June 28, 2011

The other side of service

Last night I had garbage duty in the dining hall. It's a pretty simple set up, really. You stand behind a table, people come up and drop off their plates, napkins, utensils, cups, and extra food. You sort all of that out so it fits into one garbage bag. Feeding 200 World Changers can lead to lots of bags of garbage if you're not careful.

I'm careful. I'm also good at Tetris, so I'm a pretty good at dropping stuff in place as it comes in. And I was a dishwasher a bunch of years ago, so I'm pretty good at arranging food waste and getting covered in filth. I have a system, and I stick to it. It's more refined than I care to admit.

So garbage duty isn't a big deal to me. I actually like doing it, it's a chance to serve other people and bless them. All they have to do is set their stuff down on the table. I handle everything else. And blessing others blesses me. So I get to stand there with a smile on my face and talk to people as they come up, and I make their life just a tiny bit easier.

Sometimes, though, people ignore the system. Even though I am standing there wearing my gloves and handling everyone else's garbage, they still choose to come up and take care of it themselves. Usually, it's the adults.

They mean well. I know what they're thinking:

"I don't want to be a bother."

"I can do this myself."

"Don't worry, I got this."

They'd hate for some poor missionary guy to have to handle their garbage for them. So they come back behind the table and place their stuff in the wrong bins and get in my way and - come to think of it, steal my blessing.

I am there to serve, but they don't want to be served. They take my service away.

Sometimes people would just rather not be served.

Take footwashing, for example. It's far more awkward and uncomfortable for the person allowing their feet to be washed than for the person doing the washing. Your feet stink, and they sweat, and that's terribly inconvenient for anyone getting close to them. But Jesus did it. Imagine Jesus washing your smelly, nasty feet. Now there's an image for you.

It's uncomfortable to let somebody serve you. It can be uncomfortable to need to be served. "I don't want to be a bother" and "I don't want to be served" are not all that different.

Are you good at letting people serve you?

I'm not. Some people - Christians in particular - are very eager to give, but would rather not receive. After all, we're told 'tis better to give than to receive.

But receiving service is different. After all, becoming a Christian has an awful lot to do with recognizing that you need help.

Sometimes, people genuinely want to serve you.

And there's nothing wrong with allowing someone to serve you. So let them do it. Don't take away their service.

So the next time you see me in the garbage line at CDC, with my hand out...

Don't worry, I got this.

June 22, 2011

The Lanyard

Many moons ago, in my first summer at Grace (2003), I was given a lanyard. It was a cherished gift, an in-crowd thing, for the in-the-staff-at-GYC-crowd, given to us all by Chad Saxton. At least, that's how I remember it. I've had it for a long time.

By some miracle, it survived being one of my possessions. I lost it many, many times, but it always came back. It was subject to some pretty serious perils - dangling off my neck over starting campfires, unscrubbed toilets, plates of food, lots of dangerous situations. We had some good times together:

(together on a hiking trip)

(during my short lived blue-glue-hair punk, eat potatoes from Styrofoam cups phase)

(Worn completely unnecessarily during the eating contest at Mangames. Shoutout to Jared and Tim.)

(As an aquatic observer, complete with required AO whistle, on the raft. Shout out to Dave and Paolo)

The lanyard was a beautiful thing. At first, it was just a very convenient way of holding onto keys. At Grace, I only needed two keys. One got me past padlocks, and another got me into everything else. (Note to self: Come up with a clever joke about how the keys didn't just get me into doors, but trouble too.) It maintained that cause when I brought it down here to Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, now I have a bunch of keys that I carry everywhere and now I walk around with saggy shorts. I think they're affecting my posture too. I couldn't carry them around my neck, so I kept them off the lanyard and used it just for the whistle and the house key. But anyway.

(see. I told you: Lots of keys.)

But it became more than a key-holder. It became a treasure of sorts. It said "Grace Youth Camps," something no lanyard is likely ever to say again because it's Grace Adventures now. Only people from way-back-when could have one. It was a part of my history, a symbol.

