The Other Fisherman

Matthew 4:21-22

21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

I was by the boat that day, the morning Jesus came along the beach.

It was a morning as ordinary as any after a night’s work of casting, hauling, the sweat and the salt and the seaweed sliming our hands and crusting our arms. It’s hard work, throw after throw of the nets, counting as they sink, dragging them back to the boat.  We work when the sun isn’t there to wring us out, standing in our boats singing in the dark and hoping every heave, every haul, there will be enough to sell and maybe eat a little too.

And every morning, arms and back trembling, we sit beside the boats in the shrinking shade as the sun rises.  Every morning we tend our nets: tying, mending, stretching, replacing, working new ropes in with the old, testing their stretch and pull.  This is our time for storytelling as we wait word from the market: stories of nets that slipped our grasp, stories of boats that pulled too hard and tipped, stories (real or no) of nets too full to pull in, stories of sudden storms that took our friends.  This, after all, is the real wealth of the fisherman, the stories we trade as vital as food, as sustaining as drink after a long night’s work, the stories of our own dreams and hopes and disappointments.

It was a morning as ordinary as any other, the stories as repeated as always.  I remember it was an ordinary catch, not great; we had enough to sell, enough so my family could probably eat today.  Zebedee is a good man and treats hired hands like me well – I know this boat, these nets, are a lucky thing for someone like me. I know what I have here.  He’s fair, he shares with all of us, and we get by – at least on days like today.

The sun was climbing higher and we were all sitting closer as the shade shrank. John, who always finishes first, was leaning against the boat flicking fish scales in little glistening arcs when we saw the stranger on the beach.  Zebedee saw him coming and nudged James, but we didn’t say anything.  We see strangers here sometimes but not often, and he didn’t walk like a fisherman, he didn’t have the lift of the waves in his step the way we did, that permanent sway in the knees we who stand on the water do.  He wasn’t one of us, just another Galilean walking the shore on his way somewhere, an ordinary stranger.

Our stories dwindled as he we watched him walk closer.  Zebedee called out a greeting – he was the eldest, hospitality was his right.  The man shaded his eyes and smiled, stepping right to where our boats were pulled up, right to our feet sticking out of the crescent of shade still left.  He didn’t say anything for a bit, just looked at us.  He just looked.

How can I say?  He saw me.  I don’t know how or what he did but he looked at me and he saw me – without saying a word, without raising a hand or a flicker on his face, I knew that he saw me, knew how hard it is to hold my temper sometimes, knew how my arms and back could work all night and do good work but were getting slower to recover every day.  He saw how hard it is sometimes with the kids and not knowing what the catch will be, the days when we’re all hungry and I sneak food off my plate to give them even though I’ll need the strength that night.  He saw the constant hurt of the one we lost, saw how desperately I need this job and how afraid I am that it will slip past me.  He looked at me with his hand shading his eyes and not a word on his lips and he saw me.

And then he looked on.  At Zebedee for a long moment and a silent nod, at James and John leaning against their father, he looked and I could feel them feel it, too.  For a long moment I wasn’t sure what would happen but then he smiled.  And he spoke.  And he said, “Follow me.”

I was by the boat that day too, the day Jesus came walking along the beach.  I felt him call – not heard, I felt it – and I watched, silent, still, as James and John looked at their father for a long moment, set down the nets, and stood.  I felt it, I felt Jesus’ call down in the depths of my stomach, I felt it but he wasn’t calling me, not yet.  It wasn’t my time yet.  My family isn’t ready yet.  They are counting on me and Jesus didn’t want me to let them down.  As much as I felt that draw, Jesus wasn’t calling me – yet.

But I remember, oh I remember.  It was an offer, a life there I’ve never felt before or since.  I know where he ended, I drank up every story I could gather – the healings, the teaching, the arrest.  I know about the soldiers and the whips and the cross.  I sought every confused and confounding story that came after, I know it all.

