More Than Meets The Eye

We are not blind to the chaos and injustice that we see all around us. We write about the hope that we see, we write about the delight that we experience in this life, but we see the ugly. We see it in the nooks and crannies of the city streets, we see it in the media, we see it when we sit at a table with others and hear their stories of betrayal and disconnect. We see it clearly and it breaks our hearts. There are times that the burden is so heavy I want to scream out. I want to cry to the heavens, Lord have mercy!!

I see an Empire system that builds armies and weapons of mass destruction, waging war in the name of peace, and bringing justice seems to fall short, offering mercy to some and the hand of death to others. I see a system that continues to oppress the down trodden, making it impossible for some to walk freely in their own skin. I see a world that is unprincipled, dog-eat-dog, a world that doesn’t fight fair. It’s not just “them or those people” either as this Empire system seeps into the everyday life. Heads held high as a sibling smites one another or a husband and wife who build a marriage based on lies or discord. This Empire wages war in the depth of our very own hearts.

What if by buying into this system, suggesting this is just the natural order of things, we are being duped? I hate being duped! What if there is another option? What if we we’re created to live a different way? What if there really is such a thing as “Thy Kingdom Come?” And, what if it is available in the here and now?

Scripture says that Jesus prayed those words. He prayed “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And, by praying this, He teaches us that the two aren’t so far apart, he prays it and then we see through out his life that he does just that. He brings heaven to earth. We see him heal the lame, give sight to the blind, freeing those oppressed by the bondage of addiction, self-centeredness and/or evil spirits. And, then we see him fulfill his covenant to humanity by laying down his life so we might live this kingdom life as well. In the beginning was the word, and the word was God. Everything was created through him, nothing – not one thing came into being without him. It is what the new convent of his blood on the cross was all about, a focused center: One man dies for everyone. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life. A resurrection life, a Kingdom life, a far better life than people lived on their own.

Empire suggests that only a select few have this option, and that man will judge who comes and goes. But, Thy kingdom come, says that no one who trusts God, heart and soul, will ever regret it.

IMG_9391As we move towards a Kingdom mindset, we find freedom from the fear and pride that keeps us locked into making sure we are on top and not on the bottom; for to be on the bottom would surely mean death, and if not death then isolation and rejection. This freedom results in a confidence in God’s love and empowers us to pray and live out “Thy Kingdom Come” as we wait for the final frontier.  The ancient text says that Jesus will return and when he does he will rule the world with peace, a peace that passes all understanding, peace without the sword. The ancient text says that living water will flow from the city center bringing life to all, and the lion will lay with the lamb. It says that his rule will once and for all set the captives free.

I realize I’m probably part of a minority, but I’m holding on, not because I think I’m going to get something out of it, but because I’m convinced that the God of all gods is who he says he his and his purposes shall stand. I’m convinced that God’s grace is real and nothing can separate me from his love.

And, so although we live in this world, we do not wage war as the world does. Instead, we expose this empire, this Government of Condemnation, by smashing it’s warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulses into the structure of life shaped by Christ. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt system by “living out” thy kingdom come, loosing the bonds, healing the broken-hearted and setting the captives free, bringing peace and love, resurrection power and the ministry of reconciliation to all we meet.

Yes, these are hard times, but we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.

As the encouraging words from James, Jesus’ younger brother say, “These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye.”

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When Worlds Collide

The plan had been in place for months. Craig Greenfield and his Alongsiders in Phnom Penh, Cambodia had been in conversation with a group from Singapore about hosting a round table discussion about the heart of God for justice and how that translates to our worship. It would be a sort of meeting of minds, an opportunity to gain perspective, learn and have eyes opened and hearts reshaped. At the same time, we wrote Craig about a potential visit to Cambodia. We met Craig two years prior at a social justice conference in Australia called Surrender. We were taken by his story and stayed in touch with him. When our vision shifted from bus life to backpacks, South East Asia came on our radar and we reached out to Craig. He responded to our request stating that our dates lined up with the gathering he would be hosting and invited us to participate. He asked us to put together a few ideas for workshops and began preparations around the subject at hand. He painted a picture of what to expect when we arrived explaining that we, along with a handful of kinfolk from Singapore, would be staying in Phnom Penh for a few nights and then taking a van south to a small village for a weekend homestay, learning about local life and faith. It would be during this time that we would be sharing our workshops with the local villagers. He explained it all, however no words could have really prepared our hearts for what we would experience. We had no idea that we were about to experience the ministry of reconciliation.

imageWe arrived on a Sunday evening and were welcomed by one of the Alongsiders staff, Darath. It was late and dark, our least favorite time to arrive in a new land. But Darath was very helpful in getting us acclimated to our new surroundings. The next morning we rose and met the Alongsiders staff, as well as, the Singapore team (KCC) at the office for our first of many Khmer meals. The meeting was surreal. It was pure joy to be in the same room with so many saints from this side of the globe.

