My reading for the day:
Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!
Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.
So it’s been about two weeks since I’ve been back in the US – and while there are some things that I’m super glad for, in other ways I continue to feel like an outsider… an alien… a stranger…
That seems to be the theme of my life in so many ways – from growing up in Peru as the only blond-haired, green-eyed kid around for hundreds of miles (at least until Kait was born), to coming back to the US for college, with me a mixed up, 17-year old fusion of two cultures, but not fully a part of either. I was able to spend a semester in Kathmandu, and another in Jerusalem, which drove the point home. I spent almost six years in Rio de Janeiro, actively seeking to live in community and solidarity with the poor – the favela dwellers, the children of the streets, the marginalized and excluded.
Then there was the religious aspect – growing up in a Christian home – one that took seriously the Biblical commands to care for the orphan, to advocate and defend the cause of the fatherless and the widow. My parents modeled those virtues – love, compassion, forgiveness, sacrifice, hospitality, obedience, grace, discipline, thankfulness, joy… I saw them acted out, incarnated in the day-to-day life of raising a family in the midst of a red zone (thank you, Sendero Luminoso, for teaching me the difference between tourists and terrorists – a very real point of confusion for my five year old self). I saw the Kingdom values my parents embodied at conflict with the values of the world around us – the violence and brutality and corruption on both sides of the conflict in Peru, as well as the consumerism, materialism, conspicuous consumption, and apathy that I saw on our trips back “home” to the United States.
And as my faith grew deeper, I was led once more into the position of an outsider. As I did my best to follow where Jesus led me, my eyes began to be opened to “the other.” The value of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized – “the least of these,” in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matt. 25. I began to see Jesus in these people. I began to value them for who they were, for who God made them to be. I began to enter into life, into community, into relationship, and away from self-sufficiency and isolation. I did it poorly, but I did it. I failed countless times, but didn’t let that stop me from trying.
And now, my six years in Brazil have come to an end. I’m back in the US, trying to explore the next steps of what I want to do, of where the Lord is leading me, of what I am being called into, of where I find life… I have inklings, and premonitions… This is unexplored territory for me.
But I find myself, once again, the outsider – not really fitting in, observing, questioning… As warm and welcoming as friends and family have been, I have changed – I have grown, and I am not the same person I used to be. My interactions will have to find a new equilibrium. I will need patience and grace (both to be shown to me, and to show others). And though I’m the outsider, I’m learning to see the good in that, and to use it in ways the will continue to push myself and others towards growth. It’s a little bit exciting, when you look at it that way…
In related news, I just watched “The Story of Stuff.” Fascinating. More than that, a call for us to step outside of what our culture would have us be and do, and to explore new ways of doing, of being, of living… May it be the first steps of many more…
There’s lots I could touch on, but I wanted to highlight one quote in particular. In “the Story of Stuff,” there is a quote by economist Victor Lebow. It could be taken as simply descriptive of our society, or a prescription for how to continue building our economic system. It is almost prophetic when we look at much of our dominant, Western, materialistic, consumer-driven society over the past 50 years.
In an article written in 1955, Lebow states: “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumption patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives is today expressed in consumption terms…”
I read this, and hardly know how to respond. It is chilling, and sad, and yet it is also reality for millions – perhaps billions – of people worldwide. And it is based on lies: “You are what you consume.” “Your value is determined by what you own, what you possess, what you have.” All lies.
OK. Enough ranting for today… Baby steps…