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.

I'm still moved by the incredible witness and humility of this man, Bishop Kevin Dowling of the Diocese of Rustenburg, where something like 40% of his people have AIDS, and tonight there will be young women engaged in “survival sex,” and young people are so despondent, so hope-less, they don't care if they get infected or not. He has begun an AIDS clinic among the shacks, and a hospice to give dignity to those dying from a disease that most often leaves them ostracized and abandoned.

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.


About pastortimk

Senior Pastor at Christ Lutheran Church, Valparaiso, IN
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2 Responses to Reentry

  1. Amen, brother. You’re speaking really important truth, and you do it beautifully. Thank you.

    Your post has made me painfully aware that the challenge of reentry is both unavoidable and optional. As you acknowledged, it’s almost impossible not to be sucked back into the status quo of my life. I guess the real challenge is to resume living the life I have while allowing the reshaping God accomplished deep below the surface to keep working its way up and out in the way I think and speak and, in the helpful frame you’re using in this post, which questions I ask. I’m absolutely certain that I could suffocate that new life in there, that new voice that’s whispering that discomfort into my soul, and I could choke it out of existence without too much attention or fanfare. I can drown out its whispers with any manner of noise in my life, noise that comes from outside and noise that I drum up. Or I can tend to it like you are in this post: I can remember the faces and voices and places God showed me and let that impact continue to grow roots in my soul.

    Tim, I’m with you in seeking to learn to ask new questions with the authority and serenity and compassion I heard in the voices of Makgoba and Storey and Dowling. Glad we’re sharing the journey.

  2. Dave Shoff says:

    Hi Tim,

    I’ve been mulling your post for a few days now. I can honestly say that it disturbs me (in a good way).

    I’ve been led through change experiences in the past, and I bear the marks of them. However, your evocative descriptions of poverty lived out are sitting as a goad on my soul – one that I don’t have clarity on, or specific leading (yet). I sense that you are sitting in the same boat, with the oars against the sides, awaiting a direction to go.

    Maybe God is letting me live with my cognitive dissonance for a time, in preparation for a push into my life that is beyond my comprehension. I am sure of this (as you eloquently described) that God is doing something in my heart – one that isn’t done yet either.

    I do implore you – continue to share your lessons, both as proof and confirmation of the vision that is being formed in you, and as encouragement to the rest of the body.

    As always, thanks my friend!

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