Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's Battle of Trenton Time Again

So what else do I love better than a spirit rousing, underdog victory to vanquish evil oppression and establish freedom to worship God in peace?  Honestly, not much else!  It's time for the Battle of Trenton Day, the day that makes a whole lot more sense than Christmas, which is definitely NOT the date of Jesus' birth. If you want to learn the details, Michael Medved has a very cool and comprehensive explanation about the whole holiday (for a price) on his website right here.

England during the time that the first American colonists settled in our country, celebrated Christmas as a drinking day, an excuse for excess and immorality. It was something Christians did not do.  So when the first settlers established the American colonies, no one even considered celebrating Christmas.  That was a British thing, not an American one, and especially not a Christian one.  Of course, times have changed...

But one fateful night of December 25th does make me love that date.  It was a major turning point in the Revolutionary War against the British. General Washington and his young, ill-equipped, rag-tag army of farmers and merchants who joined the fight to be free of British rule, were about to die in the freezing winter in Pennsylvania.  Over 90% of the volunteers Washington once had, had deserted after a number of bitter defeats earlier that year.  It looked like all hope was gone that America would ever be an independent nation.

Liberty or Death was a note Washington had scribbled to himself, which was later found by one of his officers after launching, what to all accounts, was a suicide mission.  It was to take his tired, sick and starving army across the freezing Delaware River in the dark into New Jersey, hike nine miles through the snow to attack the outpost in Trenton where the British and Hessian troops were garrisoned.  Many of his soldiers had no boots, only cloths wrapped around their feet, trailing blood in the snow as they marched.  Water had seeped into their gunpowder, the freezing weather jammed their rifles.  They'd have to fight with bayonets or hand to hand combat.  This was a do-or-die mission.

Historians say that the Battle of Trenton was one of the most pivotal of the entire Revolution.  Their enemies slept in comfortable tents and barracks with plenty of food, an arsenal of weapons, the finest uniforms, boots, coats and well-fed horses.  Their enemies had also been celebrating Christmas all that day, drinking, feasting, relaxing, and certain that such a scrawny army like Washington's were too pitiful to even consider a threat.

Washington's troops marched right in, barefoot, freezing and audaciously bold, and overwhelmed their complacent enemies in a surprise attack.  In a short period of time, with few deaths and hundreds of prisoners, Washington's men finally had an amazing victory to celebrate.  Days afterwards, news spread over the colonies and men from everywhere began to volunteer to join the revolutionaries.  Morale shot through the roof - they would be on the winning side, and victory after victory followed. Other tough battles had to be fought, but none as desperately as Trenton's, and the rest is history.

December 25th is a day of inspiration for me - a day that I plan to fight in prayer for so many people I know who are living under oppression, to be in our church all day, to counsel, help and reach out to anyone who is willing to be helped. Our world is so full of evil and innocence is being snuffed out - not only in the big news stories like the tragedy in Connecticut, but in ordinary every day occurrences.

And for those who want to celebrate the birth of Jesus on this day, wasn't that a day when His battle against evil really began?  He was born into poverty, humiliation, rejection and already on the hit-list of King Herod.  He was born for the cross, to win a massive victory against Satan.  I'd rather honor Him by fighting as well.

A disclaimer to my dear friends in Great Britain: Hey, you win some, you lose some:) Love y'all!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Are you smarter than a toddler?

We all used to have this type of reasoning when we were their age - I remember my kids thinking this way as toddlers too.  It's cute and makes us smile, but how many adults get their perspectives twisted when it comes to faith and what is more important in life?  Sometimes we think what God asks us to sacrifice is so huge and impossible to give - while we allow negativity to rob us of so much more than He asks.  The best thing about kids is that they're teachable.  Their faulty perception its just a result of their young minds that need to develop.  What excuse do we have?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Porn stars - the new standard of quality?

I just came across what must be the most biased manipulative article based on recent "research" that I have ever seen.  The research was done by what is known as a scholarly journal of over 100 women involved in the pornography industry, who are compared to the same amount of women who are not.  It based its claims on what the women had to say about their feelings and opinions about various aspects of their lives.  The conclusion of this journal was that these "actresses" have a better quality of life than the ordinary woman not involved in pornography.

