Radio Silence

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Coming up on almost 2 years since I’ve posted a public blog. Radio silence.

It’s what happens when you go down. All energy conserved. No creative juices to floss together words and images. Wake up. Breathe. Endure. Repeat.

It takes a special kind of person to document survival mode in the public arena. Plodding through the well-meaning wishes, the uncomfortable reactions, the cliche responses and heaviness of loss upon loss and grief upon grief. To open the treasure of my heart and name how others met me in powerful and profound ways… I am not that person. I went down and out, quiet and withdrawn.

After 15 years of full-time ministry, I graciously was able to bow out to travel the world with a Fuller Fellowship. I graduated with my Masters of Divinity but it was as if I could not move vocationally forward until I completed the test of crisis through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and see if my faith survived. It was brutal, so much worse than my final Greek exam.

10 months turned into 17 and I was a sojourner in the world- no paycheck, no bills, no home base, no title, no job. I traversed parts of my soul never seen and crossed an internal landscape of anger and doubt, loss and suffering. On other days, I backtracked that wilderness and looked for gratefulness and hope, sometimes finding truth and belonging. I was surprised by hospitality, blessed by culture and steadied by the common thread of humanity and their goodness.

I carried my belongings in a couple of bags, I slept in airports, seedy motels, camps, Airbnbs, and strangers’ homes. I ate strange things. I saw beautiful things. I experienced terror and awe, depression and hope. I hiked to the tops of mountains, explored the depths of caves. I cried in a fetal position on the bathroom floor and squatted in front of fires in villages with no electricity. I stood watching endangered turtles swim to the sea and ran the fields playing futbol with kids. I preached in front of strangers and strangers became family. I prayed in the midst of MMA gyms, zoom calls, orthodox chapels and taxi drives. I ate with homeless in New York, rode on donkeys of shepherds in Albania and flew kites with indigenous tribes in Guatemala. I sucked the marrow out of life during my mid-life crisis, during the dark night of my soul, and it did not disappoint.

And now, I’m starting all over. Volume One ended with a riveting cliffhanger, let’s see what Volume Two holds.

BethRadio Silence
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Seeking the Upsidedown Kingdom

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Once there was and Once there was not… 

Once there was, and once there was not, a magical place of pure delight and wonder. In this land a thriving people flourished. Along the city streets mischievous little boys and adventurous little girls played. Happy mothers nursed their infants with no fear of death or disease. In this city, no one trained for war anymore – all of their guns had been made into farming equipment. And so young women and men built their own houses and planted their own vineyards and ate and drank out of the abundance of its harvest, no one was hungry. Peace was so pervasive and natural that even the wolf cubs played with the lambs.  Here, the courts always rendered true and sound judgements, but in fact, they were empty because the people acted justly, they loved mercy and they walked humbly together in community. 

Sitting along mainstreet the elders would gather, their canes stacked along the rail, as they reminisced about the times of old. 

BethSeeking the Upsidedown Kingdom
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A Faithful Witness

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(Start by watching this powerful Urbana ’18 Summary Video... https://urbana.org/video/summary-ii-our-faithful-witness )

Mom and I in the Dome

I bet my mother never imagined as she was sitting at Urbana ’70, that almost 50 years later her daughter would be on that very platform, preaching to thousands of college students!!

Our stories of faithfulness never just begin with us – they rewind to the witnesses who came before – those who faithfully answered God’s call of “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6).

Ruth Hubbard opened Urbana (https://urbana.org/video/ruth-hubbard-directors-welcome ) with the chilling question that lingers unspoken in many of this generations’ heart – in light of the ‘offensive’ nature of conversion in our culture today, in light of the atrocities committed by well-meaning missions in the past, in light of all the resistance and challenges, should we still be having a mission’s conference? Her charge, “… we MUST” set a bold call that thousands of attendees resonated with, and by week’s end they emphatically cried, “Here I am, Send me!”

BethA Faithful Witness
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What do you want?

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Bartimaeus lived in the night. As a blind man, the darkness was constant and unrelenting and had simply become normal life. Daily he would spread his garment across his legs and sit in the dust by the side of a busy road. His other senses would have been heightened- listening to people mutter, complain, laugh. Sometimes dust would get kicked in his face, other times, a coin or two was tossed his way. On this morning, life swirled around him and his excitement grew as he picked up the undertones of frenzy in the air. Children running, mothers ‘shushing’ crying babies as they moved with the crowd, rumors of miracles, healings, unearthly power used for the deliverance of commoners! Bartimaeus had nothing to lose; he cried out loudly over and over until Jesus summoned him! Time stood still as Bartimaeus was guided through the crowd and Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The disciples had been with Jesus for three years now. They were used to the large crowds that flocked around them… and ur, Jesus. It’s like they hadn’t even heard Jesus’ talk about death and were beginning to imagine what it would look like when Jesus overthrew the Roman empire. James and John pulled Jesus aside before the frenzy got too rushed and tell him to grant their request and so Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” The request, audacious in nature even for the disciples, is to sit at either side of his throne, places of ultimate political power, glory and honor!

