that floor when there were no parents, and I felt overwhelmed in knowing what to do.  I had been operating under a philosophy of when in doubt, look to the parents as a guide of what was needed.  With no parents, I felt lost on knowing how to interpret what my role was.

I spent some time with the staff, and prayed with the babies I knew were struggling.  As I left the floor though, I couldn’t help but feel an emptiness that my time on the unit was futile.  I can pray with these children, pray with their caregivers, but is it enough?

I have now spent over four years working in parishes, and there have been many times when I have wondered if what I was doing was enough, or why God chose me to be with God’s people.  In that time, though, I have found ways to find validate my purpose even at those moments when I am frustrated or feeling overwhelmed.  There is a consistency to parish ministry that is not available in a hospital setting, and the avenues in which the Spirit speaks to me in a parish are not the same here.

How do you gauge that enough is enough when the person from whom you are providing care can’t speak to you?  How do you know enough is enough when you can’t lay a hand on the person you are praying with because they are in a simulated womb?  How do you know when enough is enough when the smell of fear is as strong as the sanitizer you scrubbed on your hands?

Recognizing that perhaps I was a bit too hard on myself, I decided to treat myself to a soda from the cafeteria.  As I stood in line, ruminating over my thoughts, suddenly the woman at the cafeteria register spoke to me. “Chaplain?  Since you have some extra pull with the big guy upstairs, can you please pray for my son?  He is having a hard time.”

Suddenly, cafeteria air became very sacred space.  The Spirit who I felt distant from on my rounds settled around us and time slowed.  I told the woman I would pray for her son, and told her I would pray for thanksgiving that he had a mother who would reach out on his behalf when he was struggling.  We exchanged names, and have now taken steps into a relationship together in faith.  The whole exchange lasted but a few moments in time, but it was a lifetime of reminding me why I am here.

We never know when we will be open to experiencing the Spirit.  I have no doubt the Spirit was with me while I prayed with the children and talked to their caregivers.  But I cannot ignore that the Spirit beckoned me into a relationship I least expected, and in that beckoning, confirmed my call.

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All yesterday and this morning my news feed has been filled with updates from the United Methodist Church’s General Assembly where, in addition to other topics, they discussed the inclusion of LGBTQ people.  I was reminded of how similar those feeds read to updates from Presbyterian Church USA, and again within my own denomination of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over the past few years.

These conversations are emotional, earth-shifting, and exhausting.  No matter which side of the aisle you stand on, it takes bravery and courage to represent your understanding of the gospel in order to help enlighten the decision making process of your denomination.  I am very clear on where I stand.  I believe that God is inclusive to all people, and that everything about our human nature is sinful because we are children of a fallen humanity.  I believe that it is God’s grace that turns our sinful nature into beautiful actions, and it is because of God’s grace that carnal lust can be transformed into a healthy, loving expression of how two people connect with one another.  I believe this is the case for heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgendered people.  I believe that sex, or any action, without God’s grace is sin.  In light of God’s grace, sex or any action can be a gift that we give one another to express affection and our faith to God.  What determines that transition is if we approach our relationships in light of our faith.

Furthermore, I believe that I can support my position through scripture, confessional heritage, and testimonies of people I personally know.  However, I know that people who stand on the opposite side of the aisle also feel that they also have as much evidence of their convictions.  This is what makes having hard conversations so challenging.

But what is important is that we have such conversations.  It wasn’t until I began working for a United Church of Christ congregation that I ever had to put my theological principals into practice.  Being a representative of the church, when engaged in conversations about the LGBTQ communities, I was forced to be more thoughtful about explaining where I stand.  In that thoughtfulness, I was challenged by other people whose understanding of the gospel was different than mine.  In that challenge, I discovered that being born into a fallen humanity, a humanity entrenched in sin, that just about everything about my life would be sinful without the grace of God.  This includes my heterosexual sex-life, but not limited to my sex-life.  In those revelations I was able to embrace the freedom that comes from having been freed from my sin through the power of my baptism.  It is in that freedom that I now experience a richness in my relationship with God that I never had before.