One question was to rate their level of self-esteem.  Porn stars seem to love themselves and think very highly of themselves in comparison to the rank and file of other women.  They claimed to have happier lives because they earn well, they get more sleep (less work to earn a paycheck, I suppose) and have frequent sexual encounters.  Duh.

The journal came up with this study to debunk what they consider to be a myth that women in this industry are damaged individuals and victims of childhood abuse.  Their goal is to tout a new, revolutionary concept that this kind of career is actually healthier and better for you.  Porn stars damaged?  Why, no!  They are the new standard of quality!  And because these women say they're happy, therefore they are happy - why would a porn star lie?

After 26 years of counseling and caring for families, couples and women, in particular, from all over the world, I can categorically say that this supposed research is baloney.  Not only that, but it was done purposefully to encourage more degradation to women, to marriage and indirectly to everyone.

Why would they say then, that they are so much happier and content with their lives?  Women who have been deeply wounded and deprived of a loving home as they grew up can easily fall into this trap of seeking out affection through promiscuity.  If they are surrounded by enough people to praise and glorify what they do, they can easily fool themselves into believing that this is what they really wanted all along, that this is their way of self expression.  They desperately want to be happy and valued, so if it's offered them through money and the adoration of others, no matter what the motive, they'll take it.

A woman in our Rahab group in England was once a prostitute for very high-end clients in London.  She told me about the money, the jewelry, the clothes, cars, expensive gifts, hotels and restaurants that she would frequent, and how she and the others in her brothel boasted about their great lives, compared to those pitiful ignorant wives of the clients that they entertained.

"But you know," she confessed, "None of us were really happy.  Everyone felt lonely and disgusted with themselves, and that's why so many turned to drugs and drinking to deal with the emptiness.  No one was a true friend.  We hated ourselves, so how could we care about anybody else?  All that big talk about how happy we were and how much freer and luckier we were was just talk to hide our real feelings.  I'd see some of them break down and fall into suicidal depression, but others just kept up the act and got tougher and meaner.  When I finally left that life, no one cared and in fact they were glad to have me out of the way..."

This is the reality that I have seen with the women I've known caught up in this kind of life, from strippers to prostitutes to even "actresses" of this nature.  And what do actresses do best?  They pretend to be what they're not.  Good actresses in theater and film can leave their character behind when they go home, but the poor women involved in this industry often cling to a fantasy life, pretending to be happy to mask their emptiness. They've found a way to make a comfortable living off of being damaged.

One young man I counseled was convinced that the girls he saw on those illicit videos really liked what they were doing.  No, I told him.  You are participating in abuse, in degradation, each time you watch this.  Don't believe their smiles or their boldness - it's an act to cover their shame.  If you pretend you're not ashamed, does that make the shame go away?  These girls hope it's true, and keep trying to drown it out.

God created us to enjoy - not just confine ourselves to, but enjoy - purity, respect, and love for His ways.  The fact that there are so many unhappy women who are not in the porn industry doesn't mean that they are living the way that God intended, otherwise they would be much happier.  Women, men, anyone who lives in the power and presence of God finds far more happiness, success and fulfillment than those who don't.  The world, even with all of its problems and evil, becomes a brighter, more joyful place because you are always in His light.  Romantic relationships are intensely more pleasurable because they are based on honor, sacrifice, faithfulness and commitment, and they grow and develop as years go by.  Children grow in strength and wisdom because they witness a stable, loving home where both mom and dad are present every day of their lives.

So we have a strange phenomenon.  Women who have brainwashed themselves into believing they enjoy being paid to be abused and objectified, while others who choose a conventional life dislike themselves and feel unfulfilled.  What this says to me is that the entire world has drifted so far from God's original plan, that it's time for a radical overhaul.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Radical pilgrims and the 40 Day Project

But isn’t Thanksgiving all about turkey, football and family?