And when word came back that James and John were teaching and telling stories, changed somehow from fish-smelling callous-hand sea workers like me into leaders and teachers, that’s when I knew.  Jesus’ call wasn’t to a place, a time, for the two years he walked our land.  He has designs on us all.  Even for me.  Even a fisherman like me.

I was there that day, the morning Jesus came along the beach.  He called me, too.  He called me too.

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It’s entirely possible I think about hands more than most.  As pastor in a congregation that celebrates Holy Communion every week — and with two services every Sunday — I see a lot of hands reaching toward me for that morsel of bread.

Some hands are eager, anxious for the gift to come.  Some are shy, held back under a head bowed with the promise of grace.  Sometimes they tremble from illness or anticipation.  Sometimes they drip with tears at the forgiveness offered “for you,” as their owner’s shoulders in turn are held by the hands of others.  Some hands are curious, some are bold, some are uncertain, some are nonchalant.

Some hands have a child’s bright eyes perched on top, glowing with the knowledge that they belong, too.  That what we do together includes them.  That this holy moment is for them.  These eyes gleam with the joy of being part of this great thing unfolding.  Sometimes these child’s hands are folded neatly on the rail, feet standing on the kneeling cushion, the railing just the right height for them to rest their elbows on it (well-designed just for them), surrounded by us who love them passionately and are there with and for them.

Some hands are tiny, chubby, a toddler’s unlined curiosity reaching out because she has watched mom or grandpa or sister reach, and so of course that’s what they do, too.  These hands bend at the wrist in ways mine just don’t anymore — back almost 90 degrees, the flexibility of new life — as they pop that morsel in their mouth as though this is old hat, this is familiar pattern in a new-born life.  Sometimes, oh blessed holy moments, some exquisite times that eating is accompanied by a chomping sound: “Nom!”  Holy sounds for a holy moment.

Some hands are lined and wrinkled with history and story, paper-thin skin stretched over years of blessing others.  These hands have knuckles gnarled from serving, fingers bent with use, hands that have held Jesus’ throughout a life well-lived.  These hands, too, can tremble at the familiar power of forgiveness and reconciliation, the spiritual nourishment to make it through another day of aches and challenge.

Some hands are manicured, well-turned and attended.  These hands hide their diaper changes,  thrice-nightly cries from the crib, crayon scrubbed from the wall.  These hands chase snot-bubbles and button winter coats on squirmy, impatient bodies.  These hands droop with exhaustion at the end of the day, so worn from darting to protect and provide they can hardly hold a book in the tiny moment of quiet.  The manicure, the polish, the poise, they want us to know that everything is under control, life is all together — though we who love them, and we who surround them, know it is not and admire them for the tiredness more than the polish.

Some hands are so well-used the dirt in the corners will never be routed, the grease so worn it will never be removed.  These are workers’ hands, farmer’s hands, mechanics’ hands — hands that know the heft of tools and the satisfaction of hard work.  These are hands that hold the world together with callouses and scars, and sometimes — my heart breaks just a little — sometimes their owners are just a little shy with them, just a little hesitant as though they are somehow not “presentable,” not scrubbed-up and “right” for this holy moment.

And every time, I want to grab them and make their owners look me in the eye and remind them, “These are hands Jesus would like particularly well.”  These hands look like his, their callouses thick enough to be their own geography, well-earned scars so profuse we’ve lost their history.  These hands look like the rough, scratchy hands of a hand-tooled carpenter.

After all, our hope rests in rough-hewn hands.  Our hope is the strong hands that grip ours, holding tight when the storms rise and the wind rages, drawing us into an abundant life only they offer.  These hands have callouses that scratch across our shoulders as they hold us tight, embrace us as siblings, welcome us as prodigals, brush our tears of joy and tragedy and tousle our hair with delight.

