Adventures AWAKE

A pithy little blog encouraging creative adventures of the Christian spirit

Smudged souls March 13, 2010

I saw a lot of beautiful people in India. Physically, just beautiful. Dark-eyed, exotic, bright-smiled beauty. But I couldn’t help noticing all the babies with — what looked like — big birthmarks on their sweet faces. At last it occured to me that I might ask.

One of my gracious hosts explained to me that parents often smudge their children so the gods will not think they’re beautiful and want to steal them.

Don’t all parents think their children are beautiful? Certainly, Father God does. Shouldn’t we all walk around with smudges on our faces?

What saddens me is that most of us don’t walk around with an awareness of our beauty — the glory of Christ — but, instead, a profound awareness of the ugliness within. We spend days reflecting upon the smudges (scars, really) on our souls; the tax of sin waged by the enemy of our Father. We want to hide the mark Christ has made on us before the world.

Want an adventure? Look in the mirror of God’s word for your beauty today. (Check out Psalm 149:4, Ephesians 2:10, 2 Corinthians 4:18). Get lost in His love for you. Stare his beauty in the face. Get the image of your face smudged with His unconditional love and Fatherly pride. Think of how He wants to empower your pretty soul to attract others. We are marked by Him for His glory.

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The ailing nation of India March 9, 2010

I recently returned from a trip to India with my oldest daughter. Beautiful, exotic country. Amazing developmental potential. Seemingly limitless foreign investment. Archaic social infrastructure. Never have I — as a woman raised in the West — witnessed, imagined or experienced such oppression.

As it is in India, what today are referred to as “slumdogs” — the 250 million subcaste members (meaning sub-human, below the four acknowledged/”legitimate human” castes under the feet of India’s 1.2 billion people) — can not vote. They are Dalits. Translated, their name means “broken underfoot.”  They can not hold property, they can not better themselves. They are frequently enslaved, murdered, beaten and raped. Sadly, it’s not just the stuff of Hollywood. I have heard it compared to the Apartheid movement of South Africa. The difference: In South Africa, the majority blacks could legitimately vote along with their minority white counterparts. Apartheid was overturned. Nelson Mandela was inaugurated…

Today, I received an email which shared excerpts of a letter sent to Nancy Pelosi in 2007 and, again, in 2010 to First Lady Michelle Obama.  Here are some excerpts authored by Dalit women:

We who have signed our names to this letter are the Dalit women of India. We are history’s longest standing oppressed people group, and by all reports the largest number of people categorized as victims of modern-day slavery.
 
We are also known by the demeaning labels “untouchables,” “outcastes,” and most recently “slumdogs.” We have been born “untouchable” according to the hierarchical social system of India, which considers us impure, subhuman, godforsaken, and deserving of our present suffering in this life because of our bad deeds in a past life. In this hierarchy, we are placed below animals. We have been told—and most of us agree—that it would be better if we had never been born.
 
There are 250 million “untouchables” in India today. We are denied education, healthcare, economic opportunity, and basic civil liberties that other citizens in our country enjoy. We are dying from AIDS, malaria, TB, and other diseases that we could prevent with vaccinations and proper care. Few of us own land or our own businesses. Most of us do not have access to clean water and are forbidden to draw water from the wells in our villages. Hundreds of thousands of our children as young as five years old work 12 or more hours a day, six or seven days a week. By the time our children turn eight, they are already slaves in their own minds.
 
Our lives and the lives of our daughters can be among the very hardest in India. We know that the only thing worse than being born a Dalit is to be born a Dalit female. We are raped as girls. We are sold to religious temples as prostitutes as young as age four to be used in sexual acts of worship. Some of us who will live to become widows will choose “sati,” throwing ourselves on our husband’s funeral pyre to spare ourselves a life of begging and starvation on the streets of India.

Let’s hope the letter gets read.