Not for those who started it all.  For the first settlers on American soil, their Thanksgiving feast was the result of hard won battles against the powers of their time, against two months at sea, raging storms and the ravages of nature, against disease and cold and against their own fears and doubts.  It was a victory that came at a price of great personal sacrifice.  Their feast of celebration could only happen after a year of steadfast, stubborn faith in God’s leading.

Edward Winslow, one of the 53 pilgrims who had reached the new land on the Mayflower and survived that first horrible winter wrought with death and disease, wrote a letter to the Christian believers back in England about their first meal of thankfulness to God that they shared with the Indians that November.  These are his exact words in the old English of 1621:

"our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others.  And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want,  that we often wish you partakers of our plentie."

There was nothing luxurious about that Thanksgiving, nor was it a day of indulgence or selfishness.  But one thing they shared was a sense of awe, humility and true thankfulness that the God of the Bible that they believed in had not only spared their lives, but had given them an abundance of blessing through their crops and their friendships with the native Indians.  They had fought hard against all odds, believing in a God who kept His word to those who acted by faith - and they saw the results of that faith before their eyes.  From that moment on, the group grew in strength and numbers and has evolved into this beautiful land we live in today.  Four centuries later, the blessing of God on these simple people of faith continues to spill over onto us.

Now that's a Thanksgiving we all could use!  

God is looking for more steadfast, stubborn and radical people to believe that He can take them to a new and better life.  As our lives change, we change those around us and those who come after us.    

In the true spirit of Thanksgiving, we celebrate the beginning of The 40 Day Project to fight for our own freedom and that of our children.  Not through politics but with faith.  Not against people, but against the problems that tie us down to a life we no longer want. 

Thanksgiving Day, November 25, fittingly launches the first day of our challenge.  40 Days of making incremental changes in our habits, our thought processes, and our faith.  We will battle the ravages of all the negativity that bombards us every day, and with a true and stubborn faith in God, we will bring in the New Year as renewed and strengthened people.   We will gather together in SiLC for a dedication service to begin the journey that will only end on New Years Eve – exactly 40 days long.

Who's ready to be a pilgrim?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The story ends with a meal and a moral or two

(Continued from last post...)

Just to explain: the exact time frame and specifics of what happened are, of course, filtered through emotions and the fuzzy memories of 35 years ago, but this is my account to the best of my memory.  There are plenty of other details that I bet could add much more perspective and flair and comedy to this story if all of us girls could get together and remind each other of what happened and how each experienced the same events through their own eyes.  I'm so pleased to know that my old (not so old) pal Barbara who was with me on the trip has been reading these posts and enjoying them, so Barb, or Beth or Rachel or any others of you who might be reading this, if you have any new insight to add, please do so!! Also one correction, this happened in May of 1978, not 77 for those of you who might care...:)

So now the morning of our last day dawns and we are ready to head home.  But not quite yet... The local police chief wants to meet and greet us in his office in town.  We are to be escorted off the temple grounds and taken to see him, and we have no idea why.  We cook our very last breakfast over the campfire of blueberry pancakes from an American mix that someone was able to buy at the US Army post exchange back in Seoul - a real treat!

By this time we had all become good friends, not just friends because we went to the same school, or friends because we'd known each other for so long.  We had a bond that came from sharing something unique and difficult that forced us to pull together and work as a team.  Among us were really popular girls, jocks, cheerleaders, brainy girls and just regular ones that didn't seem to fit in anywhere, but now we all belonged to an elite group.  We were the girls that had just gone through the most absurdly weird, trying, hilariously funny and yet sweetly insightful camping trip ever, and came out friends.

So as we left the beautiful mountainside that we had called home for a week, and walked into the police station to meet the most honorable police chief, we were laughing and as relaxed as ever.  Much like our afternoon with the head monk of the monastery, we were smashed into his office and sat on sofas lining the wall.  Glasses of coke were brought out for us and we sat around waiting to see why he had asked us to come.  I had thought he wanted to question us more about the robbery, but instead we discovered that we were to be a part of some PR stunt.  Newspaper photographers were there and we were lined up to snap pictures with the smiling police chief and his officers and we guessed we'd show up in the papers the next day.  They took a few different angles of Coach Gustafson shaking hands with the police and all of us grinning to the camera, and who knows what they reported about us later? I've wondered if I ever came across that police station if I'd find my 16 year old smiling face hanging on a wall somewhere... who knows?

