just an apprentice

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Shoe shine

The years of living in México as a child are a rich, loamy
compost in the subsoil of my life. When I travel in
Latin America especially, but also in Spain, it is like I re-enter a familiar place filled with sights, sounds and smells lingering just beyond the reach of my conscious life.

The smell of exhaust fumes hiccuping from the buses lined up along the side of the plaza. The stacatto, stylized cadence of voices calling out the destination of the departing buses. Like hot dog or beer vendors at a baseball game--there is a hypnotic effect that lulls me into a trance--"MO--chis... MO--chis....AHOME...A--HOOO--MEEE."

From the shady spot on the park bench, I watch and listen to the people. A campesino woman carries her plastic mesh bags from market with children in tow. Laughter bubbles over from a pack of uniformed school children as they leisurely meander home from the escuela secundaria down the street. A couple backpacking Europeans sit under the shade of a nearby mango tree and chew on a cool raspado--tamarindo flavor. They consult a Lonely Planet guidebook for the departure times of the next train from Los Mochis to the Copper Canyon. The khaki shorts, the typical indigenous chompa, the well-worn hiking boots...all are a typical kit for the Western adventurers one sees trekking through Mexico and Central America.

The scent of fresh mangos, papayas, and jícama doused with limón and chile pepper awakens my appetite for an afternoon snack. Or will it be a Gansito and a Coca-cola from the tienda on the corner of the plaza. How can I fill in the rest of the scene? The ranchero music filters out of the cantina. A slight breeze carries the scent of fresh tortillas from the nearby tortillerilla. There is all of this and more under the hot Sinaloa sun.

Among this scene one can usually find several young shoe shine boys. Their polish darkened hands indicate that business has been good. I always look with admiration upon these young entrepreneurs. The importance of their job to their businessmen customers and to their humble families. They apply the black or brown polish to the leather shoes. The shoe shine boys themselves are often barefoot or wear the leather sandalias of the campesino.

Their overhead is very low, carrying all they need in a wooden box hanging from a strap that doubles as the prop for the shoes they shine. An assortment of needed polish and wax, brushes and rags ready at a moments notice. On Sunday mornings, my dad would sometimes let me shine his good shoes using our own Fuller Brush shoe shine kit. I imagined myself to be like my Mexican counterparts out on the plaza, earning a few extra pesos...shining shoes.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A prayer for those overwhelmed with trouble

Lord, hear my prayer!
Listen to my plea!
Don't turn away from me
in my time of distress.
Bend down your ear
and answer me quickly when I call to you,
for my days disappear like smoke,
and my bones burn like red-hot coals.
My heart is sick, withered like grass,
and I have lost my appetite.
Because of my groaning,
I am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like an owl in the desert,
like a lonely owl in a far-off wilderness.

I lie awake,
lonely as a solitary bird on the roof.
My enemies taunt me day after day.
They mock and curse me.

I eat ashes instead of my food.
My tears run down into my drink
because of your anger and wrath.
For you have picked me up and thrown me out.
My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows.
I am withering grass.

Let this be recorded for future generations,
so that a nation yet to be created will praise the LORD.
Tell them the LORD looked down
from his heavenly sanctuary.
He looked to the earth from heaven
to hear the groans of the prisoners,
to release those condemned to die.

And so the LORD's fame will be celebrated in Zion,
his praises in Jerusalem,
when multitudes gather together
and kingdoms come to worship the LORD.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

An Incredible Journey

Several times in the last month I have heard or read about the incredible journey of Eric Kennel and Dave Landis. I have been taking a seminary course this spring in Lancaster with Eric. I read about the trip in the recent Lamplighter, the alumni publication of Christopher Dock. I also heard that Eric shared about his trip with the board of Kids and Cultures. The trip lasted 431 days. They went to 45 countries on 4 continents! Wow!

I am amazed by the wise impulses that led to this trip and the insights gained over the many miles of travel. You can read more about their trip at Viva el Viaje.

I find within myself many similar yearnings and interests--to see the world from a global perspective, to be able to travel, to approach life as a journey, to understand the value of pilgrimage in the spiritual life...

If you get a chance, I highly recommend taking the time to read Eric's journal entry from December 5, 2005. My prayer is that more Americans will come to see the dangers of continuing our present course of foreign policy.

Friday, April 14, 2006


We gathered for a Maundy Thursday service last evening. Several things struck me as we washed each other's feet. This profound act of humility and servanthood is a great leveler. We are all equals in the school of Christ as we stoop to serve with towel and basin. The social dimensions of church can still allow for expressions of exclusiveness. Cliqueishness. Clannishness.