These are hands that rubbed against a cross, splinters snicking into their backs as the soldiers wielded their dreadful hammers, breaking and stabbing strong sinews.  These are hands that dripped and trembled as he was lifted and all his weight hung from the spikes driven through them.  These are hands that slumped as all was finished.  These are hands tenderly bathed and wrapped by the women who laid him in silent rest.  And these are hands, holed and somehow whole, whose fingers gripped the edges of the cave three days later as he drew breath in the morning sun.

These hands sparked suns’ fierce fire, stirred nebulae and scattered galaxies.  These hands molded dry ground and rescued a people.  These hands waved the heavens into being and reached, on a silent night many years ago, to grip Joseph’s calloused pinkie, to bat Mary’s face.  These are our hands, these hands our hope, these rough and tender hands that reach for ours as we reach for his.

So hold your hands boldly, sisters.  Reach your hands tenderly, brothers.  Reach your hands joyfully, children, for Jesus’ hands reach for yours.  In familiar words hear this promise: “This is the body of Christ, reaching — for you.

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Reflections on an election

After two years, after debates and debacles, after so many words and so much money spent and so much fear and so much dislike, disregard, and dissembling, nobody won last night.

Now to be clear — I’m not referring to the outcome of the election, Donald J. Trump is now our President-elect.  This is not a claim of a rigged system or alleging irregularity, nothing to do with our electoral college system vs. popular vote vs. republic vs. democracy.  I mean the election process itself that we’ve just been through: that to choose a new leader required that kind of election, we all lost.

We have been through 2-year barrage of harsh language, insults, spin, politicking, dissembling, outright lies, grotesque revelations, appalling behavior.  Those who have been involved in and surrounding this process have behaved in ways I do not expect from my 5-year-old — and would not allow from anyone even younger than him.  At the end of this grueling process our country split with a (as of this morning) 47.5% / 47.7% vote.   Let me say that again: the final vote split by a 0.2% difference.

We’ve seen journalists and media ignore the truth and the people in front of them and reward the circus of this process.  We’ve seen operatives assume and hold on to their presumptions, no matter the subsequent facts.  We’ve seen politicians use horrific language and make horrible stereotyped pronouncements that is filtering down into our schools, language and behavior that I, for one, do not and will not allow in my home.  We’ve seen people inspired by the worst in us, the worst in them.  We brought forward perhaps the most disappointing electoral slate possible (both candidates among the least-trusted, least-liked, least-respected of any candidate in a long time, if not ever).

No, America, we all lost last night, because of what the election process cost us.  This election season has split us, divided us, and shaped us in ways that we will be discovering for a long time just how unhealthy they are.  We have been through something that has abused us.  This kind of thing — this kind of abuse — leaves a mark.  Maybe not visible, but it is a mark, an effect, a lasting shape that has long, lasting tendrils.  We all lost last night, because the last two years have hurt us.

That’s what this election was.  Here’s what it is: What this election means for us, however we feel about its outcome, is we have hard work to do.  No matter how you feel about the results, no matter whether your candidate “won,” no matter who you are or how or if you voted: We have hard work to do.

For those who are elated: it is time to listen.  It is time to listen to the concerns of those who are not, listen to the dreams that led them to a different decision in the ballot booth.  It is time to reach beyond that 0.2% that divides us and discover what unites us.

For those who are disappointed: it is time to listen.  It is time to listen to what those who chose differently were anticipating, listen to their dreams and what led them to a different conclusion.  It is time to reach beyond the braying of the campaign trail and rediscover those who are with us beyond that 0.2% divide.

For those who opted out and didn’t vote: it is time to listen.  Creating and keeping a healthy democracy in a world so quickly shrinking by travel, communication, media, cultural exchange requires engagement and participation.  Listen to those who did participate, listen for their reason why it matters, and give them a change to listen to you.

For those who are afraid: it is time to listen.  If you are a person of faith, remember that our hope is not, never has been, and never will be in a politician of any stripe, color, persuasion, or perspective.  We must remember this!  2008’s election made me nervous with language that approached “salvation.”  Remember: We do not need a Savior.  We already have one.

