Mother Mary Magdalene

The Advent season has wrapped within it, some of our church’s most beautiful traditions. The nostalgia of driving to a warmly lit church on a cold, dark evening, as Holden Evening Prayer’s meditative tones fill the sanctuary, Advent is something that fills my heart with wonder as we share in this time of Holy Anticipation, looking ahead to the arrival of the Christ at month’s end.

The celebration of tradition, especially in this time of preparation for Christ’s coming into the world, is good and meaningful for us as Christians, however a part of the Advent season is also an attentiveness for the arrival of the divine into the world, an arrival that two-thousand-years-ago defied all expectation for what the coming of the Messiah would be. Tradition is a beautiful thing, but like the Pharisees and Herod, it can also blind us to seeing the new and usually unconventional means by which God speaks to us here on Earth. Because the history of Scripture is also that of patriarchy and empire, we often forget or outright ignore the diversity upon which Christ built the church, which is why, during these next few weeks, we will be meditating on the ways three of scripture’s women brought incredible life, and in the case of tonight’s focus, the Christian faith itself, into the world.

Mary Magdalene is a name rarely mentioned outside of Holy Week; in fact, only passing mention is made of her throughout the Gospels, in which scholars now increasingly agree that the Mary who anoints Jesus’ with nard, another, who sits listening to him while her sister Martha prepares the meal, and a third, who visits the tomb early Easter morning are, in fact, one and the same disciple. Mary’s life is beautiful one, fraught with brokenness and holiness, a real humanity and a genuine desire to follow Christ and lead in his ministry, but also one that has been often misunderstood over the ages. The most important of those misunderstandings being that: it’s now generally understood that she was likely never a prostitute (though her ministry would be no less significant if she was). However, multiple Gospels do note that she was possessed by seven demons, and that Christ had cast them out. This language though, is layered with meaning and symbolism. Demonic possession was a common explanation for physical and psychological ailment in Jesus’ day, and the number seven in scripture heavily implies symbolism of fullness or entirety. You can therefore make a solid claim that Mary had fallen completely away from God as a result of mental or physical trauma, and that Jesus was able to bring peace to her body and mind. How incredible is it then, to think of the possibility that Mary Magdalene, rather than a sex worker possessed by demons, was instead a non-neurotypical (that is, someone who struggles with their own mental health), a non-neurotypical woman playing a leading role in the church. Her presence in Christ’s ministry is deeply inspiring, and makes a profound commentary on the diversity of leaders God calls to the church.

This realization is made most impactful during the death and resurrection, where Mary Magdalene is mentioned most clearly by the Gospel writers. In these most-solemn moments of Christ’s ministry, as he hangs from the cross, where do we find his followers? Peter has denied him, and like most of the other apostles has fled in fear deserting their teacher. Yet we find Mary and the other women with him at Golgotha, mourning but remaining at Jesus’ side as the life leaves his body. And it is here that we find the most incredible piece of Mary’s story, one we know well: her role in the resurrection story. On Easter, we see her fear and confusion as she finds the empty tomb, and even as her announcement of the risen Christ is dismissed by the men to be an idle tale, Mary Magdalene gives birth to our faith. To quote Reverend Lenny Duncan, “From the time when [Mary] left the empty tomb to the time she told the men cowering in fear that she’d witnessed the resurrected Jesus, she was the entire Christian message and the only one who knew the stunning truth: Jesus Christ of Nazareth was alive. For perhaps hours, she was literally the mother church.”

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Mary Magdalene was a woman of devotion and conviction, she dwelled in Christ’s presence while he lived on Earth, and after he had left it, she remembered what He had told her sister Martha, went out into the world with resilience of faith, and began to build the body of this church. Advent is a time to celebrate the ways we can prepare for Christ’s arrival into this world, and a time to nourish that body as it grows in strength and power. I look with such awe and humility at Mary’s ministry, and believe we have much to aspire to in following her footsteps. Though we live in an age that so often feels full of brokenness, it’s comforting to know that the disciples too struggled with the brokenness in themselves and this world. And that ultimately this Advent, rather than a season of sadness, is truly a time of anticipation and hope for the celebration to come.

 

In patient expectation, and devoted action while we wait,

Eric

Hindsight & Holidays

As the summer has faded into fall, or rather slammed into winter with that October cold snap, I’ve lately found myself day-dreaming off into the coming Holiday season. It’s been two years since I’ve celebrated an “American” Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I admit: I’m nervous for the celebrations, even as they rush quickly into view.

