Tuesday, July 29, 2008

the waiting game

last night was our first college ministry get together. tara and i cooked steaks, mashed potatoes, salads, brownies, and calamanci pie for anyone who wanted to show up. i forgot how nerve racking the first meeting or conversations are. i invited 5 or 6 people to have dinner at the house, made the plans for dinner, prayed a lot, started cooking, and then waited. that wait kills me. you know, the one where you're getting ready to throw the steaks on the grill when the first students show up so you're sitting (or pacing) watching the clock hit 7:00. well the clock hit 7:00. then it hit 7:03. then i started looking out the windows. as it turned 7:05 i half joked with tara that maybe her and i were going to eat 10 steaks and 3 pounds of mashed potatoes by ourselves. at 7:07 i worried we would have to do just that. 7:10 made me start pacing twice as fast, but finally at 7:13 i saw lights pulling up the driveway.

i got the oppertunity to eat a good meal with 8 other people who really might want to follow Jesus like he wanted to be followed. as the students introduced themselves and told how they arrived at this poiint in their lives i couldn't help but remember other introductions in ct. i began to get excited about conversations in the future or mission planning meetings with these 20 year olds. i noticed i was anxious to hear them talk about Jesus over coffee or to see them give shoes to a needy kid. i couldn't wait to hear them share jesus with a friend or hear them pray for their communities.

when it came my turn to share my story i couldn't help but grin as i talked about the strange road to connecticut from texas, centralpub from mystic, and guam usa from new britain. as i shared what i loved and how i genuinely like Jesus and the ideas spinning around in my brain for outreach and missions here on guam i got excited. i think i have a few people to follow Jesus with and im getting excited to share life with them.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

authentic authentic authentic...

i think i forgot how difficult it can be to find a church. well, i don't guess its hard to literally find one, but it seems hard to find one to call home. tara and i have visited a few and ive met a few other pastors since being on island, but we just haven't felt comfortable for whatever reason. none of the churches ive visited are "bad" churches and we haven't seen anyone try to eat snakes or train monkeys to worship with us, but still, ive had a hard time finding a "home" church.

at times i know its my fault. im hard on churches and their pastors. i am at times very cynical, judgmental, and basically want something like centralpub in ct. i want a place i can invite friends to. i would like them to enjoy and love college students. i want them to be a part of the community. but above all, i want them to be authentic people.

today i think i visited a great church. its not the biggest or the smallest. it doesn't have very many white off-islanders. it doesn't have the nicest building or the best music or the most dynamic speaker ive ever heard. but they were humble, kind, and authentic. tara and i were a little late, but there were still fresh local banans and bread fruit near the door. a nice man named glenn welcomed us and grinned as he shook our hands. the song choice was great and thoughtful, not just repetitive and spiritual sounding. the church is also trying to love and strengthen the chamoran culture. they are sponsoring a proa (a sweet canoe built in the old traditional ways) being built on the church grounds, which is a huge event and blessing to the island. people filter in to learn about their culture and why a church would want to support it every week. and, their pastor is a texan.

anyway, the sermon was relevant and insightful. we shook a lot of hands after the service and met a sweet girl who wanted to be a part of the new college ministry. but the thing me and tara both mentioned as we got in the car was how honest and authentic everyone seemed. no one tried to sell the church to us. no one praised their accomplishments or tried to recruit us for teaching or group leading or anything. they just welcomed us and said they were glad to meet us. i liked it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

liberation day parade

Guam celebrates a holiday on July 21st called liberation day. It celebrates the day America “liberated” them from Japanese occupation in 1944. The Japanese soldiers on the island treated the guam people worse than I imagined. They regularly massacred workers, raped, and beat the people. The conditions grew worse as it became clear the Americans were going to take control of the island causing the Japanese soldiers to gather the largest, brightest, most influential people from town to town killing them in caves and ditches. I’ve personally gotten opportunities to go to these massacre sights and hear the old men tell the stories of their fathers and brothers killed by scared, ashamed, small (in spirit not stature) men.