Time to go yet?  Nope.  We were now to be the honored guests of the honorable police chief at a local Korean barbecue restaurant that served the country's famous beef pulkogi, grilled at the table over hot coals and eaten with white rice and spicy kimchi and plenty of other spiced and flavored vegetables.  To feed a huge bunch like us must have cost the police department an arm and a leg, but they insisted, and we didn't complain!  To be honest, the beef was a bit tough, and we had all eaten better, but compared to food out of a can for five days, this was great!  The police officers who were chosen to join us were happy to indulge their appetites, and we munched away until we couldn't eat any more.

With many thank you's and much bowing and handshaking, the very dirty and tired bunch of us boarded our train to head back north to the capitol city of Seoul.  One distinct memory I have is going to the back of the train with Barb.  There was no caboose, just the very last train car that opened up to the tracks that were rapidly flying by.  Obviously this would never be allowed on an American train these days with all our stringent safety regulations, but that was rough and tumble Korea, still recuperating from a war just 25 years before, and under the oppression of a dictatorship.  People were poor, humble, trusting, and abundantly friendly - and safety was not much of an issue, just like indoor plumbing and sanitation was low on the country's priorities.  We took turns sitting at the back opening and letting our legs dangle over the speeding train tracks, leaning against the rail and watching the countryside whiz by at 80 miles an hour.

What had God shown me in this extraordinary trip?

  • That no matter how ashamed you are of your failures, just persevering and pushing through is an act of faith that God can use to turn failure into a blessing.  By the end of the camping trip, I even got praises for my little orange tent as others began to complain about theirs.  Who woulda thunk it?
  • That I had become comfortable with living among those who didn't know my Lord and Savior - too comfortable.  I needed to see these people who had become ordinary and mundane, through the eyes of someone else (Coach Gustafson) who felt sorrow for the spiritually lost so that I could question how real my faith was, and how much I cared about the lost myself.  
  • That God's creation reveals who He is - that His hills and mountains and the beauty of His starry skies overhead are all a way for Him to call out to us to tell us how deeply He loves us and wants to be an intimate part of our lives.  The day that we finally climbed all the way to the top of our Narnia mountain was an experience so deep that I felt the presence of God speaking to me through His creation.  As the Swiss love to yodel, the Koreans loved shouting, "Yah-ho!" to mountain climbers.  (Not yahoo, yah-ho!)  And as they shouted, smiled and waved, and as we shouted back, it was as if we were all proclaiming, "Isn't God amazing?  Look at His beautiful handiwork!"
  • That in times of danger and fear, God comes through even when we are weak - God also may choose the most unlikeliest of people to answer us when we are in need (e.g.. num-chuck monks!)
  • That if anyone tries to tell me about the superiority of eastern religions, Buddhism in particular, I know by experience, that those who were deeply committed to that path were also quite ready to leave that path to enjoy laughter, singing and American top 20 music.  That their leader had no real answers when asked about what he believed or why anyone should want to follow their path.  He seemed a bit unsure himself.  What we had - though we were not necessarily the greatest testimonies of our own faith - was still something sweet and attractive to them, something that they wanted to be a part of.  (It had to be spiritual in nature because God knows we sure didn't smell very sweet or look all that attractive after days without bathing!)
  • That boldness, strength, assurance and faith are built through pushing through tough times, not by just praying for these qualities to appear.  That God honors those who try, who stick with it, and who seek to find Him at work in every situation.

So late at night, we disembark at Seoul Train Station and go our separate ways, to see each other again in school on Monday.  I have the furthest to go, gotta take a taxi to another bus station and then another hour and a half ride north to my house in Tong-du-cheon. I finally stumble into the doorway with my ragged clothes and backpack.  My mom smiles and says, "Oh, you're home!  Did you have a nice time?" and then proceeds to walk out of the room to attend to some other business.  I follow her and try to tell her everything that happened but she's in that zone of nodding her head and saying, "Uh huh, that's nice..." and I  know she isn't hearing a thing.

