Friday, August 31, 2012

People of the Book...the Address Book!

In the last few days, I’ve been organizing the address book for our e-mail account.  As I engaged in that tedious project, I came to an interesting realization.  Too often, we are on the receiving end e-mails, and we don’t really realize what we may be a part of....

In our address book, I find friends from high school, college, grad school, seminary and beyond; I find men and women and teenagers and even children.

There are people who live in Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Missouri, Texas, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and…Venezuela, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Ghana, England, Kazakhstan, China, Egypt, Grenada, Dubai and more!

A lot of the folks are Methodists…but there are also Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans/Episcopalians, Quakers…and certainly agnostics (of which a few might even claim to be atheists!) 

Some of the folks in that address book are people I worked with in school…others in churches…still others as part of mission teams. 

There are family members there—parents, siblings, children, cousins, aunts and uncles…and then some. 

Some of the email addresses belong to the very wealthy…and some to the very poor…and many to that broad group called ‘middle class.’

Some are Republicans...some are Democrats...some are Independents...some are other lands and the parties there...and some are "I-don't-know-and-don't-care's!

Some of the people there I have known for over 40 years…some I’ve met only recently, in the last few months. 

Some have helped us by supporting our work in Venezuela and Mexico by sending money…some have helped by sending us encouraging emails…some have helped by praying for us…and some have helped by doing nothing and not saying anything!

The wonderful and amazing thing is that we really do know almost every single one of you who are in our address book.  We’ve met you and know you and you know us.  When I see that there are some 800 names in my address book, I realize that we are truly blessed…and we thank you for keeping up with us, for supporting us in various ways, for tolerating too few or too many e-mails!

When you receive that e-mail from us next time, realize that you are part of a huge, beautiful, multifaceted, international, group of people that somehow share at least one commonality--probably more--and that we are so grateful for you!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Church...Carretto

I found this modern "desert father" about seven or eight years ago.  He just keeps on pushing me to love and to understand and to grow.  Enjoy!  ~Jon~

“How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you! How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you! I would like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is. I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and yet I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, though not completely. And besides, where would I go? Would I establish another? I would not be able to establish it without the same faults, for they are the same faults I carry in me. And if I did establish another, it would be my Church, not the Church of Christ. I am old enough to know that I am no better than anyone else. …)

The Church has the power to make me holy but it is made up, from the first to the last, only of sinners. And what sinners! It has the omnipotent and invincible power to renew the Miracle of the Eucharist, but is made up of men who are stumbling in the dark, who fight every day against the temptation of losing their faith. It brings a message of pure transparency but it is incarnated in slime, such is the substance of the world. It speaks of the sweetness of its Master, of its non-violence, but there was a time in history when it sent out its armies to disembowel the infidels and torture the heretics. It proclaims the message of evangelical poverty, and yet it does nothing but look for money and alliances with the powerful.

Those who dream of something different from this are wasting their time and have to rethink it all. And this proves that they do not understand humanity. Because this is humanity, made visible by the Church, with all its flaws and its invincible courage, with the Faith that Christ has given it and with the love that Christ showers on it.

When I was young, I did not understand why Jesus chose Peter as his successor, the first Pope, even though he abandoned Him. Now I am no longer surprised and I understand that by founding his church on the tomb of a traitor(…)He was warning each of us to remain humble, by making us aware of our fragility. (…)

And what are bricks worth anyway? What matters is the promise of Christ, what matters is the cement that unites the bricks, which is the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit is capable of building the church with such poorly moulded bricks as are we.

And that is where the mystery lies. This mixture of good and bad, of greatness and misery, of holiness and sin that makes up the church…this in reality am I .(…)

The deep bond between God and His Church, is an intimate part of each one of us. (…)To each of us God says, as he says to his Church, “And I will betroth you to me forever” (Hosea 2,21). But at the same time he reminds us of reality: 'Your lewdness is like rust. I have tried to remove it in vain. There is so much that not even a flame will take it away' (Ezechiel 24, 12).

But then there is even something more beautiful. The Holy Spirit who is Love, sees us as holy, immaculate, beautiful under our guises of thieves and adulterers. (…) It’s as if evil cannot touch the deepest part of mankind.

He re-establishes our virginity no matter how many times we have prostituted our bodies, spirits and hearts. In this, God is truly God, the only one who can ‘make everything new again’. It is not so important that He will renew heaven and earth. What is most important is that He will renew our hearts. This is Christ’s work. This is the divine Spirit of the Church.”
― Carlo Carretto

Found here:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Impact vs. Impact

This week, I had the opportunity to participate in a planning committee for a project that has the potential to affect over 10,000 high school students in our area.  The project is huge, impacting multiple public school districts and their students.  The ultimate impact on the communities of these students is beyond our prophetic abilities, but the data indicates that the impact will be huge.  Being a part of this committee as we plan and plot and move forward is quite exciting, as one might imagine.