On the night before the parade people line the streets camping with their families holding the best spots for the parade the next day. The morning of the parade was electric to say the least. The smell of wood, charcoal, and meat on the grill fills the entire city and the main road is shut down for the day. The parade is so long it seems that every business and family and vehicle is involved, everyone waves, and everyone shares with each other what the other will accept. Children chase candy in the streets. Old people dance. Tattoos are given on the road. Cotton candy stains kids clothes. Stories are told.

I’ve never had my land taken from me by an oppressor wanting to make bombs. I’ve never had my father taken from my home to be shot in a cave. I’ve never had my wife taken from me and given to “needy” soldiers for sport. But I know what its like to see my way of life change for the better. When the American marines were still small on the horizon, the guam people began to quietly celebrate their coming. A better life was on its way… a new “kingdom” was “at hand” you might say. And in a very powerful way, I’ve experienced this kind of celebration, this liberation. And its not only a liberation of my soul, but of my mouth and my brain and my loves and hopes. I too have been liberated from an old, oppressive way to a new hope… the way of Jesus.

So as I watched my fiancĂ©e march at strict attention through crowds of waving children in the 94 degree direct sunlight, I grinned. My heart celebrated my own liberation, and I thanked God that a new kingdom was truly “at hand."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

i really hope that was a sea turtle

i went kayaking with tara this weekend in a beautiful lagoon. we were out on the water for 3 hours or so kayaking around several islands close to cocos. on the way out i saw what at first looked like a person surfacing after swimming under water, but then the large figure glided back under the water barely splashing. 'tara, what in the world was that?!" i yelled, but of course she didn't see. its a rule you know, when you see something surprisingly cool, no one else will see it. thankfully whatever it was surfaced again shortly after.

i took off toward the thing not knowing what is was or what it wanted to do to me in my little orange kayak. i paddled over to its spot without thinking about what i would do once i got there or what i would see under the water if i spotted it. then i got nervous... what was in the water in the middle of the pacific that made me think it was a human? did i want to see a shark? was a dolphin going to jump out of the water and make me piss my kayak? about a week ago i watched the jaws marathon on amc, and the images of a huge great white hunting unsuspecting kayakers was creeping into my brain. tara is much more optimistic and was screaming that we just saw a sea turtle, but i wasn't convinced. i saw it splash another time and went to find it, but i wasn't sure of what i might see.

you see, i got nervous because i was in the water with an unknown thing, and the unknown seems to make us nervous. if i knew a rabid, hungry, 19 foot long shark was hunting us, i could then be afraid, paddle towards tara, and get us to safety. if i knew we had seen a dolphin, i could have dove in the water to swim with flipper. but i didn't know. when we are encountering or on the verge of the unknown we get nervous, we question ourselves, we freeze up, or we find ourselves to be very unsure of how to act.

thats the way this ministry in guam feels to me right now. i'm not afraid. i'm not over-confident. i'm unsure. the problems, the joys, and the outcomes are unknown to me. guam is a very different culture than tx and ct, and like anyone, i worry i won't be able to connect well with the students. i feel like i'm in a little kayak paddling around looking for the big "something" in the water. in moments like these, i'm glad jesus is WITH us rather than far off. i'm glad he's near rather than aloof. he doesn't just guide us or command us, but he is near experiencing life WITH us. and this gives me more confidence. it makes me happy to serve and enjoy a jesus who doesn't tell us what the unknown is if i only pray right, but he paddles over to the unknown and peers into the water with us. this gives me confidence to try.

