Christianity in the New Reality

Oh, Reader, I could use a whole lot of Jesus right now.

It’s been a hell of a week for Americans—for the world at large, really, since America has had nearly 100 years to wrap its long fingers around the limbs of every other country.  I have been disappointed by my country quite a few times, but this is perhaps the first time I’ve been frightened by and for it.  The reckless foolishness, the open childishness, and the marginalizing endangerment of the new administration—in only one week!—are exhausting.  My spirit hurts, my heart hurts, my body aches from marching around Washington, D.C. to remind the world and myself that I matter because I am a woman, not in spite of it.

And I won’t lie, being in seminary is not making it easier.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I attend a pretty liberal divinity school—far more liberal than I am, in some areas.  The anger and the pain of the students here feed mine such that we all starve from them, our very souls gnawing at empty insides because we see only that which is cruel, that which is unmerciful.

I do not know how to recharge from that.

dscn2067Because I do not believe that I, as a Christian or as a faith leader, can walk away from this.  A family member called me out earlier this week in accusation that I wasn’t preaching love, kindness, and forgiveness because I went to the D.C. march and am unapologetic about my reasoning.  But what is love that does not pull the loved one away from evil?  How kind is it to avoid confrontation such that others are harmed because of my unwillingness to speak?  At the end of days, how do I ask God to forgive me if He has to say, “I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me“?

I’ve no intention of turning this blog into an activist space in terms of recruiting you to do anything, Reader; I have other spaces for that, and I hope you do as well.  Nor do I particularly want this to become a conversational space about which politician we dislike this week, not least because I am tired of having those conversations without the benefit of looking people in the eye and saying their real names.  For me, this blog needs to remain a place in which I catalog and describe the God-shaped space in my life and how that shifts and shines.  Heaven knows I need to be more aware than ever before of God’s constant Presence.

But I challenge you and I challenge myself to bring faith into all of our conversations in this new era.  Who is starving, physically and spiritually?  Are we contributing to their inability to be filled?  Are we ourselves, we God-made vessels of the imago Dei, trying to survive on not enough?  Who is parched, and how can we offer both water and Living Water that does not drown and does not cause further thirst?  Who is strange to us, and how do we welcome them?  How do we welcome the parts of ourselves that we cannot yet face because we have bifurcated our own souls, our families, our friends who are too “other”?  Who has been stripped naked, who stands in the harsh light of this day without rights, without safety, without hope, without love, without kindness?  Who is sick, who is trapped in prisons of their own making or of ours?  Have we gone to them and called them by name as children of God?

In the least of these is God.  In the greatest of these is God.  In the average of these is God.  In us is God, for in Him we live and move and have our being.  How shall we act as though this is true?  How shall we move forward as those who have claimed and been claimed by Jesus the Christ?

From wells of worship that never run dry, though we may feel as though there is only dusty earth at the bottom.  May God stand with you in the days ahead, Reader.  May we both recognize Him as He does so.

Help me understand your orders. Then I will think about your miracles.  I am sad and tired. Make me strong again as you have promised.  Don’t let me be dishonest; have mercy on me by helping me obey your teachings.  (Psalm 119:27-29, NCV)

The Liability of Mobility

Happy New Year, Reader!  I hope your holiday went well, or at least was tolerable.  I didn’t get into any fistfights with family this year, so I’m counting that as a win.

The bar is low in my life.

But while I’m sitting at my desk waiting until a concert tonight (the centerpiece of which is Holst’s Planets suite, which is one of my favorites), I keep looking over my shoulder at the parking lot behind my building and worrying.  The thing is that I live in a city and, in cities, parking is an incredibly tricky concept:  there are lots of cars, but not lots of spaces.  And they’re currently resurfacing my parking lot, which means I had to find somewhere else to put my car.

First world problems, I know; you may even be wondering why I have a car, living in the city.  I don’t use it much here—I walk to anywhere within about a mile and a half radius, which is the vast majority of the pieces of my life.  But I have it so that I can leave here.  My friends are several states away and I can’t afford to buy a plane ticket when I want to go home to see them; I sometimes have people or places I need to visit that are definitely not within walking distance and aren’t on any of the bus lines, either.  (Sadly, my city doesn’t have a subway or el system.)  I also have it so that I, as an up-and-coming pastor, don’t have to rely on the vagaries of public transit (rather less reliable and far-reaching here than in, say, NYC) to be able to get to my church or the hospital or one of my parishioners’ houses.