"Mom!"  I followed her into another room,  "Weren't you even worried about me?"

"No, I know you can take good care of yourself, and I was praying for you anyway.  Tell me all about it later, I've got things to do..."  And off she went again.

Oh well, God knew exactly what had happened, and He knew that this would somehow form who I would become today.  That was the final lesson of that trip - that if nobody else knows or cares what God is doing inside of you, He knows and He'll use it to impact your world if you let Him.

Finally, I've told the whole story - now to get my mom to hear it 35 years later!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Singing, laughter and practicing what one preaches

(Continued from previous posts...)

Well, here we are in the wild outdoors at the southern tip of Korea, trying to have a normal camping trip, but nothing is going according to plan, while everything has become weirdly funny and unpredictable.

After breakfast, a visitor comes to our campsite, not our young martial arts friend, but a police detective and a few uniformed cops march up our hill.  Nancy and Beth speak the language the best, and the detective squats down to chat with us and get all the important information about the guy robbed our campsite the day before.

It becomes apparent that the local police department is very worried about gaining a bad reputation.  They want to know all the names and nationalities of our fathers, their phone numbers and who they work for.  They even ask the impossible question of our dad's passport numbers - how are we supposed to know that?  I guess the fear that one of us is a daughter of some foreign ambassador or a high level businessman would cause them to feel compelled to do some damage control.  Even though most of us had missionary dads, I guess just the fact that we were Americans was enough to cause worry.

We are told that from now on until we return home, armed police guards will be posted to watch over our campsite day and night.  Though we appreciate the VIP treatment, we're not too thrilled with the idea of having strange men hovering around watching everything we do.  But when the detective leaves, the uniformed officers leave with him and we wonder if we had heard right.   Oh well, time to get back to business of camping.

We plan another excursion into the further mountains to get a close up look at our own Cair Paravel of Narnia, and then hear that we are officially invited to tea at the head monk's office in the monastery nearby.  Was he coerced into this by the police who were afraid of any negative fallout from our robbery, or was he just doing his charitable duty as a good Buddhist?  We had no idea, but it seemed that it would be wrong to deny ourselves the adventure of sipping tea with someone who was elevated to the position of an almost Buddha, no matter what his motives were.  Our police guard appears, and looks not too happy to be given the job of watching our stuff, so he squats in the grass behind our tents and lights up a cigarette.  Well at least we know our things will be safe and we can all leave for our tea time as a group.

We are incredibly unsanitary, our hair has been shampooed so infrequently and our legs are all unshaven, and our deodorant is having to work overtime.  We have climbed mountains and hills and sweated and slept under the stars for days now, and all our clothes have been smashed into backpacks that are now half full of dirty laundry. But we are having the time of our lives... thief or no thief.  No one notices how dirty each other is since we're all in the same boat, and when the time comes, we march down to the monastery to meet our host monk.

We are ushered into a room by a very humble looking maid. It's the head monk's office filled with books and scrolls and ancient paintings on the walls, part of the 300 year old structure of the temple and monastery.  Giant beams of old tree trunks hold up the ceiling, and instead of the traditional wax-papered floor that is heated by coal in the winter by underground channels, he has a more western style concrete floor with actual sofas and chairs.  He is sitting in his serene splendor, bald, double-chinned, chubby and silent.  It's a regular American style chair, but he is sitting on it cross-legged, meditation style in his grey robes.

We file in and take our seats on the sofas against the walls, looking at him.  Nancy and Beth and others who speak Korean well, greet him and he nods and says a few words.  Then, it's silent.  No one talks.  We have no idea what to say.  Coach Gustafson, our leader, feels the need to strike up small talk and asks a few polite questions that have to go through translation.  His answers are short and he asks us nothing back.  Coach realizes that in front of her is a leader in a religion that she feels is deceived, that leads people away to God, not to Him. She'd like to evangelize him, to engage in a discussion about faith and asks him what he believes.

