Saturday, September 28, 2013

Roman's Road -- Not a Happy Path

I am all discombobulated this morning (wow, got the spelling on that long word right the first time).

Got up late, even though I went to bed a somewhat decent hour (11PM-12AMish). I fell asleep on the couch last night watching a documentary about filmmaker Roman Polanski. I am not sure what I think of this man. He had a way of talking, detached and unemotional, that reminded me in some ways of the interviews in the film "Deliver Us From Evil" of the Irish priest Oliver O'Grady who molested many children. In some ways Polanski's nonchalance is unnerving, though I did watch clips of him crumble a bit after his wife Sharon Tate was murdered. I find it interesting that the 13-year old girl whom he allegedly raped has just come out a few days ago, saying that she forgives him, and there was another blurb online that mentioned she was emailing him. Not sure how true the latter is. I found the interviews in the film with the victim, Samantha Geimer (then in her 30's or 40's?) strange and devoid of shame. Who knows, really, what happened, though 13 is very young, and there's no excuse for an adult taking advantage of an adolescent, regardless of her willingness. Geimer says she forgives him for her own healing, which is a common way to cope with trauma.

Speaking of forgiveness, King David is such a model for forgiving his enemies. He understood his standing before God (an unworthy servant) and he never gave off a sense of entitlement. He was humble, and he gave good for evil. This makes me think that he did not give in to bitterness. With such a quickness to forgive, God had to have really given him victory over this temptation that I'm sure was there often. He said things like, "It may be that God will remember me and show me good for all of this evil." It demonstrated a submissive heart under trial and an understanding of God's control over all of the circumstances in his life. His God was big and people were smaller. Be big to me, God, and root out any lingering bitterness I have towards anyone. Make me ready to forgive because I understand my own forgiveness. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Yerba Mate and Social Justice

This morning I opted for this drink here, instead of my usual coffee.
I miss my coffee though. I'm just looking for a cleaner pick-up and it's good to break now and then from the steaming, hot, robust, and comforting cup of java that I normally sip as I'm having my morning devotions. Seriously, I could write an ode to coffee. Did Pablo Neruda cover this one?

Had the most interesting conversation of my life yesterday with a man who is the boyfriend of a woman who owns a massage boutique in town where I've been working out of. The shop is running a massage special and I went in just in case anyone wanted to get a massage. The man I talked to came to assist in making the place seem open to any passersby. 

Pete, his name, told me how he'd worked as a social worker back when the Pruitt-Igoe projects were still around here in St. Louis, a location a few minutes from our house. Check out this trailer of a great documentary Matt and I watched on the rise and fall of the Pruitt-Igoe housing developments:


Pete's background is in breaking horses, which was helpful in the work he did as a social worker with some of the inner city kids of St. Louis. These kids were the government throwaways. The ones that kept breaking out of institutions. The ones destined for juvenile then adult prison. 

The half-way house Pete worked at in his 20's was founded by a Jewish Christian woman from Germany who survived the Holocaust as a child. She studied psychology under Sigmund Freud. When she came to the United States she visited some of the state institutions where delinquents were kept. She later told Pete, "I saw the same look in their eyes that I saw in the camps: hopelessness." After this experience she knew exactly what she would do. Her home for troubled kids was unique. There were no locks on the doors or windows and each child was pursued and nurtured. Relationships were built and the children were taught Christian truths. 

The home had a school where the kids were actually encouraged to carry knives to protect themselves. These were not the little Swiss Army pocket-types. Think Crocodile Dundee. Life for these kids in the big city was no joke. Violence and fighting to stay alive was an everyday reality. 

"Jerome" came to live at the house with Pete. Jerome was a 300-pound kid who could have eaten a dozen eggs for breakfast if you let him. He had a volatile temper and he often flew into a rage when he didn't get his way. When he got tired of the rules he'd leave the home and wander back to the broken-down and law-forsaken projects at Pruitt-Igoe, only to be back again, days or weeks later after he'd tired of scrounging for food. Jerome's past was tough to hear about. Before the age of 8 he'd killed two people, though out of self-defense. He was fierce and his time on the street made him a force to be reckoned with. Jerome returned home, hot and sweaty, and took a shower. He became very angry after he learned that his clothes had been taken (Jerome was terrified to show his body in front of others) from him (a trick by Pete and his co-workers to teach him a lesson and keep him at the house). He threw a tantrum, and Pete jumped on his back, as he was used to doing with so many of the kids (he says that every day he wrestled a broken bottle or knife out of someone's hand) and helped to control Jerome's flailing. A very large does of thorazine was given which calmed the big guy down. Three hundred books were installed in Jerome's room along with the direction to read every one of them. After sulking for a couple of weeks Jerome made it through every last book. Today Jerome is a preacher in Chicago, working with inner city kids. 

Pete faults the government corruption and mismangement of funds for the breakdown of care for kids out on the streets. My question is, how will we as the church get involved? This is a serious thing to consider, and my constant prayer is, "Lord, show us the place we have in bringing social justice to the city." Kids are being thrown away, left and right and not many care. The work is hard. Mental illness is a real concern that not many of us know how to deal with. Politicians get money for every kid they institutionalize, and they want to shut down honest and meaningful efforts to affect change in these kids' lives. Human trafficking is a big business too. Matt and I are attending a church seminar on it next month. We cannot shut our eyes. What will I do? What will you do?