Also, it had a little clip so I could detach it and let people borrow my keys without having to endure the enormous inconvenience of removing the whole lanyard from my neck.

So it was disheartening when I lost the lanyard and the house key and whistle it held two months ago. I had loaned it to someone to use the whistle - the same one that had been attached to it for years, probably. When camp ended, I realized all the counselors had gone home and I didn't have my lanyard. I called around to see if anyone had it. They didn't. One guy said another guy had it last, that guy said another guy had it last. I worried, just a little, but held out hope it might turn up on camp someday. It had my house key on it too. For the time being, my house went unlocked.


One day.

I was picking up some trash outside by our firepit.

Dave was riding around on the lawnmower by the firepit.

And I heard

an awful clink-clang-clunk-thump of some foreign object being run through a lawnmower.

And I don't have to tell you it was my lanyard, whistle, and house key.

Dave shut off the mower and held up the pieces. He asked if it was mine. My heart sank.

A little shred of my history had just been demolished by a lawnmower. The whistle was gone. The house key was somehow still intact, just a little scraped and bent. The cloth of the lanyard was chopped into pieces, so one of them said "Grace Yo" and another said "-th ca" and still another "mps." I held them in my hands and wanted to sob a little bit.

"So you've been here the whole time. I've been missing you." It seemed like a such a tragedy that this thing, this cheap little thing, could endure for so long, could narrowly escape death or separation so many times, hang around my neck for so many memories, and sit outside waiting for me to find it only to meet its doom in a split second in a lawn mower. I held my composure. I didn't sob or anything, but the disappointment was displayed on my face nevertheless.

I'm sentimental, I guess.

Markus was there, and he took the pieces from my hands. He said, "I can tell that this meant a lot to you. I'll see what I can do."

Markus sews. Sometimes I make fun of him for it.

And so it was that this week, Markus called me and told me he had a gift for me. He came over and knocked on my door. I opened it, and he held out his hand with the lanyard hanging from it. He had fixed it. I was kind of speechless. He stitched the whole thing together, and even re-embroidered the missing letters back on it as best he could. It's a little crooked in spots but that's no big deal. Actually, it gives it some character. It gives it even more background story.


This concludes the story of how the lanyard, a symbol, was lost, destroyed, found, repaired, returned. Redemption is a beautiful thing on every level.

June 15, 2011

Night sky

Sometimes, the night sky looks like this:

Big pic here

June 10, 2011

The Great Equalizer

One of the drawbacks of my job is that it can, on occasion, require me to spend precious time playing lots of fun games with kids.

And often, I am better at the games than the kids are. This gives me an exercise in humility because I often want to display my dominance, put them in their place, and make known to all my vast superiority in whatever game we're playing. Especially to cocky 10-year-olds.

(Note: Sometimes they are better than me at certain games. I will not be addressing such scenarios today.)

Generally, I have to tone it down and remember that the playing field is not level. I have been gifted with a decade or more of additional experience and, to a lesser extent, a more athletic frame and larger brain. But mostly the additional experience. I typically temper the walloping I hand them based on the disparity in our skills. That's fair.

And yet, there is a flip side to that coin of justice.

Not every game is fair. Not every game needs to be fair. Sometimes, the result is important and hard work and preparation and skill and talent should be rewarded, and one team should be crowned a champion while the others are given something to aspire to.

Like little league baseball. And athletics in general. For me, it was high school marching band.

But 4-way Beach Ball Soccer is not one of those times. Camp games don't often require preparation and practice by the participants, and the reward is often inconsequential or candy-related. Justice, in camp games, really just means that every kid has fun.

Hence, it is often my role as a self-moderating participant to become the Great Equalizer.

My team is getting pummeled, and kids are losing interest? Better help us catch up and keep it interesting.

We're way too far ahead and kids on the other team have started to wail in embarrassment? My defense might suddenly tank.

A few kids are dominating and need to be neutralized? I'm on it.