His answers are vague and all about finding peace and harmony.  Do you believe that Jesus was God? she wants to know.  Everything has God in it, according to him, so yes, he doesn't mind saying that Jesus was God, just like you or I could someday become God.  Coach asks if it bothers him that we are Christians and don't believe in his religion.  Absolutely not, he says, all religions lead to God, so if we are happy as Christians, then he sees no problem with it.  He doesn't want to save us from our deceptions, he doesn't want to convert us, he doesn't seem to care about teaching us anything about his own faith at all.  Coach is frustrated.  She was hoping for a good debate about the Lordship of Jesus, but all she gets is a passive fellow who would rather meditate silently on harmony and inner peace.

So in a matter of ten minutes, there is absolutely nothing to say.  We stare at him, and he stares at nothing.  Eventually the maid brings in trays of hot herb tea that we sip and stare and wonder how long this is going to last, and why he even invited us to visit him in the first place.  Coach comes up with new questions to ask from time to time, but his answers are odd and he has no interest in talking.

So as it goes with teenage girls, we start to just look around and find things to whisper to each other, and giggle, and eventually whispers turn into low murmurs, and more giggling, and in time we're just talking to each other as if he isn't even there, because he has zoned out into some zen-like state.  In fact, he's pretending to be in a zen-like state as I catch him smiling at times, enjoying just watching us interact with each other.  It seems that the poor guy who isn't allowed to watch movies or TV or have any worldly influence, but just spend his days in meditation to attain Buddha-hood, is finally getting some fun in his day to have his office packed with very worldly girls.  Dirty and disheveled ones, but something new and different to spice up his emotionless days.

He really seemed not to mind that we were ignoring him, so we started to discuss the odd paintings on his walls.  They must have been hundreds of years old, and I'm sure that now they'd be worth a fortune, but they were meant to be there, not in some fancy auction house or museum.  One very fierce looking warrior painting caught my eye.  He was wielding a sword and had a pot belly and all the hair on his chest was parted down the center.  The longer I looked at it, the more hilarious it was.  I pointed it out quietly to the other girls, and as each noticed, we started giggling, and then laughing to the point that we were crying and holding our stomachs.  The warrior was supposed to be deeply spiritual and fearsome, but he looked so ridiculous, we couldn't hold it back.

In the middle of our laughing frenzy I looked at our serene head monk, and low and behold, he was chuckling too.  He had no idea what we were  laughing at, but just the sound of laughter was contagious to him.  I began to wonder if he really believed all that he was taught by his religion that denying the pleasure of family, marriage, laughter, strong feelings or convictions, even modern amenities and having to live in a sparse austere way, leads to true spirituality.  I looked around his office more, and saw that he was wearing a watch that was quite expensive, and in the back room, I saw the antennas of a TV, a radio and a heater.  He obviously was not practicing the religion that he preached.  I wondered why he had chosen this way of life if he found he would have to secretly compromise, whether he was truly happy - but then of course, happiness is not something that a good Buddhist is supposed to want.  But this Buddhist, with his chuckles shaking his chubby frame as he sat cross-legged on his chair was really having a happy moment.  He may have had to pay penance for his unspirituality later with months of fasting and sleeping on the cold ground,  and we may set him back a couple of years in his pursuit to attain enlightenment, but he sure was having a good time and didn't seem to mind.

"Well, I guess we're about done here," said Coach, and we thanked our host, and filed back out of the monastery to head back to our campsite.

Evening came and we knew that the next day will be our last, heading back on the long journey north to Seoul.  Dinner over the campfire and the brilliant stars shine through the clearing of trees on our hill. We wondered about our num-chuck friend and how he did in his competition, and before we know it, three shiny bald heads appear in the moonlight.  More miscreant monks have snuck out of the monastery to get a closer look at the American girls.  Word must have secretly gotten around that we were friendly, and they saunter up all embarrassed and curious.

"Hello, how ah you?" They practice their English, and we invite them to have some Oreo cookies which they gladly accept.  We ask them their names and they eagerly strike up a conversation with us.  They ask us to give them English names, so based on their Korean names they are transformed into Joey, Wally, and another name I've forgotten like Petie or something like that.