For us who now have to learn how to live together after such a divisive experience: it is time to listen.  It is time to hear — the hopes and the fears.  The disagreements and the similarities.  It is time to remember that the continuance of our country has never depended on agreement.  (Actually, we never, ever have!)  What matters is that we are United States of America, and for us to Unite, we need to learn to listen.  Come on, people.  We can do this.  We really can.  I know it seems hard, it seems impossible, but hard is what we do best.  We are Americans, and this is what we do — we come together, United States.  Listening is where that has to start.

And then, once we know how to listen, once we know how to be United States, we need to build something new.  This culture of ours, this whole mishmash of politics-ethics-mythology-values-media-entertainment-individualism-marketing-economics, this whole system is what gave us that gut-wrenching two-year process.  I can’t stomach the thought of going through this same kind of experience in two years.  Something has to change, or we will rinse-wash-repeat.  Something has to change, and it has to begin in us.  We cannot continue divided this way, and we need something with more staying power than a World’s Series game.

As a person of faith and a community leader, I believe the Church has to lead the way — we who entrust our lives to a Savior beyond politics and culture must stand together as witness to the Kingdom in which we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28).  We must learn to insist on and embody the priorities of that Kingdom, in both our personal and our civic lives.  We must learn to follow Jesus across the boundaries we keep trying to erect between us (Luke 15:2), we must reach beyond every division (Gal 3:28), we must learn to listen and love all who are our neighbors (John 13:12).  This election made it very clear: politics, culture, economics, media cannot, do not, and will not unite us.  They have no power, no reach across divisions.  Only the One who stretched his arms out to all on the Cross can do that.  And We are his Body in the world — we, too, can and must stretch out our arms.

We who believe know the deeper truth — this world is not governed by politics.  This world is governed by the One who created, redeemed, and sustains it.  We know the truth of things, and we are the ones who are capable of seeing beyond that 0.2% that divides us — because the One we follow already did.  We are the ones, brothers and sisters, who must lead the way: to listen, to refuse division, to honor disagreement, to bridge our shared brokenness.  Only we, because we are the Body of the One who already has.

We are all in this together.  We have hope.  And we have work to do.  So let’s get on with it.  This is what we do.  It’s time.  Now.

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Reflections on fear

I am disappointed with my city of Valparaiso.  Monday our City Council voted 4-3 against a project to provide 31 supportive housing units in an unused, landlocked lot owned by the city.  I attended the meeting and stood outside in the hall to listen to the public comments, the Council Members’ discussion, and the vote on the rezoning proposal.  I am disappointed.

I’m disappointed that our Council Members did not have the courage to bring $11 million of investment into our city by donating a parcel of land that is unused, and largely unusable.  I’m deeply disappointed they used letters and emails from residents as their cover for doing what is easy or expedient, instead of having the courage to do what is right. I’m disappointed that this was our best opportunity to address a present and pressing need in our community, to follow the vision we as a city have developed and adopted, and that opportunity is now past.

But I’m most disappointed at the nature of the comments I heard in the public hearing portion of the night.  We heard from some who spoke in favor of the proposal, and they urged its passage based on the ValpoNext Vision Plan, on our shared American history of providing opportunity to those who have been less advantaged, and based on their faith and calling as Christians to care “for the least of these.”  (As a positive aside, I’m absolutely thrilled to report that this last bit made people uncomfortable!  Finally, finally the Church is making culture uncomfortable!  Finally, finally our faith is not just a proxy for capitalist-American socioeconomic assumptions!  Finally, finally following Jesus’ teachings, example, and commission is making those around us squirm!  I could not be happier to see that start happening.)

And we heard from person after person who opposed the project.  Many were neighbors of the proposed development, and we heard of their concerns for the view out their back windows, who these neighbors will be, that property values might go down, an assumption that crime rates will automatically go up.  Many spoke of the neighboring Montessori School and seemed to assume that this development would decimate its ability to serve children.  (Only one commentator suggested that the new apartments might be an opportunity to reach out and serve children they otherwise wouldn’t be able to encounter, which seems a missed opportunity.)