Over the next two days we would all ride tuk tuk’s (local form of taxis) to the Killing Fields and to S-21 Prison where we would take a tour and learn about the recent Cambodian history and genocide. Our first stop was the Killing Fields  and the mood was sober as we all donned the headsets and began our way through the horrifically descriptive and heartbreaking tour. The emotion felt after learning about the Khmer Rouge left us all dumbfounded, angry and sad.

imageFor those who haven’t learned about the Cambodian Genocide in school, the basic gist (and, this is very basic, and in no way is meant to minimize or justify, it’s juswhat we gleaned from our visit. So please investigate more if you feel led) as I was saying, the basic gist involves a rebel party of farmers and men from the countryside who felt city folks were exploiting them and had esteemed goals of transforming their country under a communist ideology. They fought the existing Government for five years, simultaneously during the Vietnam war. In 1973 the Vietcong tried coming down through Cambodia to attack South Vietnam and to stop them the US launched bombs on Cambodian soil, killing thousands of Cambodians. This strengthened and fueled the rebels as they believed the US was in bed with their oppressive government. In 1975, the US pulled out of Vietnam and subsequently out of Cambodia, leaving a hole in the armor and the Capitol city for Slaughter. At that point, one of the rebel leaders, Saloth Sar emerged as sole leader (killing off some of his inner circle), renamed himself Pol Pot and declared himself Prime Minister and leader of newly named Democratic Kampuchea. He renamed his rebel forces Khmer Rouge and set out to systemically purge his country of anyone he felt opposed his views, really anyone he felt like killing. Most of those murdered by Pol Pots Khmer Rouge were educated city dwellers but many country folk were killed as well. Over time, the KR soldiers began to doubt the sanity of their leader as they saw their own family members, who were meant to be protected, murdered. And in 1979, the Vietnamese had had enough of the Khmer Rouge threatening their borders and in the name of liberating the Cambodians they initiated an assault and swiftly defeated the Khmer Rouge. They were ruthless in their “liberation” and for a period conditions did not improve but eventually, the Cambodian people pulled themselves up out of the ashes and began a slow, even to this day, rebuild. In the end, the Khmer Rouge murdered 2.2 million of its own citizens. Pol Pot was never brought to justice, in fact from 1979 till his death in 1998 he and a remnant of the old Khmer Rouge operated near the border of Cambodia and Thailand, where they clung to power, with nominal United Nations recognition as the rightful government of Cambodia.

Sounds like a nightmare right?! Like something from another dimension, another time. But it was only 40 years ago. Only 40. And, although we were horrified to see the evil man can fabricate, it is really nothing new. It happened to the Jews and many more in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, Guatemala, East Timor, in the US and Australia to its First Nation peoples, and even today in places like Tibet, Iraq, Syria and Ethiopia.

It’s more than heartbreaking, it’s paralyzingly. It’s one thing to engage and learn, but something wholly other to awaken awareness and empathy for those oppressed. So, what do we do with the emotions evoked by such evil? For starters, our family, had to sit down over dinner and talk about the feelings we had. They ranged the gamut from sadness, fright, paralysis and when we heard that no justice had come for Pol Pot we had to admit feelings of rage and thoughts of murder in our own hearts, our own depravity staring us in the face. Which then, forced us to remember the aged old story since the fall of man and seek something more, something beyond ourselves. We turned our focus to Love and read the ancient text that promises justice, promises that death will be swallowed forever. We read texts that declare that God is Sovereign and will wipe away the tears from all faces and remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. And then, we had to dig deeper and find more of the story.