"You came from America?"  Yes, we answer.

"You know Elton John?"  No, we've never met him, but we know his songs, we laugh and they ask us more.  Do we know John Travolta?  John Denver?  Olivia Newton John?  The Bee Gees?  (Remember, this is the late 70's when disco was king.)  Obviously these guys have been secretly listening to radios, and they want us to sing with them some "Stayin Alive" and "Good-bye Yellow Brick Road," which we all try to sing, but none of us know all the words.  We find out that the song they love the best is John Denver's, "Country Road Take Me Home."

So we all burst into song around the campfire.  Even the police guard joins us for some Oreos and we sing:

"Country road, take me home to the place I belong,
West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home country road..."

Hilarious Korean accents murder the lyrics, and they want to sing it again and again, along with as many other top 20 songs that we know.  In the ancient hills of Korea, not far from the East China Sea, among Buddhist black belt monks, accompanied by an armed officer, we sing songs of West Virginia at the top of our lungs into the moonlit night.  It was surreal to say the least.

Tomorrow, we finally head home, but the adventure is still not over...

Friday, August 31, 2012

Monks to the rescue

(Continued from yesterday...)

The afternoon came and we decided that it was time to finally get somewhat clean.  We took soap and shampoo and towels and headed down to the stream at the base of our hill.  We looked up and down and saw no one around, and cautiously started trying to bathe as discreetly as possible.  The guard who had seen us the first night had checked on us earlier that morning and told us that this was a safer place to camp since on the other side of the stream, behind more trees, were the high walls of the temple monastery where the monks lived and trained.  They were high ranking martial arts monks who competed with other Buddhist monasteries around the country and were well known for their expertise.

Wow, real Shaolin Monks!  I thought that kind of thing only existed in cheesy Chinese movies, but sure enough we were right next door to champion black-belts! He told us that if we needed anything we could call on them and they'd help us out.  Well, we had no intention of needing Bruce Lees of any sort, and we really had no intention of bathing in front of monks either, but knowing that monks had made a vow of celibacy and forswore all worldly temptations, we probably wouldn't see much of them anyway - they were too busy praying, fasting and chopping cinderblocks in half with their bare hands.

At night we rustled up a campfire, cooked our dinner, roasted some marshmallows, and slept under the bright shining stars surrounded by a peaceful forest and the ground seemed much less lumpy and my little orange tent much less pitiful than the night before.  We were all getting along well, and adjusting to life in the wilderness.

The next day after breakfast and prayer and cleaning up in the stream, we decided to go for a hike through the woods and up one of the closer hills.  It was fun and we wondered what we would do in the afternoon to entertain ourselves.  Lunchtime came and we were all feeling pretty good.  My swollen arm was slowly turning from bright purple to greenish-yellow, and I was handling the pain much better.  We had been pretty vigilant about making sure that someone was always at the campsite to watch our things if others went off to wash or hike.  But this time we were in such good spirits, and didn't want to give anyone washing-up duty.  We decided to all go down to the river for each to wash her own plates so we could get it done quickly.  We hadn't seen anyone walk by since we pitched camp there, so ten minutes at the stream wouldn't be a problem.

I was the first to finish washing and head back.  When I came up the hill, I saw a head of black hair bent down behind one tent.

"Sandy?  Sandy is that you?"  I asked, knowing that I had just seen her at the stream a moment ago.

Up popped a face from behind the tent.  A Korean man was staring at me, and I froze.  Then I began to shout.  He tore off running into the woods and I didn't know whether I should chase after him or run for help.  He obviously was up to no good the way he had run off.

"Hey guys!! There was a man at our campsite!  Guys!!"  I ran back to the stream shouting for everyone to come.  They scrambled back and Coach Gustafson told everyone to search their things and see if anything was missing.  Sure enough, about $50 worth of Korean money was stolen from one girl and a camera from another.  Apparently there had been a thief watching us the whole time, just waiting for the moment he could move in and take what he could.  It was a horrible feeling.