It's pretty gratifying to become an instrument of justice. When I put a kid in his place, there might be a fist pump or two and I might walk a little taller, with a little more swagger. And yes, it might be just 4-way Beach Ball Soccer, but justice has nevertheless been served.

And that, friends, is what it's all about.

June 1, 2011

Points of View

I've been reading Rob Bell's book, Love Wins.

Where was I two months ago, right?

I often attended Mars Hill and typically appreciated Bell's teaching style, as well as the laid back atmosphere of his church, and the band's unique infusions of popular Rock/Indie/Disco/Funk tunes with modern worship songs. Also, the services started at 11. That goes a long way when you're delivering pizzas until 2 am.

I had a Love Wins bumper sticker on my last car, and still have one on a music book. I also have a Jesus Wins bumper sticker put out by another West Michigan church to contrast it.

Maybe love wins, but publicity definitely does. I heard buzz from plenty of Puerto Ricans (and Americans, and news outlets, and blogs, and relatives, and... yeah) about some unorthodox ideas from a pastor I knew fairly well, through many church services over many years.

They were saying all kinds of things
about what he was saying,
and what he was saying
didn't seem to be in line with

Questioning Gandhi's eternal resting place?


Must investigate.

I visited a Universalist church once. Didn't care for it. Their congregation was surprisingly aged, but the building was beautiful. I really couldn't see how embracing every religion and worldview gave them any kind of framework to make sense of God, the world, sin, death, anything. Their syllabus was far too open, kinda like taking a class on "Stuff." What are we going to learn about today? "Stuff." How do you study for that? How do you leave and go home and ponder that and come back the next week seeking something deeper, something concrete, something to stand on? How does that change your life? They had pagan verses in their hymn books. The sermon was self-helpish. It was Oprah church. I could have stayed home and watched Oprah.

A Christian church, on the other hand, has a framework. There's a Bible, there's tradition, there's a refined approach with a limited swath. You can gauge the Pastor's teaching against the Bible. Is he right or wrong? Why? It's in the Word. Go read it for yourself. At a Universalist church, you just kinda have to decide if the pastor is smart and take his word for it.

All that to say: Rob Bell isn't that kind of Universalist. I don't know what he is. He still uses the Bible as a framework, he still says Jesus is The Way. He just says it with a twist, one that I can't really refute, support, or explain. I'm not convinced he's a heretic or anything, though I do think there are some questions a laymen like myself can ask that a Christian pastor with a wide following probably can't, at least without complications and blowback. It's one thing for me to be at home, watching TV, wondering - What am I going to eat for dinner? What if God lets everyone into heaven anyway? Where are my socks? It's another for a pastor to write a book about it.

His book is okay, as far as readability goes. I'm about 80% of the way through it and mustering motivation to finish it. Some of what he says, I like. Some of what he says, I don't really have an opinion on. Some of what he says, I don't agree with. But for covering such a controversial topic, the book is pretty boring. Maybe that's because I often read it when my eyelids are already heavy (*Not a good state in which to read your Bible, btw.) He devotes a lot of it to asking questions, many of which he doesn't answer. And I think that's what he set out to do - ask a lot of questions. I'm cool with that. I'm all about getting to the bottom of why we believe what we believe.

We were riding up to church in San Juan on Sunday and I had the book in my lap. A friend was riding shotgun and asked me about it. He's pretty opinionated. He'd admit this. So he asked me about the book...

I articulated Bell's point of view as well as I could and diplomatically said there were some things about it I like and some that I don't. He went on to aptly debunk most of what I said, at least as he understood it, quoting scripture along the way.

I found myself defending Rob Bell's point of view. Which is interesting because it's not one I particularly agree with. I do this a lot, it turns out. In this instance, my inclination was to back up Rob Bell's book because the person debunking it by their own admission hadn't read it.

I don't consider myself very argumentative, and I don't really care about winning an argument or being especially convincing. I just like discussion. I often take a centrist viewpoint. Maybe that makes me wishy-washy. I've been accused of that before.

Or maybe it's just more fun to argue with someone you agree with. That way, they defend my point of view, and they typically do it better than I could.