I also, to be perfectly honest, still have my car because of the freedom in it.  When my grandfather finally had to give up his driver’s license because he simply couldn’t see anymore to drive safely, he didn’t give it up voluntarily.  His sons had to wrest it from him because it was his last link to not having to depend on the rest of the family to get him around; it was his way of telling himself he wasn’t being a burden.  I get that, at a visceral level.  As a hella independent woman, I love that my car affords me the opportunity to leave if I must and go wherever I want (provided, of course, she holds together; she is almost 15 now, but I can’t even handle the idea of her demise and so refuse to acknowledge it).

In America, a car is a ticket to anywhere you have enough gas to go.  A car is a home—literally, for some, and I admit to having spent some nights in my car when I was travelling and couldn’t afford another option.  And my car is currently sitting in a lot where it might be towed.

Before you lecture me on taking risks with the possibility of towing, dear concerned Reader, let me say a) I know; there’s a story about a van in Chicago and a middle school youth group that has made me painfully aware of city towing consequences, and b) I did play by the rules for part of this.  One of the frustrating things about this parking lot makeover is that we weren’t given any avenues about what to do with our cars by the folks who own the building, simply the command last night to move them (I’m bitter about this mostly because they were supposed to do this repair over the holiday break when most of us weren’t here anyway, but nooo, now we’re all in the way…damn right I’m being petty about it).  So this morning I actually put my car in a lot, which wasn’t cheap.  But I could only leave it there so long, and besides, I had to get to work.  For the remaining hours, it’s not so much that I couldn’t afford the cost of meters or garages or whatever (I could definitely jostle other things in the budget to make it work, because even in being poor I’m pretty fortunate about the financial burdens I have; trust me, I’m aware that I could be a lot worse off and this is a tiny expense); it’s that it’s frustrating to me that I should have to simply because a company couldn’t be bothered to honor its commitments and my building super couldn’t be bothered to help a bunch of graduate students re-house their cars for a day.

sesser-pd-012Why am I complaining about so small a thing, you may well ask?  And what on earth does this have to do with God, especially as the first post of a new year?  Part of it is the simple amount of mental energy I’m putting into this.  My car has been tucked into the back of a lot that is usually half-empty for about three and a half hours now hoping against hope that the school that owns the lot won’t do a random sweep, and I tell you I have been nervous the entire time.  It’s exhausting, quite frankly, and of a far higher cost than the stupid garage would have been.  The principle of the thing is super ridiculous beside my concern that I might have to go rescue my car from the impound.

But what if I were even half as aware of God as I am currently of my car?  I don’t mean that someone could take God away from me, but how often have I considered the freedom God gives with the dedication I have to the freedom of this vehicle?  In this new year, how do I understand God’s place in my life—in relation to the car or not?  How can I live with the passion of appreciating God even more than that with which I appreciate my car?

UPDATE:  The lot is finished, my car was not towed, and she’s safely back in her spot.  I’m almost ashamed of how much my body unwound, Reader, when I saw her sitting right where I left her.  When have I ever had that intense of a reaction to realizing God is still, and always, with me, right where I walked away from Him?

 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:21, LEB)

No Justice, No Peace

Sorry this is late, Reader; I had half an entry written yesterday and then left work early to sleep because I was exhausted on every possible level.  I napped for a good chunk of the afternoon and then slept ten hours last night and I’m still tired to my very bones—but I’m working on it.

I did take the time, however, to get up last night and go to a gathering in support of Black Lives Matter here in the Land of Pilgrims.  I would say sorry, this is a blog about living into Christianity and I’m going to detour into politics, but that would be untrue.  Living into Christianity, I’m learning, is politics.  I’m not saying that we all have to declare a party, but I am saying that we’re doing something wrong (or not doing something) if we sidestep politics, especially if it’s so as not to upset people.  Jesus was an upsetting dude; He rattled the cages of a lot of folks in His day simply because He understood Himself not to be bound by the conventions of His leadership.  We as His followers have to step into the uncomfortable places where we find injustice to be light and salt and all that other stuff that would be much easier if it didn’t involve pushing other people’s buttons.

