As it turns out, reentry is hard.
Not because of sleep deprivation, although changing Daylight Saving Time so soon after traveling 6 timezones wasn't particularly helpful. Not because I wasn't welcomed home, or that people don't genuinely want to hear about the trip, or because my life is uncomfortable in some way – indeed, life as a middle-income, white American is very, maybe even too, comfortable.
Actually, reentry is hard because of that – because it's so very easy to slip back into well-established patterns that fit so comfortably into middle-American lifestyle. It's very easy to slide back into the boxes I've constructed for myself in how I spend my time. It's simple to keep serving and pastoring exactly how I know how to do and be and, not only that, be welcomed and encouraged and applauded in doing so.
And yet I still feel this hand in Khayelitsha Township.
I see these orphan eyes from Guguletu.
What's hard about reentry is that I have been changed, and I need to ask different questions. Here in South Bend there are children sleeping on the street tonight. Here in South Bend and across Indiana there are orphans, far too many of them older and thus less adoptable. Here in South Bend there are men and women (and children, too) with HIV and AIDS, and they live with that stigma and shunning that is as much attached to it here as it is in Africa.
And those are the obvious ones — we also ought to be asking, with Archbishop Makgobo, what it means theologically to seek profit above all else and the accumulation of wealth as our greatest good. We also ought to be asking, with Archbishop Brislin, whether the Church's proper role is guide dog or watch dog for politics. We ought to be asking, with Rev. Peter Storey, what it means to be faithful in a world where people, right here in South Bend, are shunned and feared for the color of their skin and I serve in a church that is entirely white and homogenous. And we ought to be asking, with all the people of faith, why we allow fear to so control us, as the recent election showed on every side of every single elected office.
Yet, it is my observation that these are not our questions. And most likely, were we to ask them, in my congregation at least many, if not most, would shake their heads and say “What an interesting question” and continue worrying about how long we can limp along with a congregational budget deficit. Or would once again get angry that I am encouraging action out of faith instead of preaching “me and Jesus” as our only business as a church.
Instead of asking these questions, we're worried as Christians about losing the “culture war,” as though this world of God's is nothing more than a battleground, instead of the arena for the revelation and working out of his grace and mercy. Instead we debate, still in our ELCA, the “authority of scripture” without including “authority of interpretation,” when what's often really happening is a cover for whether we have to have gay and lesbian sisters and brothers in our communities. Instead of realizing we are the richest society that has ever lived in history and yet are one of the most divided economically, we worry about whether making $250,000 makes us middle class or not. Or who should have taxes raised in a society so quickly going bankrupt. Or whether a black man belongs in the Whitehouse.
But I held the hand of a little boy whose family, odds are, is living on less than $1 per day. He grabbed my hand and walked with me and I loved his smile. And I saw the shacks in which he lives stretching out to the horizon. And I know that right here in South Bend, right here in my own city, there are too many whose life and circumstance are far more like his than like mine. And that means there are questions that I have to ask.
No, reentry is hard. It's hard because whatever God is doing to me doesn't seem to be done yet. And with my colleague Brent, I recognize that asking these questions is really asking for a change of heart among God's people, to bring them more in line with God's own heart. Changes of heart are kinda the business God has called me into. And that's not an easy business, and it's not very often welcome, and it's not very popular. But it is faithful. It is Godly. And that's all I can hope for.