This is not myth. I was there. My daughter was there. Thanks to burgeoning Bollywood and the overflow of outsourcing from developed nations, India could more than afford to take care of their own. But sadly, because the Dalit are not considered “human,” they will never be cared for within this outdated, inane system. And the only thing worse than being a Dalit? Being a Dalit woman or girl. Look into the eyes of a four year-old who has already been dedicated to serve as a temple prostitute and consider the system that would allow it to happen (while it is theoretically outlawed, the state still gets a cut of every holy trick turned in a temple). I even saw a soda sponsorship banner draping the entry into a temple of prostitution we toured. On all levels, it is officially sanctioned trafficking…and it is wrong.

In his book, Truth and Transformation, respected Indian-born activist Vishal Mangalwadi put it best when describing the Western perception of these people based on what was seen in the 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire: ” The film powerfully portrays the evils that dehumanize the “filthy” rich and the powerless poor in India, but it does not even pretend to explain how such evils can rule a democratic country. Neither the film nor its hero has any strategy to fight evil. In fact, the film has no hero. Viewers feel good only because blind luck helps the lead character win millions and his beloved.” The hero wins millions of dollars, but what of the hundreds of millions of other Dalits? His girlfriend is rescued, but what becomes of the girl who is infected with HIV by a man carrying the virus who — in keeping with Hindu tradition — is “allowed” have sex with subcastes in order to maintain the virtue of his betrothed?

During my brief time in India, I routinely witnessed men put before women for all levels of need. We saw a woman beaten for preparing the wrong food for a group of construction workers. Female infanticide is also a regular practice in desperately poor villages. Newborn girls are given a rice cake to choke on or poisoned due to the economic hardship they present their impoverished family. It is hard to believe but even within their own subcaste, Dalit women are considered at the bottom; they are only slightly better-off than Dalit widows, disabled and orphans. Despite the appearance of making a progressive climb, India embodies a sick system, an ailing nation. I believe that if enough external pressure is brought to bear, things can change. But, as with South Africa, it will not happen without pressure…

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world ~ James 1:27

 

Want an adventure? Create change. March 8 was International Women’s Day…but Dalit life continues to go on. For the month of March, celebrate women — your mom, your sister, your daughter — by thinking about this deeply disturbing system. What can you do? Really. What does your faith mean in the midst of all that you know? Contact organizations like International Justice Mission, Operation Mobilization or The Dalit Freedom Network. The system can’t change until brokenness is acknowledged.

 

Expressing Inexpressible India February 25, 2010

India in a word:

Joyful                          Tragic

Colorful                      Dark

Beautiful                    Dirty

Bold                             Invisible

Healing                       Painful

Hopeful                      Hopeless

Crowded                    Alone

Spiritual                     Spirit-less

Organized                   Chaos

Progressive               Archaic

Lifecycle                     Survival

Simple                         Complex

Surrender                   Fight

Dependence               Isolation

Hot                                 Frozen

Memories and Lessons:

  • Wrong versus Different
  • The varied countryside
  • Insane organized chaos of traffic (HA!)
  • People EVERYWHERE
  • Color!
  • Smoke
  • Circumstance of women, widows and orphans
  • Un-common “common-sense” health care
  • The price of Hindu “enlightenment”
  • Never-ending naan
  • Feeling conspicuous
  • Tasting oppression
  • Illustrations of loving the culture’s unlovable/AIDs and transgendered
  • The plight of the Dalit and Devadasis
  • Washing muddy clothes back home
  • The brainless balance of Bananagram at the end of the day
  • Tata trucks, trash-eating cows, wild barking dogs

 

Blessings:

  • Indian children
  • Joyful people
  • Unmatched time with my own beautiful, growing daughter
  • Generosity of heart, prayer and wallet
  • Enduring thankfulness for the entire experience
  • New friends from an untiring and fun team
  • Operation Mobilization Staff
  • Witnessing commitment and new meaning of sacrifice
  • New meaning of unconditional love
  • That “what to do now” feeling…

 

James 1:22-27

22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. 26If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Matthew 25:42-45

42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

How should we then live?

~ Francis Schaeffer

 

Not to decide is to decide.