Above all, we heard fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of something different.  Fear of “those people,” repeated over and over again, “those people” coming into our town (hint: they’re already here!), “those people” filling a homeless shelter in our neighborhood (hint: it’s not a shelter, we heard that average expected tenancy is 6+ years!), “those people” preventing schools from operating (?!), “those people” automatically making our neighborhoods unsafe, undesirable, uninhabitable.  One person said, “I just want to know, when do I need to sell my house by?”

That phrase “those people” made me just so disappointed, and so sad for the people who are saying it.  As someone who chooses not to make decisions based out of fear, I admit it’s challenging for me to empathize with those who do.  This fear of the unknown, especially such a second-order unknown (“we don’t know who or what we won’t know”) just makes me sad because it sure sounds like a narrow window onto the world.  The expectation that all our city must look the same, behave the same, or come from the same economic background — that just sounds so plain to me, so bland, such a limited experience of the beauty of the real world and proud of it.  My heart just breaks for folks so afraid they can’t see through bigger windows than their fear.

Because I’m an internal processor (Meyers-Briggs “I” plus a hefty dose of N, F, and P) I usually have a hard time thinking of what I would want to say in a setting like last night; I tend to think of it later, once my thoughts have filtered.   Here’s what I would have said at the hearing if I’d thought of it faster, what I wish I could say to our city that’s so afraid, what I would like to say to those who made so much of the fact that no neighbor to the proposed site was there in support of the project:

I am not the mythical neighbor-next-door to the proposed housing here in support of the proposal, although I wish I was.  I wish I could be its neighbor.  I am thrilled by the idea the residents will be attending my children’s school.  I hope my kids get to meet them.  I hope they become good friends and our families can get to know each other.  I hope my kids ask probing questions about how and where their friends live.  I hope my kids discover that people can come from different backgrounds, different economic experiences, different life experiences.  I wish I lived next door because I would enjoy being their neighbors – I’ll bet they will have some pretty interesting things I could learn from them.

Now the project is dead, without any possibility of relocating elsewhere.  If my City does manage to find another opportunity to do the right thing, I hope they’ll do so in my backyard.  Put the building site where I can see it.  Put it in walking distance of my house.   I’d like to be their neighbor.

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Reflections on an open hearing on a Human Rights ordinance

Tonight I attended the “Special Meeting: Human Rights Ordinance”, a public hearing for community commentary and input regarding a proposed “Ordinance of the Common Council of the City of Valparaiso, IN Prohibiting Certain Discriminatory Conduct Within the City“.  I attended in support of the ordinance; but since my thought processes always take time to crystallize — darn that being an introvert — I only found the right words later, once I’d been home.

As someone who has devoted his life to serving Jesus professionally in the Church, I get nervous about the word “tolerance.”  Not that it’s a bad word, or in any way that I think people using it don’t mean well — it’s just that I don’t think it’s a word that Jesus would use.

“Tolerance” to me always sounds like such a low bar — “I tolerate you breathing the air around me.”  I tolerate your living — you get to exist next to me.  I tolerate your presence — you’re permitted to be in the room with me, just don’t bother me.  Tolerance sounds to me isolating, paternalistic, dismissive, pedantic.

And the real problem is, I can’t think of a time Jesus “tolerated” anyone.  The Pharisees?  Not so much — he engaged, he argued, he told them stories to turn their world inside out.  Zacchaeus?  Not so much — “I’m coming to your house for dinner.”  That’s not tolerance, that’s entering the home of a real jerk of a man, entering the private sanctum of a known public crook.  The woman about to be stoned?  Not so much — he put himself in front of her: “Let the one without sin [spoiler alert: that’s him!] throw the first stone.”  After doodling in the dirt for a bit he looked up and in apparent wonder asked, “So where’d they all go?”