Monday, July 14, 2008

plan? but i don't want a plan...

i got the opportunity recently to listen to a great discussion. we were sitting around a table or two talking about salvation. i like salvation. really, i like saving and being saved anyway you cut it. i like it when tara "saves" me a bite of her steak. i like it when i "save" room for dessert. if im falling off a mountain i want some park ranger in green to "save" me from broken bones.

but something happened this afternoon... i didn't want to be saved in the way we were discussing it. please don't get me wrong, i understand and love what Jesus has done and is continuing to do for me, but something deep in my brain and self bothered me. i heard the phrase im sure many of us have heard, "plan of salvation." the discussion moved forward and walked down the roman road nicely and accurately, but still i was uncomfortable.

its taken me a few days, but i think i know what made me so uncomfortable. i think im bothered because we have the gospel and message of Jesus down to a plan. at times i feel we've checked for typos, ran the pages through the copier, stapled each set neatly in the top left corner, and set each packet on the desks of our neighbors. is this okay?

now, i know we need distinctives, and im not trying to say we don't need a belief or a guide. i am also not saying we can get to Jesus anyway we see fit or that we are in fact capable in ourselves to reach the standard Jesus has set... i simply want to pose the question, HOW DID JESUS TALK ABOUT SALVATION? did he use a cut and dry 5 step plan, or did he tell stories? did he use acronyms or toss seeds on different paths? did he use a bullhorn or bread? did he say follow these steps, or did he say follow me? did his first teachings about belief and forgiveness and the kingdom of heaven center around the cross, or did they center around his life?

again, im not trying to discount or devalue paul's writings in Romans or Ephesians nor am i saying they shouldn't be used when sharing the gospel. what i am asking is this: should something like the salvation of our selves and our pasts and futures and nows and our brains and hearts and souls be broken down into a plan to be accomplished or checked off as "done?"

Sunday, July 13, 2008

choking redemption

I’ve recently wondered about this weighty theological term redemption. You see, I’m not sure we understand its implications very well. While driving near a bay in Guam looking out over the pacific from a small cliff I had these dramatic, sorta cheesy thoughts. I jotted them down either while driving or shortly after. Even though it’s rough and a little embarrassing, I’ll write them out for you:

“Just how far and wide do the echoes of redemption resound? We have restricted this redemption word by only letting our post-life souls enjoy it. We haven’t allowed ourselves to dance wildly in our own redemption. Austin, let go of redemption’s throat. It wants to breathe.”

I know I was moved by the waves and the beauty of the water and the vastness of the ocean, but looking past my over-dramatized writing I wonder what we’ve done to God’s redeeming work in our lives. I worry we’ve short changed him and his power to ONLY apply to our afterlife. Surely the kingdom or heaven, the miracles, the cross, the resurrection, the words, the parables… surely they weren’t intended to “merely” protect and reward our after we die.

What if our redemption changed and made beautiful the way we spend our money? What if we extended this “making right what’s ruined” by making sure we don’t over fish tuna, or what if we gave our possessions away rather than hoarding them? What if we talked sweetly to our parents when they didn’t deserve it, or what if God made right the way we kiss and hold hands and hug each other? What if God’s redemption gave us a nice and hardy push toward the path Jesus walked called the kingdom of heaven… maybe then we wouldn’t have to wait for heaven to be transformed and happy… maybe we could experience heaven in an aids hospice or on a hike or kissing a pretty girl or while giving a kid new shoes or singing at the top of our lungs.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

i've been here 10 days

Guam is a beautiful place. i mean it. i get lost in my brain looking out over the water at the waves and clouds as they seem to meet somewhere in the horizon. gas is $4.92 a gallon as of today and strawberries are over $6 most places, but its free to walk and drive and breath with your eyes open.

i'm praying for creativity and vision right now... ideas flood my head, but none seem to stick at the moment. i know i want to meet students. i forgot how awkward most first meetings are with students who don't know you and don't have a reason to know you any better than they know john doe. this week is the week i ask a few ive met out to coffee or a sandwhich or whatever. i just actually lifted my coffee cup in a cheers to getting stood up a few times and looked at like im a strange stalker or cult-starter. indeed, here's to that.