~ Harvey Cox

Want an adventure? Don’t ignore the question. Serve someone, somewhere. Whether it’s half way around the world or next door, commit to go out of your way to make the most out of your life for “the least of these.” Look for where your talents and giftings intersect need. (Note: You’ll know you’ve hit the spot when the anticipation of serving becomes energized – not burdensome). We’re built for it.

 

The-500-Year-Question December 23, 2009

 

The year is quickly coming to a close. (Once again, the season finds me wondering HOW it is upon me so fast). And this morning as I read an excerpt from Refractions by Makoto Fujimura, I had to pause.

If life seems to speed up as we tally years, if my life is a blip on the radar of history, if I hope to be more than a “blink” of goodness in my time on earth, the greatest gift I could offer would be a means of transcending the dash of this season. As this sense of time flies at me, it seems right to ponder a gift which will make life — your’s and mine — richer, fuller, more engaging, and a bigger blessing to the “close others” in our lives. Beginning now.

It occurs to me that the best gift I could give comes in the form of a question I tripped over in what I read this morning. The question is one Makoto recalled as he stepped back, breathtaken, from the beautiful painting, Madonna and Child, at the Met’s 2005 exhibit of Fra Angelico. It  is “The 500 Year Question,” according to Fujimura.

“What is the five-hundred-year question? Well, it’s a long-term, historical look at the reality of our cultures that asks, What ideas, what art, what vision in our current culture has the capacity to affect  humanity for more than five hundred years? It’s the opposite of the Warholian ‘fifteen minutes of fame.’ It’s also a question I raise to my teenagers, whose cutlure celebrates immediate gratification, also seeking after ‘fifteen minutes of fame.’ If our decisions matter and make ripple effects in the world, then should we not weigh what we say and do in light of the five-hundred-year question?…If Fra Angelico were alive today, he would have a hard time being apprenticed or finding anyone to teach him his craft, let alone joining an order. The church is not the first place a creative genius would look to be trained in art. That statement alone reveals how much Christians have abdicated our responsibility to steward culture…In short, we are all staggering about, or should be…those who have eyes to see. That is precisely how we should react to Fra Angelico and the five-hundred-year question. We stagger because we have lost even our ability to ask that question.”

I get sucked into the drivel of our culture…heck, of my calendar. And I, too, have teenagers. The slick, fine and beautiful garner the most attention, too many days (that and the scandalous trainwrecks outlined on the nightly news, in tabloids and entertainment “journalism”). But what can I say and do — TODAY — that has the capacity to affect humanity in 2509? Afterall, Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has planted eternity in our hearts.” When we live for less, we undoubtedly find ourselves yearning for more. Purpose. We change history by how we live now. 

Though this may sound like more of a new year’s wish than a Christmas gift, I place it directly beneath the branches of your glorious tannenbaum. For I find no greater occasion to consider what has been given to us than what will truly last well-beyond when our overstuffed trashbags and overfilled stomaches are again empty. This Christmas, I humbly invite you to a Renaissance of spirit. To a creche turned Kingdom. To a silent, peaceful, revolution of heart. May it carry us both world-changingly forward — ever toward God’s creative heart.

Merry Christmas all year through…

Want an adventure? The question is it. Spend the last week of this year considering how to spend each day in the its shadow…

 

Inside outside upside down October 29, 2009

Children_IndiaWhen I was a copywriter I was taught basic creative problem solving, early on. One such primary lesson was that in order to capture your target audience, juxtapose two opposites.

“It’s the inside-outside, upside-down Kingdom where you lose to gain and you die to live…”

~ Misty Edwards, Servant of All

The greatest are least, the least are greatest. In the depths of experience and spirit, we serve the greatest who are the least. We serve the Greatest who is the least. I am captured…

 

Want an adventure? Find a way to live today in the inside-outside upside-down Kingdom. (Hint: It will be the opposite of your norm — it will change you).

 

Heavenly ATM July 16, 2009

Depend on it. God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply. He is too wise a God to frustrate His purposes for lack of funds, and He can just as easily supply them ahead of time as afterwards, and He much prefers doing so ~ J. Hudson Taylor

MONEY

I remember my dad saying something very similar growing up. If there is a good idea, money is never an issue. And, God is full of good ideas. So if I’m working in the way I am called, why do I worry about cashflow?