Personally I’ve never seen Jesus “tolerate” anyone.  Instead he had this distressing habit of sitting down to dinner.  Touching lepers.  Welcoming sinners.  Calling tax collectors.  Raising dead guys.  Jesus engaged with people, who and where they are, especially if they were “off-limits” by the human-derived lines that we draw to divide people.  He served them, and he served with them.  And in that engagement he transformed lives, transformed the world, with his Good News.

That, for me, is the religious freedom I have received as a Christian, as an American, as a community leader.  The freedom to engage, to build relationships, to come to know others’ lives and experiences and discover with them another facet of the fascinating, flummoxing, God I serve and love.  In Christ I have been given the freedom to cross boundaries and love people the way Jesus did — which, after all, was his marching orders to me and to us.

For me, the ordinance we talked about tonight provides the opportunity to live out my faith — by joining my neighbors, serving my community, and partnering with God to transform the world.  That’s why, as a Christian, as a faith leader, and a community leader, I stand in support of the ordinance — because my understanding of “religious freedom” is enhanced, not restricted, by allowing my sisters and brothers who are black and brown, women and children, gay and straight, to live as securely in my town as I do as a straight, white, tall, 40-something-year-old man.

Personally, I don’t think I have the right to speak for others’ experiences, not even for members of my own congregation that I serve.  I don’t think I have the right to tell the gay, lesbian, and trans members of my congregation what they feel or have experienced.  When they tell me they feel uneasy or unsafe in Valparaiso, I feel compelled to believe them.  If they tell me this ordinance is needed for them to not feel afraid, I believe them.  When they tell me this is one step toward showing them they’re just as important, just as beloved of God as I am, I believe them.  This is engaging — hearing, entering, listening to others’ experience.

I dream of a day when we won’t need something like this ordinance.  I dream of a day when all of us will follow Jesus alongside others who are not like us.  I dream of a day where my children and the folks I serve with don’t have to be afraid of others, because they’ve come to know and appreciate those with different experiences.  I dream of the day when not one of us is “tolerated,” but we are all engaged in real relationship, true fellowship, in the incredible beauty of the Body of Christ together.  That’s the day I dream of.

But the truth is, we’re not there.  Things like this ordinance are needed, and necessary, because we’re not there.  This is needed now to create the kind of community we dream of, the kind of community our hearts are telling us they are longing to see.

But more than that, I need this.  As a Christian, as a religious leader, as a community leader, as an American, I need this.  I need to be reminded that I am not the end-all be-all of God’s creation, and that God is not somehow limited to loving only people who think like me or act like me or are made like me — scrawny, 6’3″, sloped shoulders, gray hair.  I need for my own sense of who God is to be surrounded and reminded that he is a God of endless creativity who makes people endlessly different and loves them, endlessly and differently just as they are, who revels in the diversity we see in his Creation — why else would he have made things so varied?  I need to be reminded and surrounded by who God loves, and in order to create the community who matches what I experience of God’s heart, I need things like this ordinance that will help us create what I think God dreams of and what I see God having done.

That’s why I stand in support of this kind of ordinance — because I, and we, need it as people of faith.

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Small things

I had a dinner conversation the other day with some insightful, delightful people who asked about the trip to South Africa, what its highlights and challenges were, and what it's meant to me. It's always an interesting question, when someone asks how the trip was — to say “good” seems insufficient, and in some ways I'm still figuring out what it means and how that is evolving, even as I'm becoming more aware that it is changing somehow. That became especially clear when one of the hosts said to me, “I read the blog of your trip. Are you still angry?

This was one of those God-moments that casts your gaze inward, when in the considering you learn about yourself and what the Lord has been up to. I won't be able to recreate exactly what I answered, but it was (I think!) something like, “It's certainly changing, and in process. I'm not feeling the same way, because those posts were pretty raw. It seems to be turning into something more like a compulsion to ask important questions.”

As faithful followers of Jesus, there are times when anger is the only appropriate response to the presence and effect of evil. Jesus showed it himself in the Temple, tossing tables and brandishing a crude whip. His anger, though, is systemic — he despised what the sacrificial system had become, and most especially what it did to the poor and powerless in the Temple's hierarchy.