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Almost a Student

In a little over a month I start my English studies at Webster University in Webster Groves, Missouri. From the end of October to the end of December I'll be spending my first semester 8 hours a week inside of this quaint building called The Pearson House.
Looking forward to delving into my first two classes: Intro to Critical Thinking & Literature Into Film Across the Americas. 
Webster University (see below)
boasts small and intimate classes and has a propensity for attracting artist types. More than one testimony of graduated students has praised the quality of instruction he or she received, and the teachers are said to push and challenge their pupils, as well as individually mentor and inspire them.
Besides academic challenges, I expect faith challenges. I look forward to these, and pray for love to speak to those around me and actively look for those I can encourage and share my testimony with.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I'm a bit groggy this morning, as I usually am, even after coffee. But I did perk up a bit after my morning readings.
One such was a poem that Bonhoeffer composed while imprisoned for his conspiring against Hitler: 

Stations on the Road to Freedom
If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all things to govern your soul and your senses, for fear that your passions and longing may lead you away from the path you should follow. Chaste be your mind and your body, and both in subjection, obediently steadfastly seeking the aim set before them; only through discipline may a man learn to be free.

Daring to do what is right, not what fancy may tell you, valiantly grasping occasions, not cravenly doubting—freedom comes only through deeds, not through thoughts taking wing. Faint not nor fear, but go out to the storm and the action, trusting in God whose commandment you faithfully follow; freedom, exultant, will welcome your spirit with joy.

A change has come indeed. Your hands, so strong and active, are bound; in helplessness now you see your action is ended; you sigh in relief, your cause committing to stronger hands; so now you may rest contented. Only for one blissful moment could you draw near to touch freedom; then, that it might be perfected in glory, you gave it to God. 

Come now, thou greatest of feasts on the journey to freedom eternal; death, cast aside all the burdensome chains, and demolish the walls of our temporal body, the walls of our souls that are blinded, so that at last we may see that which here remains hidden. Freedom, how long we have sought thee in discipline, action, and suffering; dying, we now may behold thee revealed in the Lord.

After reading my spirit is roused and desirous to serve; encouraged to press on and to "go out to the storm and the action..." This cloud of witnesses cheers me on in my work and prods me on to greater and riskier things for the glory of God. Help me, Lord! 

Longfellow's words come to mind: "Let us then be up and doing. With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, Still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait."

Monday, September 23, 2013

So it's been awhile since I've written anything. Life has changed significantly since the last post. Matt and I now live in St. Louis, in the middle of the city. Grand Center, they call it. It was August 3rd we moved into the Metropolitan Artist Lofts, an artist community of loft apartments on the corner of Grand and Olive that feature sound and dance studios, pottery, woodworking, and painting rooms for use when desired.

Life in the city is definitely different than it was in the quiet suburbs of Winter Springs, Florida! I park in the basement of our building, opening the door and then gate via a couple of buttons that hang from my key chain. Matt parks in a nearby parking garage. We live on the 3rd floor, so we usually ride the elevator to get from the car to our apartment door. The structure we live in was built in 1908 and was eventually transformed into loft apartments after sitting vacant for awhile. It's really fun to live in something so old!

Speaking of old, that's the highlight of living in this city. There is a lot of history everywhere. This place wreaks of the past, whether it's magnificent dated cathedrals that pierce the sky with their steeples, laundry facilities or shoe company buildings from another era with large faded letters still barely visible on the side of the crumbling brick, all outdoor excursions are a feast for the eyes and feel a bit like stepping back in time.

Nearby is an ice cream shop called The Fountain. We have probably been there about four times now. It's within walking distance, so it's a tempting place to have around the corner! They serve some of the best food and ice cream we have ever eaten. The decor is unique, an art deco style that is often photographed by its patrons. Our last visit we shared "Brownie in a Cup," a coffee mug filled with delicious sweet and salty brownie, rich vanilla ice cream, homemade fudge sauce (they make their own), and whipped cream. It was amazing.

Matt reads a lot these days. He has been plowing through book after book as he struggles to keep up with the heavy load of seminary. He is enjoying his classes and is learning a lot! Judy gives him work here and there. Most recently he worked on a marriage conciliation and saw the gospel come alive for the couple in ways they hadn't experienced before. This Thursday he drives to Columbus, Ohio to present some material with Judy and Daniel from Live at Peace Ministries about the importance of critical thinking in peacemaking.

I've been reading the book "Bonhoeffer," by Eric Metaxas. It's the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Oh, how I love this book, and I feel such love for a brother I will one day see in heaven. There are a few reasons I love this material. First, it is about a servant of Christ who loved Jesus intensely and lived an all-out life for his Lord, which eventually led him to martyrdom. Secondly, it centers around one of my favorite eras in history: World War II. Thirdly, it is inspirational historical nonfiction, a genre that I enjoy. Fourthly, Bonhoeffer was a big fan of reasoning and never shied away from talking to someone about an alternative view. He believed that truth could stand up to any scrutiny and he was not afraid to continually put it to the test.

This past Sunday Matt and I attended the Journey church and heard Pastor Darrin Patrick preach live at the 11AM service. It was a nice treat to hear him speak in person as opposed to watching him on a screen like we normally do. His words from James 1 about temptation and the role of God in our lives during trial were penetrating to my own heart, and at the end of the service we were all so taken up with our Lord that the music lifted us to an almost unearthly plane. I was transported in my worship and felt as if I could not contain the emotion that welled up inside of me as I sang songs like "Jesus Paid it All." The man next to us, Charles, the leader of our weekly Bible study/community group clapped and whooped "Amen!" as we sang about the forgiveness of sins and the coming of Christ. I found myself raising my hands high before my sweet Father, uncaring of everyone else around me. It was a joyous end to a clear meeting with God that day.