So I went to this thing because seriously, enough is enough.  I cannot in good faith—literally, in my faith—continue to say “oh, what a shame” and then pass on the opportunity to put body to voice.  Facebook rants are not enough.  Interpreter tossed this my way, indirectly, so I moved some other plans and roused myself to go on a steamy Friday night to listen.

That, actually, was my main purpose:  to listen.  This was a gathering where folks who are black could speak their piece and not have anyone talk over them, not be told they shouldn’t be angry, not be told that it wasn’t that big a deal.  I stood in this park and listened to rants, to slam poetry, to raps, to pleas, to stories of persecution and pain and loss, to exhortations, and to sorrow stretching hundreds of years because this was not a place for me to talk.  I’m white, and regardless of my feelings about that it is a biological fact.  I can’t speak to the black experience in America because I don’t have a clue about it, so I went, and I listened.

I’m glad that I did; some powerful things were said.  It was in a sense even more powerful because a family member had texted me as I was on my way over to tell me something and asked where I was going.  On my response that it was a Black Lives Matter rally, she responded that white lives matter too, that all lives matter.  They do not matter equally, I said, one white person to another; if saying that Black Lives Matter makes you defend your own racial value as though there is a limited number of resources that their assertion is taking away from you, then no, not all lives matter.  It’s an imperfect world, she responded; as long as we treat others as we want to be treated, that’s all we can do.

Wrong.

God has not called us to try, Yoda that He is.  God has called us to do, on a systemic level.  If you love your neighbor as yourself but see that they are wounded by another and do nothing, where is your love?  If you patch up a wounded man at the side of the road but don’t take him to an inn for long-term treatment, do you still get to claim being the Good Samaritan?  If we as people of faith content ourselves with simply being nice on a person-to-person level, then change will only happen on a person-to-person level.

I’m not saying that that’s bad or that that can’t change the world; it can, most certainly, and it is on that individual level that change happens at all.  But looking at the imperfections of the world and saying it will always be that way is saying that I don’t need to build the Kingdom because it’s not meant to be here on earth.  False!  We are called every day to be ready for Christ’s return; we are called every day to do something with the gifts that are given to us.  If we are just burying them in the ground and saying the world is frightening and imperfect, do we truly think Christ is going to be pleased with that?

So that was an awkward conversation.  But then I was at the rally and listening—and then I was marching.  The organizers decided to shut down one of the main shopping areas downtown with a long march of these hundreds of people to say that we are here and we are not going away, and I must say I was very unsure of whether or not I’d stay.  The police were out in force, several counter-protesters gathered with their American flags and their hatred, death threats had been made on the event’s Facebook page.  I’m moving soon, I need to avoid things like being arrested or shot.

Then I realized I was thinking that and that that was why I needed to stay.  Walking away is an option for me; if something had gone down, my being a white churchgoer would be a source of great protection for me.  My fellow gatherers of color likely wouldn’t have that; so I marched with them, clapping along to the chants—-but often being unable to speak them.

Here’s the thing:  I’m not into groupthink at all.  I also think words carry great power.  So it was hard for me to shout things like, “No justice, no peace!” because I want peace.  I have no desire to start a fight.

But am I not already in one?

 

 

He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to Yahweh.  (Proverbs 17:15, WEB)

Step Back, Breathe, Reengage

Oh, Reader, what a day.

It will be a feat of heroic proportions if I can make it to the end of this work day in one piece because I’ve been ready to go home and curl up in a blanket fort since I got here.  (This is unfortunate.)  Part of that is that I simply don’t like my job and so want to go home every day (not necessarily to a blanket fort), a dislike made so much harder to bear with every new sortie into pieces of the Church because I see what gives me life but I can’t have it (yet).  That was thrown into sharp relief this week because of Annual Conference (which I posted on last week and about which I will post further next week) and the moments of being mad as hell at the Church and loving it still.  To come back to a job where I do not fit, where I watch myself becoming someone I don’t like out of frustration and disenfranchisement, is a quiet form of torture.