We ought to have that kind of anger as his followers, anger at how people can be unheralded and unnoticed by our culture and our society. That kind of systemic anger, anger at the broken system that surrounds us and how it resists change, I think is appropriate and faithful. I think of our elderly treasures, sometimes sitting ignored by family, and how we've lost the reverence for the wisdom of family stories. I think of our preteens and teenagers, already bombarded with sexualized expectations for beauty and build (have you seen those magazine covers for teenagers lately??). I think of our children, who are being targeted by advertisers as young as 4 and 5 years old. The system in which we live is failing them, and you and me, too.

What I experienced in Khayelitsha and Gugulethu was a stark reminder that our world is not the kingdom of heaven. The brokenness of our world isn't abstract, it has the face of beautiful children, lonely teens, desperate women. And that same brokenness traps me, too, just not in the same ways. You reading this blog are trapped, because broken systems trap us all, even those who seemingly benefit from them.

But the real question for us as followers of Jesus is, once we've noticed brokenness, once our heart's been moved with the Lord's compassion, now what? You who have been reading this blog with me have asked that, and I've asked myself, too — what do we, what can we, what ought we, do?

I think we might begin together at two different levels. First, our hearts should go around the world, because that's what God loves. And there are places in this world where need and suffering is more acute than you and I can hardly imagine. Find an outlet for your compassion that makes a difference. For Amy and myself, besides our tithe we've been supporting an organization called “2,000 Wishes” for a number of years, together with my parents and aunt and uncle and several others in my family. 2,000 Wishes sets up and supplies feeding stations for orphan children in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Amy and I periodically turn to each other and say, “Let's feed some more orphans.” We've also just committed ourselves to supporting a child through Compassion International, because that's where our heart and our passions led us. Find a way that sharing your blessings can make a difference — tithe to your church, give away more. Sharing blessings makes a difference.

And second, let's do something together right here at home. While the slums of Rio or Khayelitsha present poverty at its most potent, we also have the poor right here in South Bend, in Valparaiso, in Chicago and Indianapolis and yes, even Baroda, MI. There are hungry children in our own neighborhoods, elderly men and women despairing in loneliness right next door, desperate teenagers right around the corner. We know that, but we probably don't know them. Perhaps that's a place to start? What if each of us, you and me, made an effort this holiday season to get to know someone outside our comfort zone? To meet them with an expectation of learning from them, and praying to see them through God's eyes? What would that be like as a first step?

At the close of our final session, one of my colleagues on the trip to South Africa talked about “doing the next right thing, with courage.” Small things, blessed by the Spirit, make a difference — that's what our shared history with God shows us over and over.

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A story from Gugulethu

I’ve told this story in a couple sermons now, so it’s time to share it with a wider audience:

As we visited with Pastor Swipo Xapile of J.L. Zwane Memorial Church in Gugulethu, one of the townships outside Cape Town, he told us the story of an intern who had come to work with the church. And the intern came to him one day troubled, and they sat down to chat.

It seems he’d taken Communion to one of the widows of the congregation, an elderly woman, and met in her livingroom with her and her little grandson hovering nearby, watching everything with big eyes. And during Communion, when it was time to break the bread and give her a piece, she took it, but didn’t eat it. And didn’t eat it. And he didn’t quite know what to do, so eventually he carefully turned his gaze away, all the while watching out of the corner of his eye. He watched as she took that bit of bread and gave it to her grandson hovering there by her chair.

Afterward they talked about it, and she said, “We haven’t eaten in two days. I couldn’t stand to eat that bread in front of him when we haven’t eaten in two days.”

Pastor Xapile said to us, “I’ve come to understand Communion as the equal distribution of bread — you take a little, I take a little, we all have the same.”  And again: “When my people pray the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ that’s just what they’re praying for:  Daily.  Bread.”

Posted in South Africa