Yet, something even more exciting happened this week.  As I sat in my office one morning, I was surprised to hear the shuffle of feet outside my door…and then a light knock.  When I looked up, Raul’s smiling face was peering around the door frame…and Thalia followed him in to my office.  Raul enwrapped me in his huge bear-hug…and Thalia embraced me as well.  The joy of seeing these two former students of mine is beyond words I can pen.  We sat and talked together for half-an-hour.  I listened as they recounted their summer adventures and travels, and I encouraged them as they told me of their dreams and hopes for the months and years to come.  We laughed together remembering times in class last semester.  And, when they left, it was with the promise to come visit again.

After these two experiences, I began to think about “impact” and what it means.  In both my teaching career and in my new administrative position, lives are impacted.  People are changed, bettered.  But, “impact” simply does not mean “impact.” 

Last semester as I taught a writing course on the Weslaco campus of STC, I had 16 students that I met twice a week, every week.  We dug into the excruciatingly painful (for them!) elements of grammar, examined and practiced various modes of writing, learned how to do research both on-line and in the library, and prepared for the exit exam that would come at the end of the semester.  Every week, we sent multiple e-mails as I sent assignments and the students responded with questions.  At the end of the semester, we knew each other—I knew about Raul’s immigration as a child from Nicaragua when his family fled the violence and unrest of the 80’s that were going on in his native country.  I learned about Thalia’s family…her work…and her dreams.  They knew when I got my motorcycle…new my children by name, and which one was studying where.  I had impacted their lives…and they had impacted mine.


The committee that is putting together this up-coming project may ‘impact’ far more than just 16 young adults—it would impact some 10,000+ students in six school districts!  Wow!  That is amazing…and it’s a good thing.  But….

…But, those 10,000 students will never know me…and I’ll never know them.  Lives are ‘impacted’…but in a distant and dispassionate way.

I now know what teachers go through who move up into administration.  We can affect so many more students, we can ‘impact’ so many more lives.  But…. 

Pastors and church leaders go through the same…more often in the growth of the church than by ‘promotion.’  The small, intimate, sharing group of believers grows…excitement builds…outreach happens…then the church builds…and numbers grow…and at the end , the now “successful” pastor finds that he or she is ‘impacting’ so many more lives…but there is a distance, dispassion and disconnect that these kinds of pastors may have a hard time putting their fingers on.

If these pastors and church leaders hope to keep their balance and joy in life and ministry, they are going to have to do something.  In a worst case scenario, the pastor will seek intimacy and impact in the wrong place, in the wrong kind of relationship.  But in a best case scenario, this pastor will seek a small group—a discipleship group (high school, college, young adults), a mission/church plant—where he or she can form again those intimate, life-changing bonds that will leave all involved forever and positively changed…impacted.


So, I’ve moved from being a teacher in our college to being a part of administration.  Thankfully, our college leadership makes administrator participation in the teaching arts a high priority.  Therefore, this Fall, I’ll be in the classroom again—an evening class, two nights a week.  I’m SOOOO excited to be heading back to the classroom, to connecting with students, to pushing them, challenging them…and to their pushing me, their challenging me. 

I’ll stay in administration, thank you—I’m having a blast in my new job.  But, I’m so thankful that I’ll be able to continue to impact the individual lives of young men and women, that I’ll be able to share my life with them, and they with me.  This is where the real ‘impact’ happens.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sweet Relief....

I’m reading Carlo Carretto again (Letters from the Desert), an intimate work that follows Carretto’s feet and mind into the desert of North Africa. 

He had been very active in the Church for many years, and quite suddenly he hears God call him to leave it all behind in his homeland of Italy and follow God into the desert.

At one point towards the beginning of the book, he is contemplating his earnest, dedicated labors and activity in the church back home, his practice of running “continually from one project to another, from one meeting to another, from one city to another”.  While involved in all of that, he had been operating on a worldview that went something like this:  God created the world and then stepped aside to rest; Christ founded the Church and then disappeared in to heaven to let the Church save the world.  Carretto says he imagined that his frenzied life and work were somehow part of the column that was holding everything up and everything together.

I drew back suddenly, as though to fee myself from this weight.  What had happened?  Everything remained in its place, motionless.  Not a movement, not a sound.  After twenty-five years I had realized that nothing was burdening on my shoulders and that the column was my own creation—sham, unreal, the product of my own imagination and my vanity.
I had walked, run, spoken, organized, worked, in the belief that I was supporting something; and in reality I had been holding up absolutely nothing.
The weight of the world was all on Christ Crucified.  I was nothing, absolutely nothing.
What amazing relief…to know that it does not depend on me.  May I never again be suckered into the “sham, unreal…product of my own imagination and vanity.”

(All quotations taken from:  Carretto, Carlos.  “You are Nothing.”  Letters from the Desert. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002.)