It’s hard, in the wake of my Young Adults in Global Mission experience, to know when I’ve tooted my own global-mission horn one (or ten) times too many. But frankly, YAGM took my reality and broke it, taking something ordinary and radically imbuing that reality with sacramental meaning. The spiritual incarnation that happens at the global table, in, with, and under the experiences of our years of service left us changed: permanently, powerfully, and radically changed.

But this isn’t because of anything we did; we missionaries were not the breakers of bread – we did not present the cup. We were seated at the table, receiving our bread and wine, trying to make sense of the words being spoken to us from the Teachers in our midst. In some small way, or rather in many small ways, we witnessed the following days in Christ’s journey: we saw families break, and the disciples scattered. We saw political turmoil and violence; empire, oppression, and histories of persecution. We told ourselves lies, and ran from our faith. We saw death. And we mourned, waited, and hid from the resurrection.

But the resurrection did come, though I would bet it never came in the way we expected. I thought the Christ-ly body of my YAGM year would be strong, a King to lead my life on the right path, and one who would lift me up as greater for my dedication to the experience. But reality was different; reality was better. The body of my year is indeed risen, in life and love, but still bears the scars and the wounds of its death. My memories are full of earthly experiences, terrible and beautiful. The meaning and depth of the world has grown because things have descended beneath it and ascended above it. YAGM opens the eyes of its volunteers to realities and cultures, to human lives that we could never have known before our years of service. We could have seen them. We could have even met them. But we would never have known them.

And it might be now that you’re asking, “Eric, but we’re headed into Advent and Christmas, not Lent and Easter”, and you’d be right. But the divine manifestation of Christ’s birth cannot be understood without also understanding the end of his journey: the sacrifice of the cross, and the silence of the tomb, and the joyous life of the resurrection. Christ’s birth means nothing without the resurrection, just as YAGM’s meaning has grown ever stronger in the time after our return to the United States.

As I look now at our country. At our world. The brokenness and political divide. Our hungry consumption of the Earth and the treasures it holds. I see Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and the many other religious holidays that are celebrated as the northern hemisphere of our planet moves towards its deepest darkness.. I see them differently. I see the light that has come into the world. It is good and warm and bright, like the firelight flickering behind a Thanksgiving banquet. But I also see the darkness that surrounds it: those that are denied a seat at the table, those without the privilege of knowing the taste of mashed potatoes and homemade gravy, and frankly the absurdity of a celebration rooted in relationship with our country’s indigenous peoples, even as we continue to deny their voices and their equity.

The Thanksgiving meal, and the Advent season, are a time of thankfulness and wonder at the expectation of God’s coming into the world. The tradition and joy of that celebration fill me with so much happiness and love. But they are also a moment to remember that God has been baked into Creation since its beginning, and that Christ’s coming into the world was to save us from the fate of further destroying God’s handiwork – in the world, and in one another. Celebrate this time with loved ones, but rather than turn inward on our immediate families this Advent, turn outward, to embrace the fullness and diversity of our Godly family.

Let Christ prepare to manifest in you, at your tables, and in your lives this Advent season, not just in the manger at the front of the sanctuary, but in a world that so desperately needs our Creator’s love.

wine_wedding

 

In joyful expectation, and even more joyful action,

 

Eric

We Are Church // Act

First Reading :: Genesis 15: 1 – 6

Psalm 33 :: 12 – 22

Second Reading :: Hebrews 11: 1 – 3, 8 – 16

Gospel Reading :: Luke 12: 32 – 40


To finally stand before you all, this my family in Christ which has supported me with so much love and encouragement in my youth, my early steps into ministry, and now my year of service in Argentina – from which I returned a month ago is… overwhelming. And to be honest, I’ve looked ahead to this day, when I’d share my first message with all of you after my time as a Young Adult in Global Mission, with a heavy mixture of both excitement and fear. What can I say? What can I do? How can I explain what has happened to me? I’m sure many of you would struggle with the same questions were I to ask you to summarize the past year of your life into a single pithy phrase. How was it?? Goodness, how was it… Well, at least I was given a break this week preaching. After all, we find ourselves as a country, and as a church, more unified than ever before, right? No, instead I found myself sitting at the keyboard, a knot in my stomach because not one, but two, mass shootings have again bloodied our soil, and I am supposed to find the God in this. In our grief. In our humanity. So, with heavy hands this Monday morning, I opened my Bible to the scripture, from which I prayed would blossom a sermon worth giving – something to balm my heart and yours.