Hudson Taylor’s “good idea” / God idea — his calling —  was to evangelize China. In the course of his 54 years of missionary work, this prayerfully directed man donned traditional Chinese garb (a novel idea in those days) and ultimately became what some historians have called an evangelist with wider vision and geographical impact than anyone other than the Apostle Paul. Taylor’s work was innovative, non-denominational, embraced the involvement of women, and fully dependent on God’s provision. And, God always provided. His founding of the China Inland Mission organization (now Overseas Missionary Fellowship) became the largest protestant mission agency in the world. Clearly, God was behind Taylor Hudson’s big idea for China (since China holds a pretty big note on the U.S. these days, maybe I should be, too).

My questions: Assuming God is the financier of every successful, God-led endeavor ever birthed, do I care about what God cares about? Am I rich enough in heart to undertake what God has for me to do? Do I care about the world at large? God is no “heavenly ATM” that we run to when we need quick cash.  He is the chairman of the heavenly Fed. He keeps good books, sets the interest rate in His favor. Heck, He can make more money if He wants!

 

Want an adventure? What have you felt drawn to throughout your life? — What good idea? — What calling to make a difference in the world? Money is just one of many tools to get the job done. If money were not an issue, what would your plan of action include? What is “God’s work done God’s way” in it? In some way, act on the plan and enjoy His smile upon your success.

 

Threshold July 13, 2009

sunrise spaceabstract1

At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I had a lousy week last week. Admittedly, I lacked objectivity in my grief over our dog’s death. Not that grieving isn’t necessary…it definitely is! But I’ve been wallowing in it. It seemed the first few days that — just as when Rascal used to find some stinky thing in the yard to roll in — I was languishing in the sadness of losing her; inexplicably drawn to the dung of hopelessness.

I guess there are a lot of things I could feel hopeless about, if I let myself.

Last night, my daughter and I watched Valkyrie — a 2008 movie depicting the final plot to overthrow Hitler 9 weeks before his suicide and the ultimate Allied victory in 1945. What a lot of people don’t know is that Dietrich Bonhoeffer  (German pastor, theologian and activist) was on the periphery of this attempted coup — introduced to the cause of General Beck by his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi.

Exposed to the struggle of black Americans through study of Civil War Negro Spirituals while attending New York’s Union Theological Seminary in 1930, Diethrich brought back a profound sense of human rights with him when he returned to Berlin (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfsO-JhqZak). Ultimately, when he recognized the oppression of the Jews by Hitler’s regime, Bonhoeffer’s decision to “stand in responsibility” against the brutality of the Third Reich seemed reflexive. This decision led to his imprisonment in Buchenwald, Schonberg and finally Flossenburg. All the while, this brave saint ministered to despairing prisoners and wrote chapters of his work, Ethics (which were smuggled out by sympathetic guards).  Despite the gallows that loomed on the horizon did he wallow, I wonder? Not according to witness reports and his own manuscripts. This man had the big picture clearly in focus. The legacy of his underground writings are a testimony of life as a disciple of Jesus — sustaining soul and fellow believers every step of the way.

So, how did I get here from Rascal dying? (For heaven’s sake, this started over a family pet). Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s purpose in grief. Why do I struggle so much when illness strikes, persecution happens, hopes are dashed, people (or pets) die? Why did God design me to feel so deeply this way? My conclusion today is: I need to yearn for reunion. As a part of that, every day is a threshold to cross over as I determine to step toward the One who made it, and toward my ultimate, eternal reunion with Him and those I love. 

I’m stepping over today. In the blink of an eye, we’ll all be there…and you’re gonna love my dog!

 

Want an adventure?  (Another great Bonhoeffer quote. Last words before his hanging: “This is the end – for me the beginning of life.”) What grieves you? Injustice? Loss? Illness? Need? Ask God to show you His purpose in it? On a heavenly level, what does it make you yearn for? Step eagerly over the threshold of this new day purposing to redeem it until…