But it is also that this week follows Orlando, this week holds the ninth-longest Senate filibuster, this week has been my heart breaking over my country once again saying that we are more afraid of our government than our weaponry, more determined to protect our right to have guns than our right to continue breathing with lungs not torn asunder by hot lead blasting through our bodies.  I have been unable (not that I’ve tried very hard) to keep myself from continually getting into this conversation—not out of a desire to antagonize but out of sheer befuddlement that this is still happening.  Again and again I have been asking how this works, why even the smallest steps of gun control are shunned outright, and to their credit my more conservative friends have responded.  We still don’t understand each other, but it has mostly been civilized.

Even when my newfound “liberalism” makes them question my faith.

Reader, I came to Christ in college and fell into a beautifully loving country Christian church with all the insularity you might expect.  God, guns, and the American way are very important in that church; gay folk are sinners to be loved, divorce isn’t spoken of, women don’t become pastors, and abortion is an abomination against God.  Even then I disagreed on some things but I was loved there, and I will spend the rest of my life pushing against the stereotype that people who think these things are horrible human beings without hearts.  They were my family, they were my support network, they quite literally fed me and gave me a home after I finished college and realized I had no idea what I was doing next.  I worked part time there, I built the foundation of my faith there, and they wept with me when I left.

Since I’ve moved away we have all changed, and though that love is still there we are far more prone to seeing the places where we disagree than the places we are family.  So for some to question my advocacy of gun control and my stance against violence and my blatant feminism in the frame of lovingly correcting me in faith and steering me back to Jesus…God, Reader, it breaks my heart in half.  I see still their compassion and understand that they believe wholly in this gentle remonstrance, but I cannot stand by and accept these tenets anymore.  I will not wash my hands of this gunpowder and blood, especially not when a life of professional, pulpit-based ministry beckons me forward.  But this…this is my family who look at me in concern and sorrow.  These are the people who taught me what love looked like in the first place, and every rift between us hurts that much more precisely because I cannot mend it and (to the extent that it would mean walking back my beliefs) will not try.

Add to this, then, betrayal by my very body.  Perhaps one of the cruelest things the Church has done in terms of doctrine is to tie women’s menstruation to Eve’s sin, ’cause damn, this shit sucks.  (If you’re uncomfortable with talking about this because you think it’s gross, skip to the next paragraph.  Then go apologize to all the women in your life whose bodies and voices you’re denying by refusing to acknowledge this as a biological reality.)  Beyond that fact that it can feel like someone is attempting to pull out your spine through your abdomen while twisting the surrounding muscles in an unpadded vise, going on your period really can and does screw with your mental state.  I realize it’s a social stereotype to show the wigged-out woman eating a pint of ice cream and crying at nothing in particular, but seriously, your chemical balance is getting thrown off and you can’t stop it.  So it’s been a legit intense week and today my brain is magnifying everything a thousandfold because its busy trying to overhaul its entire hormonal state.  Once I figured out that was a factor it made the day slightly easier because I can tell myself to step back, breathe, and reevaluate the way I was reacting to people, but before I got there I thought I was losing my damn mind today.
The spiritual implication of all that?  We are not only spiritual.  I would love to be, trust me, but we are living in mortal, political, social, emotional, and physical plains as well as the spiritual one, and that is a hot mess sometimes.  And somedays—many days—we carry the grief of the world on top of our own and we shudderstep underneath that weight.

Good think God keeps telling us to give it to Him.  In so many ways, Lord, we pray for healing.

 

 

“Teach me and I, for my part, will be silent;
explain to me how I have been mistaken.
 How painful are honest words!
But what does your reproof prove?
 Do you intend to criticize mere words,
and treat the words of a despairing man as wind?”  (Job 6:24-26, NET)

Having My Head Examined

I feel part of this journey into ministry is the act of sharing it with those around me, both demystifiying and humanizing the “transition” from laity to clergy.  It’s a fascinating process, if exhausting and bizarre.  In my tradition (United Methodist), there are a great many steps toward ordination.  One of them is quite possibly the least pleasant part:  a psychological report.