That would not have happened had I not been challenged.  That would not have happened had I not been open to exploring the platform of the other side of the aisle.  I would not be as sure in my convictions if I hadn’t engaged in challenging conversations with people who think and act differently then me.

Do I wish that things would have been more peaceful for the UMC as they gathered this past week?  You bet.  I also wish for the ELCA that we can continue to find peace within the challenging adjustments of our 2009 sexuality statement.  I work for a periodical produced by three ELCA seminaries, and I am astounded by the number of people who discontinue their subscription because they can’t reconcile with the 2009 statement and are disconnecting themselves from anything that is ELCA related.  I see other Lutheran traditions ceasing their work with the ELCA to fight malaria and AIDS because of the 2009 statement.  Such actions are not peaceful but challenging.   I can wish and pray that as we continue to strive for equality and justice that those conversations will be peace-filled, or at least find a way to work together despite our differences, but I recognize the likelihood that we can’t always meet eye to eye even when we should.

That challenge shouldn’t stop us from trying.

Struggling with having the hard conversations is a part of what makes us human.  It is only when we accept that our nature leads us to struggle that we can see that God’s grace is patiently with us, equipping us with tools to keep moving forward.

Today, I am praying for the UMC, the PCUSA, the UCC, and the ELCA as Christians within our country move forward from the experiences of challenging conversations.  I am not going to condemn or cast blame on what hasn’t happened, or continue to tell the negative tales of what has.  I am going to keep my focus on God’s grace, and ask for guidance on knowing how to faithfully engage in eliminating the aisle.

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Last night I returned from spending ten days on an academic delegation in El Salvador to learn from a local television station that the nearest morgue of my Chicago home has been piling bodies in a corner for several months, stacking 400 adult and 100 babies like piles of trash.

It is clear to me that my time in Central America has been and will continue to be a transformative time in my life.  I’m sure that the impact of those ten days will continue to roll out feelings, thoughts and insights for many years to come.  I learned a lot about humanity, hope, the impacts of civil war, U.S. foreign policy, violence, peace, faith, healthcare, justice and solidarity from the Salvadoran people.  I am beginning to realize that my former understanding of the complexities of life barely scratch the surface to what those complexities actually are, particularly in a non-first-world country.

But what I cannot understand is how in a first-world county, in the same county as what I consider to be one of the greatest cities of the United States, can the remains of people be treated with such blatant disrespect and disregard.

To make matters worse, the responses I’ve read this morning of the people in charge do not seem to be so disheartened.  I am appalled and horrified that not only something like this has happened, but that the response by Commissioner Fritchey includes the statement, “It’s difficult to find a morgue anywhere that’s going to look like one out of a TV show where everything is shiny and spotless.”  Clearly this issue is bigger then a difference between Hollywood and Main Street.  To attempt to make that parallel almost as disgusting as the conditions of which these bodies are treated.

Medical Examiner Jones has tried to brush this off as a result of the poor of our community not being able to afford proper burials.  Unclaimed bodies of Cook County are typically buried in the pauper’s grave of Homewood, along with the fetuses and babies who died during delivery of families who cannot afford a private burial.  While there is no doubt that $13 million dollars of budget cuts accounts for a challenging process to afford to bury these bodies, news reports have proven that many of the bodies currently in the morgue are family members of people who are trying to find out what happened to their loved ones.  The report I watched last night showed a mother who called every day seeking answers for the whereabouts of her daughter.  She was not notified that the morgue had her daughter’s remains until May, only to discover later that the body had been identified as early as April.

El Salvador taught me a broader understanding of the word “solidarity.”  As I sit here in my comfy apartment in Hyde Park, I am reminded that part of my responsibility as both a human and a Christian is to be in solidarity with those who suffer, whether they are families in Cook County or families near the equator. I will never be able to sort through what I learned in another nation if I am unwilling to do the work and sort through what I am seeing in my own backyard.

Those of us who are fortunate to be born in a first-world country and be born into a place upper societal standing within that world need to not be passive observers of the horrors and frustrations of our surroundings.  I could look at this morgue situation and do what I have always done – pray for the families, follow the news stories, vote for different officials – or I can take this message of solidarity and push harder against the injustices in my surroundings.  I’m not sure yet at this present moment how I can be a voice of change in this situation, but I need to do more than be a passive observer.

