18 March 2007

Incarnational Witness

Many of you know that I debated for awhile whether I should go to grad school or take on a 2 year missions position after I finished at Berea. After much prayer and counsel, I decided to go for graduate school for a number of reasons that I won't articulate here now. However, the decision not to go into full-time ministry forced me to reconsider how I minister in the situations that I find myself. My desire is to live a life fully submitted to Christ. This requires laying everything on the line, including my pride, self-suffciency and my need for the approval of those around me. It has not been easy, especially the last part, but I am encouraged that God is not finished with me yet.

A major part of living my life fully for Christ is a greater understanding of what it means to live a life of incarnational witness. It is almost harder to reach out to your neighbors and your friends than it is to go half way around the world and minister in a different culture and language. While emailing a friend recently, I was compelled again to try to articulate what incarnational ministry means to me. I can't say that I really managed it too well, but I am pasting part of the email here.

With the emphasis on outreach on a personal level, there is less pressure for the church to refashion itself to reach unreached peoples in their own community. An organization is much less successful in connecting personally than a flesh-and-blood individual who can know your name and hold your hand or give you a hug. The trouble is, most Christians live in the ghetto, so separated from the lost that there is little opportunity for the love of Christ to be exhibited to a hurting world. Relationships are always a risk, and most people would rather stay where it is comfortable and let people that are paid to “minister” take all the risks. I just can’t live with that! My roommate and I spent the last two years of our time in school welcoming people into our home and our lives who might never have a real relationship with a Christian. It is hard to make yourself vulnerable, but I don’t see any other way around it. We have had very frank, honest conversations about Christianity and the call of Christ with people who have said that they do not have Christian friends or that we are their only Christian friends. That just breaks my heart!

This really is an inadequate expression, but I read an article recently that lays out the importance of this issue. A few quotes follow:

“The incarnation gives us the pattern for [Jesus’]/our mission -- incarnate witness. That means I am to be in the midst of the world AND I am to live distinct from the world.

Jesus was in the midst of the world -- he walked and ate and slept in a world of sinners. Imagine what we looked like through the eyes of the Holy One! Yet, he was a friend of sinners. He was part of their lives -- overheard their foul language -- observed their pride and their sin -- saw their hypocrisy and pretense -- attended their weddings, wept at their graves, sat at their dinner parties. His was not a life of isolation.

His was also a life of distinction. They killed him because he refused to dance to their song. He marched to a different rhythm. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separated from sinners -- at the same time he was a friend of sinners.

That is our pattern. He is sufficient for it.”


"Na: What are the implications you see of the incarnation to our mission as Christians? (what you call "incarnate witness")

Mark: I think Jesus shows the pattern for engagement with people -- that he was holy and a friend of sinners -- he was not remote -- he loved and related to folks in many circumstances -- he went to them and did not wait for them to come to him. I am always amazed that the holy Son of God, who saw us all more clearly than we can imagine (and that means he saw our sin clearly) -- was also among us, patient, truthful, focused on the soul and eternity, and people wanted to be with him."

I am still wrestling with how this should work out in my life... Where do you speak and where do you listen? Where do you wait and where do you move forward? And most of all, how do you show love and grace without compromising the truth?

If you would like to read more of this interesting article, complete with links to other, more complete articles, the link is here.

16 March 2007

A kitchen dethronement

One obstacle to the bliss of occupying a kitchen has been the small fact that it isn't, in reality, MY kitchen. It most decidely belongs to my grandparents and they are being gracious hosts to Sara and I so I should not complain. For the most part our arrival, and willingness to cook, has been fortuitous all around. Everyone is eating better and happy tummies mean happy faces and happy many other things.

More than once, however, there has been some questioning about how to gracefully handle what appears to be the grandmother's demotion. Her balance trouble, along with a some small difficulty in remebering, has effectually cut her off from the copious amounts of cooking and hospitality that I remember from my childhood. Grandpa never was a great one in the kitchen and I know he is glad to share the responsibility.