And in Genesis, I find the Lord’s words to Abram: “‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’” “You’re kidding me”, I said. Well at least it seems like Abram and I are on somewhat of the same page, because while maintaining politeness he replies to God with an honest skepticism of “‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’” In other words, “‘God, I know you made me this promise, but I’m like 65 years old, and my wife is in her mid-eighties, what are you talking about, “my reward shall be very great?”’”. But then Abram does the impossible – the sermon wrecking decision: he trusts God’s word. God says again to him, to us, “have faith”. And Abram does. Now I don’t know about y’all, but I haven’t had any visions this week, and there were plenty of times in Argentina where I would have liked one too, but didn’t get to see a multitude of stars in the night sky. And yet God asks us still to trust in the divine – that which we cannot see or feel or touch: faith. Faith, which Paul describes in Hebrews to be “the assurance of things we hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”, so that through this we might be able to “understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible”. This week’s readings hit me like so many dull punches as I read them again and again, and then panicked to Mari a bit, and then read them three times more. The reality is that oftentimes, the Bible is uncomfortable, confusing, scary even, but that in its words lie a deeper meaning, one outside of our expectations, that shapes us, and can guide us to places of incredible beauty.

That’s what Young Adults in Global Mission felt like to me – the breaking of expectations and a not-so-gentle shaping that led me to some incredible places. When I applied for YAGM, I knew I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone, but I also knew that I loved travel. I knew there were many peoples and places I feared, but I also knew that I have a gift for ministering to others. I knew I wanted to be broken out of my understandings in favor of the reforming love of Christ, but I didn’t know how violently I’d resist it. In a hundred million moments, I thought I had laid aside my power and my privilege: my hetero-normativity, my whiteness, my “American”-elitism, my sexism, and my pride. Oh man my pride. And in a hundred million equal moments I was shown how I closely I held those systems of power and privilege to my heart, and Jesus’ words from Luke now echo in my mind, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. Our gospel today, like the rest of our readings, leaves us with a sick kind of “uh oh” feeling in your stomach. Man, isn’t this a fun, light-hearted sermon so far? Nothing makes us feel love for Jesus like his comparing himself to a thief breaking into your house. However, there is a warmth in these readings too – hope and love to hold onto amidst the discomforting words. The problem is that there’s all this “earthly” stuff clouding our minds to see it without doing some digging. Listen to the first line of our Gospel reading again: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Amidst all the talk of disobedient slaves, fearing God, and thieves breaking in at an unknown hour, the Creator wants, desires, deeply to give creation to those which God created. God is seeking us out, earnestly and constantly, but the problem is we have so many other things in our hands, minds, and hearts that we fail to see what is really good. What’s more, sin and brokenness flow freely within and throughout the universe, and break into grace’s endless bounds clouding our world with violence, injustice, and pain.

However, we as creations of divine beauty, are called to push back against this brokenness, with God – that is love and power through the Spirit. Jesus explains in the Gospel that the slaves need to be prepared for their master’s return, and not in a passive way, but “dressed for action” and “alert”. Folks this is the important part, because I thought by applying for YAGM that I was dressing myself for action. I thought by working in camping ministry I was staying alert. I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I also knew I was trying. However, then came the charge onto the beach – then came the main assault, which I thought was going to be serving in the UK, but… okay turns out it was Argentina, fine. Then our plane left the United States for Buenos Aires… and promptly broke down. So! We took a second plane to Buenos Aires and made it, and yeah I didn’t remember any Spanish at all, cool… Okay, now I’m arriving at my site and realize I have no experience caring for adults who are dis-abled. It felt… it felt like one of those circular moon bounce rides where the part in the middle spins, and you have to jump over or under the arm or you get clotheslined. But the thing is, in every one of those instances, it wasn’t God or Argentina or my site El Arca who was at fault – it was my own inability to let go and just love people. To just trust that the world was moving erratically, but that the Spirit would help guide me through it. And it was so hard. To be alert, not necessarily knowing when the time would come, but not getting complacent when things calmed down. But every time, after getting flattened to the floor of my year, I’d lift my face out of the mud, and look up to see the beauty of everything that was around me. To try and explain the love I found for seventy-year old Osvy… who needs help in the shower and the bathroom and eating; it’s precisely because I had to do those gross, exhausting, frustrating things, that I came to love him like a member my own family. And in the end, the things which I had first hated more than any other, let’s use our fiestas en el baño as an example… those ended up being the moments I treasured most.

Brothers and sisters, here at Reformation we are doing so much good: serving in community breakfast, Fill the Gap, and our church’s endowment committee, which gave me the opportunity to do YAGM, just to name a few. But what our Gospel is crying out to us today is this: we can never think that “we are doing enough”. Our church, our country, our world is broken and hurting. God’s nurturing arms are cradling its sick Creation, straining against the weight of white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia, and empire. Brothers, sisters, my fellow humankind, our beings are pulled from the ether and crafted together through love. It was love that knit us together, and our Creator, love incarnate, that molded us. God has put torches of Spirit-fire in our hands and dressed us for action against the ways humanity denies its fullness. Lament and grieve the pain in our pasts, rest for a moment when you’re knocked to the ground, but then lift your face to Christ’s waiting hand, take it, and stand up. The whole point of that dark-skinned migrant Jesus of Nazareth was to fight injustice till even death fell beneath him – we are called to do the same.