There’s, first, a battery of some four or five psychological assessments that you have to sit down and take, among them the MMPI-2.  This is 567 true/false questions meant to chart your overall psychological map (anxiety levels, relationship with your own health, cynicism, self-esteem, familial relationships, etc.).  There’s also a fill-in-the-blank test that measures your mental health by how you respond to certain prompts (“I wish my mother would…,” “My biggest challenge is…,” “When I don’t know anyone at a gathering, I…”).  And there’s another true/false set-up of another 400 or so questions, and then a 200-question test…I took most of them right in a row (in retrospect, perhaps not the wisest thing to do but I did so want them over with) and it took me about five hours to get through everything.  (One other test didn’t have to be proctored by another person, so I took that home and did it while lying on my floor and wondering whether the Church was seriously worth seven hours of intense self-examination.  So the joke some folks make about I should have my head examined for wanting to be a pastor?  It’s not funny anymore.)

On every test there is the admonition to “be honest” and not try to answer the questions the way you think the Church wants you to answer them.  You know those kinds of questions; it’s like Buzzfeed quizzes on which Avenger you are.  The ones that slant toward Iron Man are pretty obvious and you’ll pick those if you want to be Iron Man.  But the Church wants (or says it wants) who you really are, and that is TERRIFYING.  I’ve done psych evals, I’ve been through therapy; I know what it looks like when I answer certain questions certain ways.  I know that this is not the “right” answer, that this is going to be a flag of some color in my mark-up.  Perhaps the hardest part of the tests was not the taking of them but the allowance for myself to be honest about the places I’m not all that well adjusted yet.

Once you’ve done the tests, they are sent to a psychologist who reviews them and also sits down with you for two hours to get a measure of who you are when you’re on the spot.  If you think the tests are fun, than this part is a rollicking party.  Said psychologist gets to ask anything he likes—and you can refuse to answer, of course, but that is itself an answer.  Again, the hardest part for me wasn’t necessarily the conversation but resisting the very strong temptation to shape the interaction so as to make myself look tremendously healthy and awesome.

Armed with the tests and this interview, the psychologist writes up a report about you and (after talking it over with you to see if you see anything egregiously incorrect in its representation which he may or may not change) that gets sent on to the various boards of the Church for their review and then FOLLOWS YOU FOREVER.

So do other reports, so it’s not like this is the end-all-be-all description of who you are.  But it is part of it, and it is unnerving as all get-out to have a nine-page (in my case) breakdown of all your insecurities and faltering places that complete strangers get to read.  Complete strangers who get to decide whether or not to support my call to professional ministry.  Complete strangers who get first this statement of clinical detachment from who I am and why I do things and how really, I’m not so bad once you get to know me.

I didn’t react well to this report at first, as you might imagine.  How could I?  It’s a hell of a thing to feel…well, to feel so very exposed.  I realize this is a hilarious thing to come from a weekly blogger, but both you and I know that I control how much of me you see, Reader.  I don’t lie to you, but neither do I come even close to telling you the whole truth—because you don’t need to know it.  And you do the same in your life; no two people hold the same information about us.  It would be silly to try that because our spouses should never be in the same kind of relationship with us as our parents or our bosses—but our spouses should know us deeply and truly and in the places where we cringe against the light because those aren’t beautiful.

So to have Church officials see those kinds of places?  Tough.  I don’t want them to see those, I don’t want to be that kind of vulnerable because it’s so easy to see the (constructive) criticisms and hear not that I don’t do well in this area but that I am bad, that I as a person should not do ministry; having your fears and anxieties and history on display like that is hellishly intimate in a very public kind of way.

But as I was striking out against that report in anger driven by fear and frustration (about which I’ll say more the week after next—which, oh, there won’t be a post next week because I’m off to be in a wedding.  I’m sorry I almost forgot again!), I realized God sees this all the time.  God doesn’t have to wait for a typed report to tell Him that I pull away from some situations, that my anxiety levels are not healthy, that it’s far easier for me to walk away from relationship than to stay in.  He knows that; He’s always known that.

But He loves me fiercely and He calls me to His service.

Whom then shall I fear if God sees infinitely more than psychological assessments and yet still values me as His daughter?  And what right have I to believe that I am less because of these imperfections when He continually makes me more by His love?