Well, today, the Lord gave me some divine inspiration. The grandmother has now been christened the Queen Mother of the Kitchen. As Queen Mother she still has power and authority over her domain, but the practical tasks of everyday ruling have passed on to the next generation. When time, space and ability permit, she takes her place at the counter and directs or helps as necessary. Now, instead of being a passive, dethroned monarch, she is able to gracefully step down from the responsibility. It may sound silly to you, but I feel that it will help to even out the tension that has occasionally arisen from her displacement.

God is so gracious! I knew that he would open up a way to make this easier, I just didn't know it would come this way.

11 March 2007

Waiting, and the pressure mounts

More news has arrived on the school front. I received a letter from The University of Chicago stating that I was not accepted into their PhD program. That was a big disappointment. While I was pretty sure the Northwestern would not accept me, I believed that I had more of a chance at U of C. With just two more Chicago options left, I am starting to feel a bit antsy. The possibility that I may not get into graduate school now has to be considered. What will I do if I am living in Chicago without graduate school shaping my days? Where would I work? What would I pursue? Obviously, I may still get into grad school at Loyola or UIC. These other ideas may be unnecessary, but I don’t like being caught unaware.

All this waiting is not getting easier, but I am learning that it is absolutely undeniable that God is in control and that I can’t do anything to make my future happen. I have to just trust and do the next thing. What is the next thing right now? Find a way to serve this community that I am living in for only a short time. I am going to look for some drop in tutoring centers or something like that. I have not wanted to get too involved in a place that I am planning on leaving in 2 months, but now I realize that I don’t know what God’s timetable is, and so I can’t say that theses people here are not worth investing in. We shall see how that works out.

Life in the IDPH-VR

The job of processing adoption records is an interesting position for me. The work itself is rather tedious—the only relief comes from listening to books on tape and the fact that I have a variety of responsibilities so I can change tasks to give my brain or my shoulders a rest. The work keeps me busy all day and I appreciate the lack of boredom. There is, however, a challenge that I did not expect. There are too many stories. Every dry form, every scribbled letter means so much for a person that I have never met and never will. I want to know why these people are adopted, why their parents finally married, why they decided to opt for a sex change. Why would a 42-year-old get adopted? What prompts a parent to name her daughter something like:Lizeria, Chuckia Azzure, Tesla, Novia, Infiniti Allegra, Cashmere Monai, Zyria or Precious Diamond? What could motivate bestowing Lil-Lloyd Gabriel Zach, Santy, Noe Benjamin or Travon Bomani on her son?
I realized on Friday that I had stopped reading the names. There was no other way to cope. When the pressure of the stories became too much, I had to start blocking them out. Life does not give me much time to explore the leads that pass through my hands as I “play with paper” all day. When I figure out how to use the fragments that float through my brain, then I can allow others in. Until then, I have to protect myself by not paying attention.

01 March 2007

A bit of a reprieve from waiting...

Today I heard from Northwestern University. I have not been accepted into their PhD program. I am not surprised.... They only make offers to 12% of their applicants and I didn't have perfect grades or a perfect GRE score. And I am not too disappointed.... That was not my first choice and my roommate was pretty adamant about not living in Evanston. So, that leaves Loyola, UIC, U of C and Baylor. We will have to see how this unfolds.

In the meantime, I received my first paycheck today. Not a ton of money, but I get paid weekly and I was able to make a payment on my VISA and still have money left over to tithe and save for Chicago. I don't know when I will actually have some disposable income again, but it is nice to at least have some money coming in.

The lovely Sara is ready to go, so this post must draw to an end. Now I am just waiting to hear from the rest of the schools, to save money to move, to find an apartment, to get a wonderful husband, to live happily ever after with some cute and overly-energetic children, and finally get to Africa..... not as much waiting as it could be;-)