Amen.

reformation

 

I gave this sermon this week at my home congregation Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas while sharing experiences and parts of my site-placement’s culture during the weekend’s worship services. Thank you once again to everyone who donated to my year, and made my YAGM experience possible. I have so many thanks to give for this opportunity, and I am forever changed.

 

Peace, love, and action,

Eric

 

Unknown. RLC Memorial Park. Hanney & Associates Architects, date unknown. Photograph. https://www.haarchitects.com/memorial/refmem.htm

Vapor // A Message on a Meditation

First Reading :: Ecclesiastes 1: 2, 12 – 14, 2: 18 – 23

Psalm 49 :: 1 – 12

Second Reading :: Colossians 3: 1 – 11

Gospel Reading :: Luke 12: 13 – 21


A month ago today, I returned from a year of missionary service in Argentina with the E.L.C.A.’s Young Adults in Global Mission Program (a very long title, that I will shorten from here on out to the very attractive acronym: YAGM). From the onset of our Chicago orientation last August, until our planes touched back down on U.S. soil, we were away from our homes, our families, and our cultures for just under a year. I had good friends living in both the desert of the Australian outback, as well as beside the Indian ocean on the coast of Madagascar; we seventy-six missionaries were spread across the world to do . . . what exactly? Well, as you might guess, we served in all sorts of different capacities: there were English teachers and office workers, resident assistants and chorus members, runners and cooks, but the word that tied all our forms of service together, coming from the Spanish acompañamiento was “accompaniment”. Accompaniment blossoms from a Latin American cultural custom, where in relationship with others you do not walk before them, leading them along, but neither do you walk behind them, pushing or taking second place. Instead you walk alongside one another, in equity – listening and learning what you can, and in that balance and trust lives the Holy Spirit. Christ between us, walking with us on the road to Emmaus as we disciples share the journey together.

My site placement for my year was serving at a small Lutheran congregation on Sunday mornings, and during the rest of the week, living and working as a live-in assistant at a home for 5 differently-abled adults: El Arca. In English, “The Ark”, is part of the global network of communities founded by a French-Canadian Catholic theologian named Jean Vanier, where volunteers live in close-knit community with those challenged by a wide set of physical and mental hurdles. Known in the rest of the world by its French translation, L’Arche poses an incredible set of trials before any volunteer who enters into one of its communities, not the least of which to two white Lutherans from the United States: myself and Tara, another YAGM, with whom I shared my year of service. Life at El Arca means sacrificing one’s privacy and independence, so that we might come to know and love others in ways we ordinarily might not. To wash another’s back and feet in the shower, to cut food and spread jam on bread for another at mealtimes, and to accompany yet another on their journey home from work – this was the ministry of El Arca. However, as you might guess, our normal spiritual customs, like Lutheran hymns sung with an organ, daily journaling and prayer, or even going to worship, were often not possible in our Argentine context. This meant finding meaning in new things, and worshiping in new ways. One of the most powerful for me, meditation, came from a Podcast called The Liturgists. Diving into the ways various parts of our lives related to science, art, and faith, the first Liturgists meditation I listened to was built on a few verses from Qoheleth, the Teacher, we find today in our reading from Ecclesiastes: “‘Vanity of vanities’, says the Teacher, ‘vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’” Or, in other words: “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says Qoheleth. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!’” How very chipper. I admit as I read this scripture for the first time this week, I panicked. Not exactly your easy-going sort of sermon material we guest preachers like to work with. But you know? I thought to myself, “no problem, it’s just the Old Testament reading – let’s see what the Psalm says.” So, I flip over to Psalm 49, and where to my eyes fall, but “fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others”. Awesome. Thanks lectionary, what an easy sermon this will be to write. So I flip to the New Testament reading: “On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.” And sweat now pouring from my brow, I turn to the Gospel for what I’m praying is my sermon’s salvation, and find “‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” You know, I admit the thought crossed my mind as to why David is out of town this weekend…

I looked around at my life, and at our world; at its chaos, its prejudice, at its corporate greed and the power of empire, and I couldn’t help but wonder “God, what is happening? Where do we turn in the midst of this storm?” And the words from Qoheleth, our optimist extraordinaire said to me, “Meaningless, meaningless . . . Everything is meaningless”, and I realized the connection to the meditation I heard nearly a year ago, titled “Vapor”. As I’m sure many of you know and remember, Apollo 8 in December of 1968, was the first manned mission to orbit our moon, only six short months before the first lunar landing, whose fiftieth anniversary we celebrated two weeks ago. From the command module, the men of Apollo 8 watched for the first time as our planet, the Earth, rose quiet and small above the lunar surface – Earthrise. This moment, just over twenty years later, prompted NASA to rotate the Voyager 1 spacecraft, as it left our solar system, back around to face its home world for the last time, to take another portrait of the Earth. That photograph, full of the dark blackness of space, is interrupted by one tiny pale blue dot: us. A “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”. Vapor. “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.”