It’s one thing to look at the history, read and visit museums but to meet those who have lived through the travesty and find out from them how God was proving faithful is an important part of the process. So when we met Rev Chea, who pastors a little church in the slums of Phnom Penh, and heard his story of losing his family and fleeing the Khmer Rouge, then life as a refugee. To hear the story of a victim finally finding grace and forgiveness was a significant piece of the puzzle.

imageThen we met Pastor Kong, we actually stayed in his home in the little village south of Phnom Penh. He and his family welcomed us to their home, village, and parish for three nights. It was here that we were meant to lead our creative workshops, which we did gladly. But something else was going on in our hearts and souls during our time in the village, specially after hearing Pastors story. This time we heard from a man who was once a soldier with the Khmer Rouge. We heard how he was seduced by the ideology of a better life for he and his family. We heard about his disillusionment after finding the leadership riddled with lies and corruption. We heard about his families decision to flee and life as a refuge in Thailand. We heard about his families decision to return to their village to reestablish a broken but new life. He told us about a man, who was also a refugee and sent to Canada. It was there this man was introduced to Jesus and the redemption story. The man spent the next years in seminary and finally in 1990 this man came back to Cambodia to tell his people about the God of all gods. In fact, during this time thousands of refugees who had had encounters with God in their host countries, returned to Cambodia to testify of Gods grace. And so it was with the man who walked into Pastors village and shared this good news. Pastor, his wife and six children were one of three families that turned their hearts toward God. They experienced forgiveness and mercy for the first time in theirs lives and made radical decisions to become beacons of light in their village.

We were absolutely wrapped in his story but honestly really had to grapple with the fact that he was originally the enemy, yet standing before us was a man genuinely transformed. Pastor Kong was once lost but now found. The words of Jesus rang in our ears, “love your enemies.” And, here standing with pastor, hearing his story, it all made sense. Love your enemies for they may one day become your brother! We glimpsed another piece of the puzzle. It’s true, we can’t see the whole puzzle yet, emotions are still high but we do know God is faithful, even during the darkest hours.

I don’t think either pastor would wish to go back to those dark days of genocide again but I do know that through it all they both found God and in finding God, they found each other, and in finding each other they found us. And, we are one. And, that is a miracle!

Mosaic

I felt a sense of panic as we were trying to park our big bus at a campground in Michigan. We’re big, and we sort of stick out like a sore thumb, so when we are in campground, I always get a little self-conscense. We were finding that the sites that we hoped for were not available and our day was getting away from us. It was hot and we were warn from a weekend of intense community. In my panic, I went a bit faster in my vehicle, trying to get between our site and our bus, which was parked in a lane way. I wasn’t really paying attention to the impact I might have on those around us. I had tunnel vision, so to speak. A man began to chase after my van, yelling for me to stop. I could hear him vaguely but kept going, time moved slowly and I felt like I was floating. However, as soon as I stopped my van and jumped out, the man was there in my face, screaming that I needed to slow down, insisting that I was breaking the rules and demanding I listen to him. Time raced, my heart raced, I lost my cool and fought back, giving him an excuse as to why I should be able to break the rules, but they fell flat. I finally slowed down enough to step back into reality and told him he was right and I was sorry. As he huffed away I glanced around at everyone, including my family, watching the train wreck. Then, as I slid back into my van, I nearly had a break down emotionally, I was embarrassed and felt totally out of control.

IMG_5209We finally settled into our site, but the lingering feelings of disconnect consumed me. I began to mentally give myself lashings, how stupid and selfish I had been, totally hypocritical. And, as I continued the internal discord,  a spirit of condemnation began to seep in. It was low-lying and thin, so I could barely tell it was there, yet my moodiness displayed its blatant presence and it was starting to affect my family. Which lead to more internal dialog about how lame I was. The next day, I ran errands, picking up groceries for the week and getting gas. Switching to logistics was a nice distraction and masked some of my discomfort. Later, we all enjoyed dinner and watched a sunset, which was refreshing but as soon as my head hit the pillow, the cloud reappeared and I was soaked in reproof.

Day three was OK, I was over the embarrassment and had moved on to how ridiculous it was that I lost my cool over something so silly. The inner dialog turned from ‘you are stupid’ to “why did I panic over something so stupid?” I began keeping an eye out for the campground guy in hopes of offering a sincere apology.  So, it seemed a bit healthier and yet that spirit of condemnation lingered, with it’s sly smile and edgy tone. With no tasks at hand, I tried to consume my mind with relaxing, trying to find a moment to sit on the beach and read my book. I caught little glimpses, but felt unsettled. Then I turned my attention to trying to find WIFI because of a missed e-mail that was “urgent” to get out. That seemed to do the trick, although I really am not a fan of urgency, it’s a little to close to panic. Anyway, after about three hours, I finally got the work taken care of that I needed to, and was going back to my bus to make a beverage. I felt I deserved it, I was exhausted mentally, spiritually and physically, specially after the last few days of internal battle. It was dinner time but I had no gumption to make dinner, all I could think about was trying to catch a break, a moment of refreshment, so I made my drink and was out the door.