 

 

Lord, you have examined me;
    you have known me.
You know when I rest
    and when I am active.
You understand what I am thinking
    when I am distant from you.  (Psalm 139:1-2, ISV)

All in the Family–Whatever That Is

family, n.  “A social group of parents, children, and sometimes grandparents, uncles, aunts, and others who are related.”  (Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary)

family, n.  1)  “A bunch of people who hate each other and eat dinner together.”
2)  “People you love and love you back, not neccessarily blood or biological, but you trust them and they trust you, and they take care of you and you take care of them.”  (Urban Dictionary)

I’m having dinner with a friend of mine tonight.  She has a slew of small children and both she and her husband work, so when she was in my office the other day she was preemptively apologizing for the fact that it would be a Friday night and the house would be a mess and then she said, “Whatever, you’re family.  It’ll look like it looks.”

On Wednesday I had dinner at a different friend’s house with his family; he has a slew of teenagers who are coming and going from their various things, he works fairly late, and they have two dogs.  It was a casual affair of showing up and making sandwiches eaten on paper plates because I’m family.

I went to visit a college friend and her parents over the Christmas break and rang the doorbell as I have every time I’ve gone to that house for the last ten years.  The mother came to the door and let me in and said exasperatedly, “What are you doing?  Just walk right in and shout, it’s unlocked and you’re family!”

I hope, Reader, that you can supply plenty of your own anecdotes of people along the path of your life who have taken you in and called you family, who have loved you fiercely and fought with you and laughed with you and celebrated the twining of your lives.  This is something that matters so much to me because “family” is an incredibly laden concept for me.  The family to whom I’m related by blood isn’t exactly warm and fuzzy and we aren’t exactly besties.  But so many people have “claimed” me in some way, these secondary families who re-appropriate the word to mean something new and beautiful.  It is, in fact, one of the coolest things in the world to me when Interpreter calls me “sister,” meaning that we are brother and sister in Christ.

We are currently in that strange part of the liturgical year in between Epiphany and Lent, that time of treading water until the Next Big Season.  In this time is the growing up of Christ; in this time He grows from a boy to a man.  We don’t get many of the stories of this time (unless you want to argue for the canonical attributes of the infancy gospels, which you’re welcome to do); we don’t get the family raising Him (except for when He steps out of their jurisdiction) or the friends who became family for Him.  But once we dig into His adult life, He has some intense things to say about what family is and He models a fascinating family structure with His friends.

It’s been an unexpectedly fraught week here, Reader.  I have officially officially started the candidacy process toward ordination—as attested by the proliferation of paperwork in my life, among other things.  I am For Real in this idea of going into the ministry, which is scary and awesome and exhausting and overwhelming and many other things besides.  And some of the stuff that I need to do in this process is hard, wicked hard in such a way that I need to be able to reach out to others and have them remind me I’ll be okay, that I’m not making up this Call, that it isn’t better just to stay where I am.  These people function as my family, my support network, whether or not they’re related to me by the accident of blood.

I wonder if the disciples were like this for Jesus; He had to go find them first, of course, but they are the ones who gave Him room to discuss His ministry.  They are the ones who told Him that what He was doing was necessary when His blood family just wanted Him to come home.  (Of course, they are also the ones who encouraged Him to run when it got super scary because they were far more interested in keeping their Friend around than fixing the world.)  They are the ones who, in their own incredibly human ways, were His family—what Jesus did would not at all be the same without them.

Perhaps today, Reader, I just want to give a shout-out to my family here in the Land of Pilgrims.  I want to appreciate my brothers and sisters (some of whom style themselves mothers and fathers sometimes), my cousins and aunts and uncles in the faith and in humanity.  Last night was rather rough as I was dealing with some health frustrations and a song came on the radio called Stand by You.  It was the most intensely apt song I could have heard at that moment because I am surrounded by so many people who have walked and will continue to walk through Hell with me—and there are people who have asked me to walk through Hell with them, and that is its own incredible honor and test.

Family, I think, are the people who know what you sound like when you laugh and when you cry, and they are ready to handle both.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they know everything about you—the disciples didn’t know an awful lot about Jesus—but it does mean that they know you, the core of who you are, and they love you in flawed and flawless ways.  How good to have family!  How wondrous not to have to do this alone!