Our scriptures each week are tied together through the lectionary by common threads, and while at first glance this shared meaning may seem a disheartening one, I find peace through Qoheleth’s words. They can certainly be a depressing set of ideas; the transience and impermanence of the life on this earth we share, but it can also be a beautiful one. How often do we become caught up in partisan bickering in our government? How often are we heartbroken to hear of migrant boats overturned at sea while seeking refuge? How often are we frustrated by the car in front of us who decides not to use the turn signal before welcoming themselves to our lane? All of these things sit with a weight on our heart, feel so large, and looming. But now, if I take my arms and outstretch them, and that distance were to represent all of Earth’s geological history, and if then I were to file off just the edge of one of my fingernails, I would have just erased all of human history. Dust. Vapor. Meaningless. We preoccupy ourselves so much with the “things of Earth”, in Paul’s words today in Colossians, that we forget the transience of all this pain, this strife, this humanity. We are not meant to hold onto this brokenness, because our minds and bodies were never meant to bear it. It’s for that very reason that we were given that Lutheran grace, the Christ who came to Earth and bore that burden for us.

However, brothers and sisters, this line of thinking, this newfound peace may leave us with a new problem – some of you may already have realized it. If we ponder Qoheleth’s words, the Psalm’s theme of death as the equalizer, and the words of Jesus in the parable of the rich fool. If we let our preoccupations for this world cease, we might find ourselves doing little to better it. Our scriptures, our Gospel, do not encourage apathy, no, quite the opposite. To see it, we look to the last sentence of our reading from Luke, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” Richness towards God is the key to this lesson, and at first it may seem simple: prayer, thanksgiving, confession, communion – perfect, I can knock all of those out each Sunday! But God’s rebuke of the rich fool is for not giving tangible offering to God, the fruit of his labor: the harvest. Yet, how can we give, truly give, to God – the time of burnt offerings and Passover has well… passed. Where does God reside among us? The answer here of course is Christ, but we quickly find ourselves in the same dilemma. Christ’s body has not walked the Earth for thousands of years, how can we give – truly give our harvest to him? We can find the answer in Colossians, for Paul writes we “have been raised with Christ”, and our lives are “hidden with Christ in God”. We strip off our old selves – not a jacket, but our way-of-being, and clothe ourselves with a new way. Humankind has the Spirit and Christ living within us. We had this bestowed upon us, in all of us, whether we asked for it or not, through the death of Christ on the cross, and now it is our challenge to seek and to serve that Christ in others through God, that God being composed of the most true and intimate love. And that Christ exists with in us regardless of nationality, of our bodily make-up, of our past, our culture, or our alliances. Paul writes “Christ is all, and in all.”

So yes, the universe, this life, and this world are vapor. Meaningless, and transient. But they are only transient because of the infinite love and existence we share with our Creator. The challenge then, is to use this fleeting moment of life lived together to boldly and radically share that love and joy for acting and creating with others. To be with Christ is not placing a check-mark in a box at birth, baptism, confirmation, or membership, but as Luther and our church attest, and as we read in Colossians, a constant renewal “in knowledge according to the image of its creator”. The weight which hung heavy on my heart after returning to the United States, the realization of all that there is to do in the world. How far humanity continues to fall, and how blind we are to so much injustice. The fear of that evil is washed away in Qoheleth’s words of transience, and replaced instead with a joy of action found in the Gospel – albeit an oftentimes anxious and frantic joy of “Lord, I adore sharing your love, and your service, but am I enough in the midst of this storm?” And the Lord answers with Martin Luther’s words that “this life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but is actively going on. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.” So go, reform, love, and above all, do.

Amen.

Earthrise

 

I gave this sermon at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Salina, KS this Sunday morning, and decided to share it with you all on here.