I live in a nation where I am free, and have been my entire life, to express my thoughts about what is happening in my government without the fear of being massacred.  This is a luxurious right that far too many inhabitants of this world do not or have not had.  I was fortunate enough to learn about the struggles that unfold from fighting for that right, and it would be an insult to my experience in El Salvador to forget that the moment I first encounter injustice in my own community.

What is happening at the Cook County morgue is an injustice, and it should not be tolerated.  I pray for the courage to devise a way to take action and remind my local authorities the responsibility that comes with the benefits of being a first-world nation.

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I am currently in El Salvador, exploring with other seminary students (one a dear friend from Chicago, five from Philadelphia, and a spouse) about the current state of this Latin America country and how their experience shapes their spirituality.  I have been in the country for about five days, and the differences between this fine nation and the fine nation from which I come is astronomical.  It is not just the poverty.  It is not just the fact that minimum wage is $5 a day.  It is not just the fact that when it comes to pedestrians crossing the street, the driver has the right-of-way.  It is not just the fact that potable water is practically non-existent.  It is not just the fact that the juices here are the most delicious beverages I have ever drank.  It is not just the fact that private security guards carry shotguns and dogs wander the streets almost as regularly as squirrels climb trees in Chicago.  It is all these things in addition to one fundamental feeling and social ideal that is so thick I can almost taste it – hope.

My group and I spent the last 48 hours in a city of El Salvador named Suchitoto.  This community is about 90 minutes away from the capital of San Salvador, and in its municipality houses the survivors of a horrific masacar of civilians that happened during their civil war in the eighties and nineties.  I had the great privilege of hearing the testimony of two of the masacar survivors.  Sitting on the remnants of homes that have been destroyed, it was beyond heart-wrenching to listen to these brave souls share of torture so extreme that I would have thought I was listening to a holocaust survivor.  I had no idea that El Salvador went through a civil war that was as brutal as it was, had no idea that our government contributed financially as much as it did for fear of communism, had no real understanding that the fear of communism was really as awful as it apparently was.  Listening to these survivors, actually seeing what this war meant and the people it affected, all the while recognizing that this seemed to many like the best option at the time, was life changing.

I also didn´t realize how much I projected my U.S. history on other things.  For example, my father has many friends who fought and survived the Vietnam War.  When I hear guerilla warfare, I think about people I know and the trauma they felt.  I think about what that word means to U.S. soldiers who fought in an Asian war.  I didn´t recognize that my lens on that word is so focused to my culture.  Hearing the testimony of these survivors, people who were caught between the Salvadorian government and guerilla fighters, I struggled to let go of my Vietnam-associated connotations.  El Salvador is not Vietnam.  Similar words mean different things here.

In addition to hearing the testimonies, we ate lunch with our speakers.  I have never been so frustrated at being a foreign-language flunky as I was at that meal.  Sitting next to two of the most courageous people I have ever met, I couldn´t speak with them without an interpreter.  I couldn´t tell them from my own lips how grateful I was for the gift of their story, share with them that I will never be the same person for having heard it.

After lunch, we went to their new settlement.  After being refugees in Guatemala for almost two decades, the survivors were able to move back to El Salvador and rebuild close to where their original home was.  We hiked a half a mile into the mountain, and saw their houses (63 families returned) and visited their library.  We saw their memorial monument and dodged chickens that were running around the streets.

I was able to witness the crucifixion of their community, and celebrate in the beginning of its resurrection.  It is a feeling I wish all people could experience, and one that I can never explain well enough to do it justice.

We returned this evening to a guest house in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador.  My group reflected on what Suchitoto meant to us, how we are now forever changed.  One member of our group began singing “Amazing Grace”.  In true Lutheran style, we broke out in four-part harmony on that patio in the warm evening, the haunting words of a spiritual from our home nation filling the silence of the house that is serving as home while we explore another nation.  Suchitoto´s resurrection made those words more powerful to me then I could ever have known.

This place is what God´s tranformative love looks like.  It is such an amazing grace inside an amazing place.  I pray that I never forget the feeling of this night, or forget the faith of those survivors.

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