As I made my way down to the beach, I heard the faint voice of my daughters saying my name. I turned and she was coming towards me, yelling from down the road. “Mom, mom, someone stole my bike!” With no capacity left in me, I exhaled a long breath, suggested she go report it to the office, told Craig and kept on my way. I sat down on that beach, sipping my drink, trying to escape, trying to find peace. I sat there for about five minutes and then distinctly heard in my spirit, “Get Up! Stop wallowing, get up and go back and engage.” I felt the sacred conviction and immediately snapped up, briskly walking back to the camp. My family was all out searching, so I decided the best way I could help was to start dinner. I put my drink away, took a deep breath, and clearly saw that spirit of condemnation standing there in front of me, laughing. I sunk low, but then remembered who I was. I was a daughter of the God of all gods and that because of that I was not longer under the law of condemnation but rather, affirmation (Grace). I immediately spoke that identity out loud, demanding the spirit leave. Instantly I felt the presence leave, with tail between legs. I began to sing my heart out offering adoration and thanksgiving to my creator.  Soon any lingering effects had worn off and I was back to thinking straight, and dinner was underway.

Everyone returned with an update on the stolen bike. Seems, Graciana had been up at the campground lodge checking her Instagram and an older woman had come up to here asking to use her phone. She responded that it was an iPod. The woman walked around the corner, got on Graciana’s bike and rode away. It was later reported that she rode the bike back to her campsite and hid it in the woods behind her tent. The staff in the main office were alerted and called the sheriff to come and help them remove the bike from the campsite. Sure enough the bike was still there, in the woods behind the ladies tent. When confronted by the authorities about the bike, she said she didn’t know where it came from. So, the sheriff and the camp staff came back to us and asked if what our hope was, did we just want the bike back or did we want to take it further and press charges. We declined pressing charges and were happy to have the bike back but still aware of the uncomfortable disconnect as fellow human beings.

I wanted to wallow in my victim stance for a minute. I had every right considering the circumstances. However, I was humbled knowing the internal struggle I had just trudged through and I was reminded of God’s amazing grace and wondered how that plays out in our everyday interactions. I know one of my deepest longings is for others to show me mercy and grace.

So, thinking about this lady and how somehow in her head, that bike was hers to be used and when it was no longer needed, she disowned it. I wondered what her internal struggle must be, trying to put myself in her shoes. I though about the camp staff who I yelled at a few days prior and how he must have a certain opinion of me, who by the way, I was never able to find again to properly apologize, thus leaving our connection in a state of disarray. I though about my husband and how he handled the situation with honor and humility, wanting to protect his family, to see justice served but also understanding the brokenness of humanity. I though about the sheriff and what it must have been like for him to deal with this awkward interaction. I though about my children and how one of them wanted retribution, while the other was almost carefree about it, stating that if the lady needed the bike, she could just have it.

All this to say, we’ve been thinking about the idea of the heart of God towards Justice and how it correlates with worship. We’ve been thinking about this specifically because it is the subject matter at a conference that we’ll be sharing at in Cambodia in December. It’s a big idea and to really think about it sort of makes my brain hurt. And yet, these past few days have been just the catalyst for observational and experiential process.  I know God is just, He says he’s just. But what does that mean. I know He has a heart for justice, but what does that mean? I also know we are created to worship, yet how this all correlates is a mystery. And, scripture says we are to “live justly,” but how does it play out in the context of relationship where one betrays another?

mosaic-td_600Most days, I see life, ideas, and concepts in tapestry or mosaic form and so to look at just one fragment of the picture or one line of thread doesn’t come naturally. I see a God who is the creator of the universe, who is all-knowing, the beginning and the end, who is faithful and just, who is love and truth all wrapped up in one. I see a God who is deeply relational to the core and because of that, he pursues every avenue for connectivity. Likewise, I see that we are created in this God’s image. We have the capacity for deep relationship. We are made for it, and there is an intense link between this connectivity and worship, that maybe worship is participating in that connectivity with God. But how does this play out in the nitty-gritty of everyday life.

I’m not really sure the answers to all of these questions but I have a feeling love and mercy have something to do with justice and I will continue to seek them out as I move in relationship with God and others.