 

Peace, love, and action,

Eric

 

Anders, William. Earthrise. Time Magazine, 1968. Photograph.

http://100photos.time.com/photos/nasa-earthrise-apollo-8

Faith Tectonics

When applied to Young Adults in Global Mission, my crust was cold, hard – locked into the rigid boundaries of the only world I had known: one of privilege, of rampant white-ness, of traditional liturgy and church, of ignorance. My tectonic plate sat comfortably unmoved, surrounded by the hundreds of other people like me; people who use the terms “United States” and “America” interchangeably, who say they aren’t racist, but feel discomfort in the presence of black and brown bodies, who claim to stand for gender equality, but refuse to claim the word “womanist” for fear of being too progressive.

And then the Spirit, or maybe a blunder by my own ignorance pushed me to pursue and know others, some small fraction of the greater spectrum of our world and humanity and faith, and something beneath me shifted. The hot burning mantle of liquid stone – the true chaos and uncertainty of our reality realized it had a new way to the surface: that slender Kansas man who unawares above sat reading for the first time Barbara Kingsolver, Nadia Bolz Weber, and Eduardo Galeano. And suddenly my rock and foundation, that privilege which had long been stable on its plinth built on the bedrock of the US Constitution – on white supremacy and elitism, trembled. I felt heat coming from below, from within myself, and tremors began to shake the dust from the world I thought I knew.

And then in Argentina, the world was in a hundred thousand moments laid bare: my ableism, fear of the other, ignorance of the other continent and a half of “America” which I had until then only really considered to be 48 contiguous United States. And my soul, my crust, my being was rent – torn – shattered. The fire pours from me now, even though I have only just begun to see and know our world. We are not above the brokenness of creation, we are not post-racial or post-imperial. The cries and lament of the migrant burst up now from below the surface of the 1%, as the broken body of Christ himself cries out “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do”, and I find myself a volcanic vent. Unable any longer to suppress the brokenness and evil that hide within our world.

This is what I feel; the post-YAGM experience. The slopes of the mountain that is my soul have been shaped and forested by the love of my community – green and bountiful and Latinx and good. But from within me pours out gas and fire and lightning because I see the world and cannot stand any longer to stay silent in the midst of our beautifully broken humanity.

It is so hard to share. To explain. Once the valve has been opened – the pressure released, it is not so easy to close or control. This, I believe, is a good thing. I am an emotional being – one of love and rare moments of anger – so hear my shouting and know that there is a reason for it. This world, this country, this Church need to change. Change to accept all, and love all, because Christ. Is. All. Not white, not “American”, not housed, not wealthy.

Forgive me brothers and sisters if I cannot explain or fully share right now, because there is more feeling than I understand at present. So many questions and uncertainties. It does not mean I do not love you when I cannot text, or call, or explain. I am trying, and slowly doing. But I need time. And I also need all of you to understand that we also do not have time. The moment of action is now. Leave your ignorance, your privilege. Read Lenny Duncan’s Dear Church, and get involved in your communities. Find the brokenness hiding in your churches and workplaces and accompany it. Listen to the woman, the queer, and the migrant. We are all human beings, and it is time. To. Do. Boldly and in love. Let your cool static “American” crust be broken in favor of the heat and passion that is selfless love for one another – a global humanity. We need you. Now go. GO.

Paint

May the Spirit give you strength to break chains,

Eric

 

Some Egg-cellent Suggestions for Re-entry

On Thursday, we YAGM in Argentina and Uruguay left our host communities in body, though perhaps not yet in Spirit. We are now in the midst of our closing retreat here in Buenos Aires, a last few days at home before our departure for . . . well, home.

A few weeks ago, our country coordinator Krystle shared with our cohort a letter written by Andrea Roske-Metcalfe. One of the previous coordinators for the YAGM Mexico country placement, her letter was a list of suggestions for helping YAGMs’ Sending Communities accompany their volunteers through their reentry into the United States. My sending community –  the group of incredible people who gave me the opportunity a year ago to set out on this incredible journey, there are so many things I want to tell you, and yet they are clinging still to me, unable to free themselves. Some stories run so freely to you, while others I guard within me, mystical treasures that I feel are meant only to be shared between me and my creator. What follows is a list, not Andrea’s list, but one adapted from her words – something to help us both begin this journey of knowing one another once again face-to-face. During these final few days of our time in Buenos Aires, a metaphor came to me earlier, which I felt described well the the tenderness of this time for me as a volunteer, a missionary, a YAGM. If you’ve separated an egg, white from yolk by hand, you know the tenderness with which you ease the yolk across your fingers. Softly you roll it, and some of the white flows freely, almost on its own between your hands, but some amount of it clings to the yellow ball as you cradle it there. As we return to our sending communities, we ask that you hold us gently, letting some expressions of our experience fall from us freely, but also that you show us patience, as we hold onto some of the ether which we have lived within the last year. Some of it may never leave us fully, and that is okay, but it is for this reason that I’ve decided to share the list of items below, so that we might begin this process together ::