Two Pivotal Questions
Being a follower of Jesus requires us to wrestle with two questions, non-negotiables for joining the journey. The first question is “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8) Bartimaeus and the disciples have correctly identified who Jesus is: the Messiah, the Son of David, the only one in all of history and creation who can bring redemption, forgiveness and purpose to our lives! But the next question, “What do you want me to do for you?” is even more revealing.

In Mark 10:46- 52, Bartimaeus is a beggar, a ‘shameful’ person, but named as honorable. Jesus’ question poses both a test and invitation, he could ask for alms, but in a bold request, he asked to see! Evans states, “Bartimaeus has been transformed from a helpless man who was going nowhere to a restored man who sets out on the road of discipleship.” The greatest gift that the beggar gives us, is that he knew his condition and dared asked Jesus for more. When our desire is to see Jesus and follow him – God always gives us more.

Less we miss it, the nature of discipleship is contrary to the definition of our surrounding culture. Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all.” (Mk 10:43,44) The disciples, though physically seeing were spiritually blind. A marginalized, physically blind man on the outskirts of society, was filled with spiritual insight and his faith moved him forward. The irony of blindness and sight, darkness and light, being lost on a worldly highway or being found in a kingdom pathway is not lost on us today.

To get on the road one must be able to correctly answer Jesus’ question “Who do you say I am?” But thereafter, one must be ready to answer, “What do you want me to do for you?” The first will determine if and who we follow, but the second will reveal what we are truly after.

BethWhat do you want?
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The Day of Disaster

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Devos for the Day?

I always thought that daily devotions were for the day. A “good Christian” who regularly takes time to center themselves on the Creator of the world, recognizing their belovedness, being in the Word, taking time to intercede and pray.

I had a hard time with daily devotions. I was too distracted. Too tired. Too busy. The standard too high. After leaving them altogether for a season, I started experimenting with guided studies, books from the mystics like Rohr and Nouwen. I expanded my definition of what it meant to “center myself” and went on hikes in nature, advocated at justice rallies. I finally found myself come alive in the world of tradition. Lighting candles, incense and The Book of Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals became my fare. And it was good.

Sometimes daily devotions were for the day, helping me connect with God in a powerful way or affecting my behavior, sometimes they were for others, prompting me to be quick to encourage, or help out. More often than not though, it felt like they were for nothing – a routine, a good one at that! But this changed when I realized that daily devos are not for the day.

The Worst Thing Imaginable

No one expects the unexpected – the phone call from Dr. saying its cancer, the miscarriage, death… the worst thing imaginable that happens to “other people.” But it happened to me…and all I could do was drive for hours and cry, and cry and drive. I wandered through life in a hazy fog, my eye twitched for 10 days straight. Outbursts of the most colorful language I could find, afternoons spent with my body paralyzed and a mind full of adrenaline.

I knew I had undergone a major earthquake, pillars of the known, the secure, the planned future had crumbled and fallen. Devastation and its mess surrounded me, fallout everywhere on everyone… but I was alive. I looked below my feet and found a foundation that had not shifted, that had not broken up. That is when I realized daily devotions are for disaster.

The House on the Rock – Matthew 7:24-27

You see the unnatural rains came down, it was a torrential downpour and so the floodwaters rose up. The news came and pummeled me and my emotions rose up so high I panicked! The hurricane level 5 winds worked against me as I struggled to get out of bed in the morning and mixed into a toxic cocktail of opinions, doubts, the Enemy’s voice and my inner-critic. I was exhausted. The rain was unrelenting, I was chest-deep in swirling flood waters and utterly spent as the winds blew and slammed against my house.

“…and Yet, it did not fall, it had been founded on the Rock.”

After a month the initial flood waters receded, the rain only came in fits and bursts, but not a downpour, and the hurricane wind – ever-present, had been reduced to a tropical storm. But my house was still standing.

Devotions were the bricks of my Spirit- infused foundation. Years of soaking in Truth, of believing my Belovedness, of remembering God’s faithfulness throughout centuries, of claiming God’s promises- all built up a powerful foundation on the Rock.

When that Day of Disaster comes, and it will come, it is not about conjuring up our own strength to fight, for surely we will be weak, but it is about trusting that our Foundation will hold us up.

BethThe Day of Disaster
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“If Your Liberation is Bound Up With Mine”

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…can short term missions be done well?

So much evil has been justified in the name of ‘missions.’ One can take a quick jog through recent history to find that in the name of Jesus Christ, many white North American Christian missionaries forced assimilation while disrespecting the cultural values of indigenous peoples. We preached a message of repentance mixed with messages of nationalism, patriarchy, and white acculturation resulting in damage especially to those people, but also to the integrity of the Gospel.

