Sunday, August 30, 2009
Some Spring Break
James 1: 17-27
Mark 7: 1-23
Spring break 1996 was coming, and I didn't know what I was going to do. Donna didn't have vacation to burn, and even if she did, we didn't have the scratch to go anywhere much further outside of Dallas than, say, Fort Worth. And if we went that far, we'd not be getting a meal; thank goodness the Kimbell Art Museum was free!
One night at church, I was sitting in a classroom talking with Phil, a friend, and he told me about a trip he was taking. He was going to take a van that he'd arranged to have donated to a mission he was involved in down in Guatemala, a cooperative of Indian widows whose husbands had been "disappeared" (read (assassinated) by the Guatemalan government called Proyecto Ruth y Noemi, or the Ruth and Naomi Project.
Guatemala, as in down south of Mexico. And we'd be driving it down.
Money wouldn't be an issue, most of would be taken care of through donations he had on reserve through his non-profit. I'd have to come up with some meal money, is all.
I was nervous. I'd never done anything like this before. I'd driven long distances. I had even driven all the way across the country solo, but I'd never driven into a foreign country, never mind through one into another. I had to scramble to get my passport done on time, but I did.
And off we went. It took a whole day to get to the Texas-Mexico border at Brownsville, then the second night was spent in Tampico, the third night was in Vera Cruz, the fourth night in San Cristobal de las Casas , and then we rested the fifth night, staying in Palenque which is near San Cristobal, and visiting the Mayan ruins there. Along the way, we were stopped by the Mexican army four times, because two anglos driving an empty van toward Chaipas may be a sign of supporting the rebels there. One guy even tried to steal my driving gloves, but he was a young guy, and seemed to understand that they had been given to me by my Novia, or fiancée. He didn't need to know that I had bought them in the company of a by then ex-girlfriend, now did he?
Then we came to the Mexican-Guatemalan Border. We picked up a Guatemalan border official, who insisted that we be properly inspected at a town an hour away called Quetzaltenango, in the wrong direction from our destination, and he rode with us to that destination.
In Quetzaltenango, the van was impounded, and we were deposited into a ratty hotel that only had hot water between 5-8 in the morning, the toilet was clogged, and you couldn't leave your room after dark for fear of the security dog who would attack anyone in the courtyard, even guests. Diego Chicoj, the director of Ruth y Noemi, had met us at the border, as well as his wife Juana, and had ridden with us and the government official. They were now sitting in the room with us, and we were talking and praying. Around us were every last item out of the inside of the van, even the spare tire. They knew that the van would be looted while it was in impoundment, if we even got the van back.
I was completely a fish out of water--I didn't know the language very well, I could feel Phil's stress and the Chicoj's worry, and I saw Phil hand Diego a pretty big wad of money, and then the Chicoj's left.
As the sun went down, Phil was out in a chair reading his Bible and I was laying in one of the straw mattress beds inside. I had never been in a situation like this before, where I was in a place where the government did not want me here. I was part of an effort to help the native Indians, the Quiche, the descendants of the Mayan, who the government had tried not too many years ago to exterminate. Some Spring Break.
Then Phil starts to laugh, out there in his chair. Back in Texas as he was packing, He'd grabbed a Bible that he didn't normally use, but he was running late. In the front cover of this Bible was the text 1 Peter 1: 6-8. He looked it up, just out of curiosity, and it said:
6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
There's a goal and a purpose to the endeavors of the followers of Christ. The goal was to deliver the van to the Ruth and Naomi Project. The purpose, however, was to show the love of Christ. To the dispossessed, to the government, to the Mexican soldiers who stopped us so many times, to the people back in Dallas.
Our faith is not practiced in here. So many people think that by going to church, they fulfill the obligation they owe.
They have it wrong. There is no obligation to go to church. There are no obligations to being a Christian--salvation is available to us no matter what we've done to earn it or not, and stays with us no matter whether we work to tell people about God or not.
But spiritual awakening is sometimes nothing more than realizing that we feel gratitude, love, and joy for all that we have been given. And we want to tell others, to show others.
And so often, we abandon the commandment of God and hold to human traditions. It was the churches who supported the White citizens' councils in the south more than they marched with King. It is in the guise of Christian indignation that so much anti-immigration language is spoken among us now, when it is clear that Jesus, the gospels, Moses, Isaiah and so many other places in the Bible preach hospitality, grace and an obligation to help the stranger and the sojourner. Here's how James says it in today's text:
If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Let's be clear--coming here on Sunday mornings isn’t what makes you Christian. It's sometimes not even helpful. Loving people, helping them, feeding them, standing between the bullies and the meek, that's how we know we are Christians. And that's how the world knows.
And that's how God knows.