1). Do not ask me the question, “How was it?” For many of us YAGMs, right now those are the words we most fear. We cannot process our year in simple words or statements, any easier than you can were I to ask you the same question. If you want to hear honestly about my experience, ask me specific questions: “What was your neighborhood like?” or “What was your favorite dish to cook?” Just as one drop of egg-white tends to pull more with it, simple questions more easily allow me to share my experiences, and gives me the chance to share as much as I am comfortable sharing in that moment, without feeling pressure to offer more. And for those of you who might not be interested in hearing long stories, or about the year I’ve lived, that’s okay. I’d much rather receive a warm greeting, or a long hug, than to force a conversation.

2). “If you wish to spend time with your YAGM, let them take the lead on where to go and what to do.” I’ve been away for a year! That means that things like Wal-Mart, choosing an evening meal, or even getting behind the wheel of a car may be anxiety-inducing, exciting, or even something looked upon with horror. Though I haven’t lived with the same material simplicity of some of my fellow YAGM volunteers (Argentina and Uruguay are wealthy “Westernized” countries with many of the same amenities you can find in the States), this is still certainly a different nation and culture. I’m excited to share in many aspects of my U.S. culture, and I’m also very uncomfortable with others.

3). “Expect some feelings of jealousy and resentment, especially if your YAGM lived with a host family.” I cannot say if you will feel these dear reader, but I know I may very well feel them towards some of you. Living with El Arca meant a sometimes discomforting (at least at first) level of intimacy, but also wove tight connections between Tara, myself, and the acogidxs. When you help bathe, prepare food, and spend all day living with the same seven or eight other people, many things become normal, which may not immediately disappear when I return home. I ask for your patience, as I likely talk constantly about the Arca, because we are “mourning the loss (at least in part) of the deep, meaningful, important relationships that helped [us] to survive and to thrive during this last year. In this regard, treat [us] as you would anyone else mourning a loss.”

4). I do not have an abundance of photos from my YAGM experience. Many of those I have taken, I’ve already shared in blog posts or in newsletters, and so while I certainly have a few I’m happy to share, there will not be the albums of hundreds like I took when I studied abroad. I chose to live this experience and, with exception of my writing or sketching certain things, chose to hold story and memory as my main method for taking in the year. That being said, anyone who knows me knows that I like to talk. Rather than sitting for hours when perhaps you might not have the time, invite me for specific outings or times together when you’d like to hear of my life in Argentina. I’ll be touched and happy to share stories over a beer, coffee, or meal at home. But again, honesty on both our parts, about what we’d like to share/hear will always be the best path forward!

5). “That said, speak up when you need to! Returning YAGMs commonly assume that almost nothing has changed in your lives since they left. (This happens, in part, because you let them, figuring that their experiences are so much more exciting than yours, and therefore not sharing your own.) Be assertive enough to create the space to share what has happened in your life during the last year.” I couldn’t have said it better, and likely would have forgotten, but Andrea’s words here are very very true. I want to hear about your lives too! Living intentionally in community, and limited social energy has prevented my speaking to so many of my loved ones in my sending community, so I’m thrilled to have the change to catch up with y’all.

6). This for me is perhaps the hardest point to share. I say this with an awareness that I have lived outside of the United States for a year now, and do not know for sure what is and isn’t being said, done, and changed in my home communities. That being said . . . I am not the same person I was when I left. Of course I look and may act much the same at first, albeit with slightly more facial hair (slightly), but this experience has chewed me up. I feel an incredibly complex mix of emotion, which for me is saying something, about the United States, and what it means to return to life there. I am angry at our country, at our inaction, and our division and polarization. I am newly aware of so much of the hypocrisy in myself and the culture I came from. I am battling that, both within myself, and outside of myself as I live in this complex world. I ask, within reason, that you do not judge what may be a new and, at times, uncomfortable perspective on the ways the brokenness of the United States and the Church continue to fight strongly against a mission of equality and Christ-ly love. I know that at times I have already spoken out in hurtful ways, and want to become increasingly conscious as to how I share my feelings with my friends, family, and sending community, but also frankly. I’m pissed. And that righteous anger has a flight back to Wichita, Kansas on Wednesday morning July 3rd.

July 4th; the land of the free, and the home of the brave? Please.

7). Lastly, and most importantly, I’ll let these final words from Andrea close the list: “Go easy on yourself, and go easy on your YAGM. Understand that reverse culture shock is not an exact science, and manifests itself differently in each person. Expect good days and bad days. Don’t be afraid to ask for help (including of the pharmaceutical variety) if necessary. Pray. Laugh. Cry. This too shall pass, and in the end, you’ll both be the richer for it.”