 

 

“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”   (John 15:12-13, NLT)

Go, It Is Sent

At the end of the Catholic mass back when it was in Latin (pre Vatican II), the second-to-last phrase was “ite, missa est.”  This became “go, the Mass is ended” when churches switched to English, but that’s not actually what it means.  In Latin, the verb missio means “I send;” to add “est,” the third person present form of esse (to be), makes it passive—“it is sent” rather than “it sent.”  There is much debate as to what, exactly, is sent—is it the congregation?  the Eucharist?  the coffee tray for the folks waiting in the narthex?—but there’s no agreed-upon concept of the noun, only of the verb.  To be part of the Body of Christ is to be, of necessity, someone who is sent out into the world; this is why the Church talks a lot about mission (yep, also a derivative of missio).

Last week I went on my first-ever mission trip.  And not only was it my first, I went as an adult leader for a group of high schoolers.  Hah!  This is one of the many things that convinces me God exists; surely I wouldn’t be stupid enough to volunteer to take vacation time and do this sort of stuff of my own volition.

It was, I think, a success, to whatever extent that sort of language can be used about mission trips.  Most people didn’t get sunburned, no one was bitten by snakes, and we delivered to their parents the same number of kids we took with us.  Many of the folks from my congregation as they were sending us (which was a whole other kettle of fish, that service of them sending us with their prayers and support and all; it’s still a hell of a thing for me to brush against the holy like that.  It’s somewhat like getting a static shock; not unpleasant, but it definitely causes you to draw back for a second) told me that it would be a life-changing experience, and perhaps it’s just that I’m truly a curmudgeon, but it wasn’t.  I didn’t have any shocking OH WOW GOD moments, and I wasn’t totally thrown out of my understanding of the world to come back enlightened.  It helps (or doesn’t) that the area where we were working is close to where some of my family grew up, so it was actually a kind of coming home for me.

But a big realization I had to work on all week and am still working on is that really, it wasn’t my mission trip.  Technically, yes, I was sent to work with these folks and I most certainly did the work of painting, building, sanding, cutting, sorting, hanging, etc.  But my primary role was to make sure the kids could work with these folks; I was there to make sure the trip happened without one of them cutting his hand off or something.  They were my mission field.

Reader, I am having such a hard time wrapping my head around that, not least because it still makes me laugh that people put me in charge of anything at all.  Surely they know I’m actually an irresponsible 15-year-old, not an adult.  My life is so often that dog meme that I have no idea what I’m doing, although I think that’s adulting in a nutshell.  It’s the epitome of “fake it ’till you make it,” but even still it’s really weird for the kids to look to me to get things done or tell them what to do or even to make sure they turn the lights out at night and then sing them awake in the mornings (yes, I did that).  I had one gal tell me at the end of the week that I was an imposter, I was actually a teen pretending to be an adult because I could talk Internet trends with them and I knew most of their music.  It was a hilarious moment of both being found out and being a little horrified that they should think it shocking for me to be “in the know” when I’m only a decade or so ahead of them.

I loved the opportunity to get out of the office and use power tools and tear stuff apart and build things—that ever-delightful concept of a task you can see with a beginning and an end—and also I got to know my fellow adult leaders who are some seriously neat people.  I have finally arrived at the place where I get to know all the secret back-door stuff adults do when the kids are otherwise occupied, and I don’t even care that it’s mundane, it’s still awesome.  My childhood self is vindicated.

I also got to see my kids going.  Part of this is the literal going, in the sense that freaking none of them had “off” buttons holy crow how did they never stop AT ALL, but some of it is also that I got to see them truly taking on this sense of mission, of being sent, of reaching out to places and people that scared them and about which they were totally unsure and then growing into these new spaces.  I got to co-lead devotionals every night and it was basically the best thing ever; sometimes my kids said incredibly stupid things, but more often than not they took me to school and taught me so much about grace and hope and the bigness that is God.

It was, actually, awesome.  And the best thing was that it wasn’t earth-shattering, but it was totally life-affirming.  I want this, even this, even though I came back home and slept for 14 or so hours the next day.  I don’t want to be a youth minister, necessarily, but let’s get this minister train on the tracks.  Even the hard days are totally worth it.

Maybe it’s that passion that is sent.  Or maybe it’s just me.

“Get up, for this is your duty, but we will be with you. Have strength of heart and do it.”  (Ezra 10:4, NLV)