I went on several mission trips as a youth and wanted to be a missionary when I grew up. It might have been better if I just expressed my love of travel, adventure and different cultures from the beginning. But, God used short term missions to shape me; in the Mexican migrant farm workers camp of Mt. Vernon, WA, my heart was opened to embrace others from a different background for the first time. A summer with our evangelistic European choir and drama team made the world come alive; I dedicated my whole life to ministry to God.

That was then… 

Now, about 20 years later, I’m the Youth Director. I desire those profound cross-cultural experiences that shape and wreck us- but not at the price of a communities’ well-being. Some say it can’t be done at all, their Facebook rants say to take your thousands of dollars and give them to a local Church or community development organization. Changing the name from a “missions trip” to a “Service and Learning Trip” is not enough, but it indicated a start.

I risk it, researching, interviewing short term mission agencies until I find a satisfactory model – it’s not perfect, but headed in the right direction. The agency is connected to a community who invited them. Within, everything is led by the indigenous leaders of the community; the local church leads the ministry for kids, they are linked with a local non-profit doing long term community development and are partnered inter-faith with Catholic nuns who run an orphanage for kids abandoned because of HIV.  Our team is a hybrid of inner-city Latino boys and white suburban girls – the fruit of a purposeful blended youth ministry borne of deep relationship and commitment to the vision of mutual transformation at home. For 2 months we hard-wire our youth with our theme. We go to serve. We go to learn. This is not a vacation. God is already at work in Sumpongo. God is there. We go to serve. We go to learn.

And we were blown away by the raw beauty of God discovered in the acts of serving others and listening and watching. We found the natural state of our soul and dared to share it with each other. We heard the tender whisper of God’s love; we saw the magic of the Gospel at work. Every night, tears. Daring to pray out loud. Daring to dream a bigger dream. Daring to live like God existed and that we were called.

An Aboriginal woman of Australia said to some Western missionaries a time ago, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Truly, not until we discover that our liberation is bound up with another, are we truly freed to live out the wholeness of the Gospel.

Beth“If Your Liberation is Bound Up With Mine”
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Perfection is not Problematic

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The class started innocently enough, “Evangelism, Justice & the Emerging Generation” a topic I’m passionate about and have a fair amount of experience in. For the first half of the quarter I got 10/10 scores on my weekly assignments, then 100% on my first book review, and then my second. As I started the last leg of the class, I realized that I had a perfect score on everything – each post, each report, each assignment! I just had to take the final exam and turn in my research paper. I started telling myself not to get too excited, just do the work and don’t stress out and don’t take more time than I needed! The final exam returned and each of the short answer essays, multiple choice and true and false questions were… correct. The Professor wrote, “You seem to have amazing mastery over the subject matter.”

Now the pressure was on, only a final research project. I reviewed the grading rubric, the objectives and anticipated outcomes – I couldn’t help it, I wanted a perfect score to complete a perfect course! The notification popped up a week later that my grades were in… and I held my breath as disappointment greeted me. 99 points out of 100, one point docked for a small citation error. One measly, tiny, itsy-bitsy point shy of week after week (10 long weeks) of perfect performance. The world is in a state of dystrophy.

I generally know I do ‘alright,’ at juggling all the things, but deep down I want to do great. I feel that way about most areas of my life (conveniently discounting the gym) and have started to recognize how it gets unhealthy. It gets unhealthy when I stop Sabbathing because there is more to get done. It gets unhealthy when I trust only myself and control other people and outcomes to be just right. It’s unhealthy when I strive and work myself into a “do, do, do” mode and needlessly stress and worry. It gets unhealthy when it drives me.

I recognize that in some ways my desire for perfection is a holy longing for the completion only brought in Christ. I always wondered why Revelation 21 was my favorite passage. Over the years of my life I would regularly weep as I read the comforting words that one day, we will dwell with our God and there will be no more pain or tears. One day there will be no more pain or crying. Deep in me, I yearn for the salvific redemption that will end the mess of children being separated from parents at the border, of borders, of addiction wreaking havoc in my family, of cancer affecting young teens.

Even as I repent of how my perfectionism is a sin, I rejoice in this, “For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” Hebrew 10:14. Hallelujah. In Christ perfection has come, in Christ, we are being made new. My longing for perfection is a holy longing and if I sift that longing – it propels me to seek and speak of Christ – the one who Is and will bring perfection.

BethPerfection is not Problematic
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So…what was i thinking? Guatemala week 2-3

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So, what was I thinking?! What part of immersion Spanish study in Guatemala for 7 weeks was fun?  I was thinking adventure and exploration- the excitement of a brand new culture! Visions of climbing volcanoes, viewing mountain ranges and browsing colorful markets filled my mind… To some extent this is what what Guatemala has been, but on the other hand, it is not!

BethSo…what was i thinking? Guatemala week 2-3
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