Over the next few weeks, I’ll likely be more distant on social media (I’m planning on leaving Facebook entirely after posting my final newsletter on July 15), and as I return home, I’m so full of joy to return to you. I’m ready to go. Though my heart hurts as I leave my life and my home in Argentina, I am ready to see you, to embrace you, and to love you after our time apart.

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Peace, accompaniment, and very soon face-to-face,

Eric

 

Oneness // Trinity

For the last nine months now, I’ve lived in a small suburb, or bario, just outside of Buenos Aires serving in the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission Program. Beyond our required bi-monthly newsletters, and an ever-decreasing frequency of blog posts, I haven’t spoken much to the world outside of Argentina’s borders. I could say that it was to delve more fully into the experience of my year, or to help reduce my over-reliance on technology, but neither of those excuses would be completely honest. The reality is, this year has been incredibly hard, and I’ve had many moments where my lack of communication was truthfully, because I’ve struggled to find the silver lining. As it turns out, the tagline for my blog, “the Argentine experiences of a Kansan, who may have gotten more than he bargained for when he chose to do a year of service abroad”, has perhaps proved truer than I’d like to admit.

However last Monday, as I stepped off of the 314 Azul bus onto calle Rosario, and walked the final four blocks to my site: El Arca Argentina (a L’Arche home for the differently-abled) I paused for a moment, gazing up the quiet sub-urban street. Amongst the scraps of wood, grass, and broken sidewalk pavers, a layer of fog hung low over the neighborhood. I saw the breath of the wind blowing through many autumn leaves clinging yet-determinedly to their branches. I saw the ways it curled and wound its silent wisps through gates and over property fences. I could feel the cool humidity of it as it deposited tiny droplets on my face and the scratched lenses of my glasses. Even the Sun, whose bright light normally hides its presence, shown as a defined disk behind the fog. All of my bario, all of Buenos Aires, all of the universe, it felt, was brought into quiet unity under the embrace of an enormous grey blanket.

As I stood there, and took in this ethereal breath of the morning, an episode of the Liturgists podcast played into my ears, its title was “The God Question”, and in that moment, something settled within me, moved through me: ruach. The Hebrew word for breath, Spirit, or wind, used in the second verse of Genesis to describe the Trinity, hovering over the waters of creation. Though the fog of that Monday morning soon disappeared under the heat of Argentina’s intense sunlight, the memory of it remained with me. In me. This year has given rise to many thoughts and emotions, far more than I could share in a dozen conversations, let alone a few paragraphs, but what has been especially rooted in my heart, sadly, has been anger. Anger, at the broken economy of my host country. Anger at the violation of others’ humanity. Anger at the brokenness and the division we, as human beings, place upon ourselves and this world.

However, for a brief time last Monday, I was given witness to the ruach elohim that moves in, with, and through all of creation. The divine breath that knits our universe together, seeping into it, saturating it, even as we move freely and independently through it. And my anger broke upon its exposure to the oneness of the Spirit, and was transformed into what I can only describe as the most ardent love. It’s difficult to explain, because the difference was subtle. There was still frustration and fury, yet somehow in the midst of them was passion and peace. I see it most clearly in the image of the crucifixion, when our God, in utmost pain, anguish, and anger over the brokenness of its creation, in the same moment let that anger break upon the cross, and with Christ’s saving grace redeemed us in love.

Though I have so often been reminded this year of the brokenness and separations within our world, I am also witness to the fog of God that still seeps through cracked sidewalks, drifts over walls tipped with broken glass, and softens the stubborn skin of humanity. God through the Christ, and through us via the Spirit, continues to meet anger with love. Though we may often be unable to see it, the water in the divine breath doesn’t really disappear, it simply seeps back into the creation from whence it came. We are a billion galaxies, and yet one universe, 7 billion homo-sapiens, and yet one humanity, our God is three, and yet one. Oneness and diversity is the nature of creation. It is to be shared in love, in full communion, by all its members. And it is that oneness that we, as Lutherans, as Christians, and as human beings, must strive ardently for.

Though my words are always an offering of thanks for the gift, even in the midst of the challenge, that is this YAGM experience, I wrote this post especially in appreciation of my sending communities: the Central States Synod, First Lutheran Church in Manhattan, KS, Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, KS, and all the donors, friends, and family who have made this opportunity possible. Though at times it has been difficult to explain my growth this year, it is worth more than I can ever hope to offer in return. I will try my utmost to do so anyway.

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In gratefulness, peace, and unity,

Eric