How is that avoided in footwashing? We move toward the room that has been prepared. Some seek out a specific person. Many just move toward the room and look for another who is ready and move together toward the chair and basin. It is not power interests or social compatibility that groups us. It is not age, nor tax bracket. It is not race, nor education. Rather, it is just the invitation of Jesus to follow his example.

Children were a part of the footwashing service. This is another profound dimension of the materiality of the Christian life. Love is demonstrated in real ways in the real world we live in. It takes the form of a basin full of water. My hands supporting a real foot. My cupped hand scooping water to pour on the foot. It is not primarily about abstract, esoteric ideas, but rather simple acts of service and love. Children can enter in and participate as the adult models what to do...mentoring in humble servanthood. So love and servanthood are not abstract Christian ideals, they are demonstrated in real ways in the real world of enemies, pride, jealousy and conflicted relationships.

I believe that as long as Christians practice footwashing there is hope of overcoming the cultural currents of individualism that seep into the church and are so prevelant. As we wash each other's feet, we demonstrate the very personal way in which we are together the body of Christ. Being the church is about being a servant to one another.

On another note...our SMC website has reached the big time! The Google webcrawler has finally discovered our website so that people can google us. The first link that comes up on the search is an early experiment with a website. It is impossible to remove that site.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Prodigal Son

This is probably my favorite work of art. Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son is the most fitting picture of how we journey toward God. We come to the Father's embrace, on our knees, grateful for the unconditional acceptance, the unmerited honor of being given a place in the Father's house. This despite our sinful condition, despite our willful acts of independence. The squandered inheritance...the appetites for the world and the diet of pigpen delicacies.

Contemplating this picture helps me see the truth of how God sees me (and each human being). The compassionate look of mercy, not judgement. The hands on my shoulders, welcoming me home. He is not put off by my tattered clothes, my ragged footware, the pungent smell. Nothing of the kind. I am one of his. My place is with him and I am so grateful to be home.

Being Humble and Confident

As we look at the stars and let our minds wander into many galaxies, we come to feel so small and insignificant that anything we do, say, or think seems completely useless. But if we look into our souls and let our minds wander into the endless galaxies of our interior lives, we become so tall and significant that everything we do, say, or think appears to be of great importance.

We have to keep looking both ways to remain humble and confident, humorous and serious, playful and responsible. Yes, the human being is very small and very tall. It is the tension between the two that keeps us spiritually awake.

Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Real Madrid vs. Barcelona

It is simply known as "El Clásico"...it is the clash of the two giants of Spanish fútbol (American soccer). The derby between the two arch rivals, Real Madrid and Barcelona, is renewed today in the Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona. Traditionally I have rooted for Real Madrid. Yet, Barcelona is in good form and should come away with a win on their home pitch.

The Immigration Debate

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:34

Immigration reform is the hot button issue in the news over the last couple weeks. This was a subject that was discussed when I was a delegate to Atlanta 2003. The questions being discussed are of incredible importance to Christian communities who are seeking to be faithful to Scripture. Who is my neighbor? What would we do if SMC were confronted with these issues more directly like our fellow Christians in the Pacific Southwest? In light of the debate that is taking place in the U.S. Senate, it is possible that giving aid to illegal immigrants will be considered criminal activity.

From Sojourners:

The debate on immigration reform has now turned to the U.S. Senate. Late last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee began discussion of Chairman Arlen Specter's (R-Pa.) immigration reform bill. While Specter's proposal is a marked improvement over H.R. 4437, the troubling provisions in the House bill could still be enacted in Specter's proposal, or in a bill from Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) A Senate bill on immigration may include expanding the definition of alien smuggling to criminalize the everyday activities of doctors, teachers, and community workers, and denying protection to refugees and battered immigrants who used falsified documents to flee an oppressor. While Specter's proposal includes a guest worker program, it does not provide a path to citizenship for the 11 to 12 million hard-working undocumented immigrants who comprise a vital part of the American workforce. In short, the bills the Senate is debating flatly deny opportunity, hope, and security to some of the most vulnerable among us.

I have decided to take action and express the convictions that arise out of my reading of Scripture to my political representatives. I believe the Christian community must speak up for the poor and the vulnerable aliens in our midst. We must question the wisdom of a bill that will criminalize the acts of compassion by our Christian brothers and sisters in the border regions of the United States. Humanitarian acts of compassion by doctors, teachers, community workers and churches on behalf of those in need.

Is this yet another set of issues that inevitably produces a conflict of interests for those who are seeking to live according to the teachings of Jesus and in allegiance to the Kingdom of God rather than the self-interests of a nation-state?