Image“[T.S.] Eliot began to wonder if there was any room for art in a world gone mad. How could a responsible Christian devote time to poetry or fiction?” Philip Yancy (I Was Just Wondering, 130)

I grew up wondering why secular music was so much cooler than the Christian stuff. I couldn’t figure out why the Red Hot Chili Peppers were so good and Deleriou5 was just ok. (Don’t judge, it was the 90’s.) I thought, if we’re so connected to The Creator, why don’t we make better music?

As I got older I saw this in other mediums, too. Classical religious art notwithstanding, Christian art always seems to fall short. As Christians, shouldn’t we be more plugged into The Creator? Shouldn’t my faith make me a better artist?

According to Philip Yancy, T.S. Eliot was driven to conversion over anxiety over the future. Many complained that his conversion ruined his writing, that it “lacked the depth and genius of [his] early works”. (Yancy,130) He accepted writing assignments from the church, wrote captions for war photos, and for awhile turned totally away from writing to work in economics.

“He had apparently lost faith in the power of art.” (Yancy, 131)

What Christian believes in the power of art? Not many. We believe in being useful, in helping, in spreading the Gospel, feeding the hungry, being contributing members of society. (Whether we do it is another story.) But what worthwhile Christian holes up in a studio writing poetry, sculpting, painting, or composing photos?

When I got home from Haiti I was all rip-roarin’ to go save the world, and I am so glad God stopped me in my tracks. In that time I forgot the power of art, and in my recovery from the issues that spawned from my time in that devastated land I learned the healing power of art.

So I am going to say it: I am an artist. It is a gift from God and I should not hide it under a bushel, as they say. The more immersed in art I get in school, the happier and more myself I feel. And you know, we’re one body with many parts. We’ve all grown up hearing that, but suddenly it makes so much more sense to me. I can’t be everything, and I shouldn’t be.

So here’s to being as good as, if not better than, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

On Recovering From Short Term Missions

Who takes care of the missionaries? What happens when they come home ruined?

I’ve always imagined deep down inside of me was this tall, cool, still glass of water on a table. It’s full and it’s very, very still. Things happen all around. I am up and I am down, there are good times and bad, questions and answers… but always the glass is still.

When my life all fell apart in Los Angeles two years ago my heart died. My dreams broke. But still the glass remained. Still and calm. While I roamed the country I could still see it deep down in there somehow- it was hard to reach, a struggle to find, but I knew it was there.

But what happens when you dump your cup out? What if you pour it all out for Jesus. For His people… and it stays empty?

In my experience with serving and missions and the developing world is that when you pour out you are also refilled. “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) And even though those experiences are difficult and trying- they often produce some kind of spiritual mountain top experience. It is good to serve the Lord and to be where He calls.

Or like my time in China. It was really, really hard and it felt like a waste- but still I felt God’s cover over me. When we were in danger I felt the Lords protection over my body and my mind. I had no effects of trauma at all, and in the end I felt like I learned a lot about leadership and submission.

But what about Haiti? I know God used me there. I have no doubts at all the peoples lives are different- better- because I was obedient to the call. I know God called me there and I know that I was supposed to go and I know that, on several occasions, God protected me from serious harm.

Usually when you go on a short term mission trip (anything under a year is considered short term) you come home, decompress, make some life changes (maybe) and keep moving. I am stuck. I’ve been back for months and I am still stuck. Not just, ‘I want to go back and I miss my friends’ stuck (though there is that, too) but I still feel like I just got beaten with a baseball bat stuck.

I feel like what I saw in Haiti- not one single experience, but it all as a whole- really confused my perception of God. Why do people have to suffer so so much? For the first time (maybe ever) I feel like I poured my cup out and it’s still empty. That tall, cool, still glass of water is parched and dry. The glass is cracked and dirty.

So who takes care of the strong ones? Who takes care of the missionaries? And what are we supposed to be doing with ourselves? I can’t just keep on living like nothing happened, but I don’t have the strength or the resources to really help or change anything. (I have ideas and half-formed plans to make changes in Haiti, but I don’t even know how to start.)

Note: I am generally opposed to really, like, ’emo’ or TMI type blog posts, and I hope this doesn’t come off as such. I feel like I am really struggling with some stuff and I really don’t intend for these questions to be rhetorical. Since my time in Haiti was so public, it seems fitting for the recovery to be, too. I can’t possibly be the only person home from the mission field wondering how God can allow such human suffering and I think it’s good for us to think about and talk about these things.

How He Loves…

I had been home from Haiti only a couple weeks. I was stage left waiting to go up and share about my experience with the congregation. Everything was fresh. Raw. I didn’t know where I was or where it would take me, but I knew I was deep. Deep in the inexpressible.

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree

The opening lines. I had heard this song before, but I couldn’t make a connection.

Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy

It was dark and the lights were bright. I was wearing a teal sweater and my senses were overwhelmed. I was in another world far, far away from the tents in Haiti.

When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realise just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And suddenly I am tapped in. I am feeling. I don’t know what I am feeling or where it is going to take me, but it’s cathartic. I’m getting it out.

And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us all

It’s like this song is a key to what’s locked inside. I don’t know how to get to it. I still don’t know what all I am dealing with since Haiti. I am still a mess about it all. It’s been several months now, and it still feels fresh. I still can’t reconsile the things I saw there. The places I went. The people I met. They are still there. They are still hurting and hungry and dying. But He loves us?

We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.

And every time this song plays I am back in the dark wearing my teal cardigan. I am fresh off the mission field and I am as lost as ever. Somewhere there is grace and mercy and all I can do is sink in it. Let it wash over me. Find the place of trust and know that God knows what He is doing. And let it out.

So Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way that He loves us

I feel this. My heart is violent. Life doesn’t make sense. I live in a mansion (practically), I have too much to eat and two sources of income… my friends in Haiti are starving and live in tents (and I use the term very loosely). But. When I think about how He loves us and what really matters in the scheme of things… it really is true. I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way that He loves us. US. All of us. The Haitians. He died for them. He loves Marjolene and Jhonnyka more than I ever can.

That’s the thing to do, then. The prize to keep my eyes fixed on: how He loves us.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.       2 Corinthians 4:16-18

And with that I leave you. Mull that over and let’s get this Lent season rolling.

 

The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen

The Wounded Healer. I like that. I identify with that.

In our last Bible study book, The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith, in the chapter called ‘God Transforms’ the author shared a story about vulnerability:

Wanting to communicate the paradox of how we minister to others through our brokenness, he took a cardboard box and asked his students to “beat it up”. They punctured holes in the box, kicked it around and tore pieces off of it. Then he placed the box on the table in front of them all. Underneath the box was a light. He dimmed the house lights, and then turned on the light inside of the box. He didn’t need to say any more. They all understood. The light of Jesus shines clearly through our broken places.

The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith (page 163)

That passage illustration resonates with me. Most of the time I feel like I am walking through life with a broken leg and a bleeding heart- but, as Gayle Jonas told me, there is a purpose to the pain.

So I picked up The Wounded Healer. I love Nouwen and the title seems appropriate…

The Wounded Healer is broken up into four sections: Ministry in a Dislocated World, Ministry for a Rootless Generation, Ministry to a Hopeless Man and Ministry by a Lonely Minister. I was very tempted to jump straight to the last chapter- and I am really glad I didn’t. Each chapter got progressively better, and they built on each other (as one would expect).

Nouwen talks about the condition of modern man- how he is different than previous generations and how to minister to him effectively. He talks about the hopless man- the man who has no reason to live but does not want to die (I met many people in that predicament in Haiti), and he talks about the lonely minister (whom I can identify with more than is comfortable).

It’s a short and relatively simple book, but it’s profound. The way he simply walks the reader from point to point reminds me a but of CS Lewis’ apologetics, but it’s not nearly so dense.

What I’ve learned is that suffering is part of the human condition. There is no escaping it, but when we embrace our pain- when we look at it and see it as part of what makes us who we are and what makes us available to others and open to God it can be a beautiful thing. Or as Nouwen put it, “… the wound, which causes us to suffer now, will be revealed to us later as the place where God intimated His new creation.” (Conclusion, page 96)

When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope. … A Christian community is therefore a healing community not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for a new vision.

The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen (Page 93-34)

(Side note: I find it really difficult to express myself lately- I can’t quite get the words out right. I suppose this means I am not writing enough? I feel like my brain is dying. Sorry.)

“Blessed are those who mourn.”

Do you ever feel like there is a hole in your heart? And you work so hard to fill it, to seal it off, to heal it. Quiet time, Bible study, friendship, work, hikes, camping, prayer, reading, creativity, coffee… all these things are life giving. Filling. They help, the heal, they close the gap… but then if you turn the wrong way, take a misstep, get too tired, it all spills back out again and you’re left with a gaping, bloody hole in your chest.

And here is the thing about that; the thing about a bleeding heart: “Jesus wept.” “Blessed are those who mourn.” So, it’s not bad. It’s not wrong. … but where is the line between, say, PTSD and godliness?

In this world we see a doctor, get pills and fix our chemical imbalances. (Unless we’re uninsured. In which case, we wait for health care reform.) But what about prayer? What about behavioral changes? I’m all for Western medicine… but I also believe wholeheartedly in the power of a healing and loving God. And I don’t believe our highest calling in life is to be happy. So where does that leave us? Are these things just situational?

We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him. I love Him, so this will work out ok. I don’t doubt that at all. And I don’t have any sort of health care (thank you, Peet’s Coffee- they dropped me for going to Haiti). This leads me to think that since I can’t see a doctor that I must have to deal with it on a spiritual level. Thing is, though, that I keep feeling like I need help. I am not strong enough, wise enough, or healthy enough to get through this by myself. So who do I count on? And if I do have some kind of post traumatic stress (let’s be real, Haiti was nothing if not traumatic)… well… does God fix that, too?

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:3-4

Haiti Benefit Concert

We would like to thank you for your generous donation of to J/P HRO, Haitian Relief Organization, on January 22, 2011.  We appreciate your confidence in us and your generosity. Your donations allow us to keep doing out work on the ground in Haiti changing lives.

The situation in Haiti is constantly changing and being a newer and smaller organization has allowed us to be agile and change to accommodate the needs of their population. What does not change is our commitment to the work. As you may know, our primary work resides within the boundaries of the Pétionville refugee camp, where we oversee the shelter, provisions, medical care and security for over 50,000 displaced Haitians while working to return them, safely, to their neighborhoods. In addition, we are helping to provide tents, water filters and filtration systems and medical supplies to additional populations throughout Haiti.

The team at J/P HRO is made up of a large rotation of volunteers, a small staff, and an ever-increasing number of Haitian nationals. It is important to us that your donation provides the Haitian people with the most sustainable benefits possible, and with that in mind, we hope to also provide them with jobs and training throughout the relief and recovery effort.

Your support, along with the support of thousands of others, will enable us to continue to deliver immediate results to the people of Haiti. Daily, we see the positive impact from your donations on the lives of the Haitians displaced by the quake. You have our personal pledge and commitment to continue our work for the long-term benefit of Haiti. To learn more about how your donations are used on the ground, click here.

On behalf of the people of Haiti and everyone at J/P HRO, thank you again.

Director of Development
J/P HRO