So now what?  The monks!  The kung-fu, sunmudo, taekwondo monks!  Beth and I raced over to the monastery to tell them what happened, but just as we got there, we found them in their afternoon prayers.  We waited around, and waited and wondered what the protocol was for interrupting Buddhist prayers.  We didn't want to seem disrespectful, but we had an emergency!  Eventually after a long wait one of the other girls were able to let them know what happened, and our neighbor monks were incredibly helpful.  They told us not to worry, to interrupt them during prayers if we needed anything.  (For future reference, in case any of my readers are in the position that they might need to interrupt a Buddhist at prayer, just go right ahead.  It's okay. Really!)

As fast as a flash, a group of monks gathered and called all of us to split up and follow them to run through the forest and see if we could catch the thief.  Without having a chance to think, I tore off after one who ran like a cross-country racer over rocks and boulders, leaping and climbing and leading me through winding pathways as if it was something he did every day.  It didn't take long before I was gasping for breath, I just couldn't keep up.  I was scared that if I lost sight of my monk, I would have no idea how to get back to camp.  He saw me lagging behind and felt sorry for me.  He gave up the chase and turned back to lead me back to the others, who were also panting from their excursions into the forest as well.

No luck finding the guy, they would have to send someone down to the local town to contact the police.  They had no phone at the monastery - too worldly, I suppose.  So off ran a young monk to report our robbery.  They apologized and were truly sorry for what had happened, and blamed themselves for not having kept a closer eye on us.  We didn't tell them that we didn't really want anyone's eye on us, but we appreciated their concern.

Well after the drama of the afternoon, the sun was preparing to set and we built another campfire to cook our dinner.  As the shadows grew longer and the stars started to appear, no one wanted to go into the bushes to use the bathroom for the last time.  What once had been a very private thing, was now something that we all wanted to do together, holding hands!!

"My gosh, this guy must have been watching us the whole time!  Gross!"

Well, no one can hold the call of nature forever, so we all fearfully did what had to be done and ran back to the campfire as quickly as possible.  As or fire slowly went out, we all bundled together in a tight circle on the grass.  What looked like peaceful trees last night were now menacing arms of shadowy monsters ready to snatch us.  Our imaginations started to go wild.  Where was this guy, is he coming back?  Will he attack us in the middle of the night?  What did he see when he was here?  Does he have other thieves that are conspiring to do worse?  We prayed, but none of us had peace that our prayer would do any good.  Our emotions were far too wild to use faith at that time.

As the fire went out, we huddled closer.  The night was so dark, and the shadows around us were swaying and menacing. No one wanted to go into their tents.  We smashed together.  We were one solid blob of trembling teenage fear, and our fearless coach was just as scared as we were!

And then, all of a sudden we heard a sound.  It was coming from the bushes on the right.  We heard it again, and again.  And then footsteps.  And the noise grew louder.  It was a violent sound, like something slashing through the underbrush.  At first we thought we were imagining things, but the closer it got, there was no doubt about it - there was something or someone coming straight for us.
With one terrified voice, we screamed!

We saw the bushes knocked from one side to the other as he stepped out into the clearing, carrying his long bamboo pole.  It was one of the monks.  Instead of the normal robes, he had on a white tank-top and the traditional grey pants they wore under their robes tied tight with a cloth belt.  He saw how scared we were, and bowed and apologized for frightening us.  He introduced himself politely and asked us if we wouldn't mind if he showed us some of his martial arts skills with the bamboo pole since he was about to compete at another monastery in the morning.

A friendly monk with a weapon?  Ready to entertain us with martial arts on our own hillside?  Of course!! We all shouted yes, huddled together, and enjoyed his performance.  He took his position at the bottom of the hill and we marveled as his bamboo pole twirled and swung around him and up in the air with ease and skill.  We asked him why he wasn't in his monastery, and discovered that he had snuck out past his curfew, dying of curiosity to see the American girls and show off his prowess.  He was the youngest of the monks there.  Well, we didn't want him getting into trouble on our account, but we sure were thankful that he had shown up!

"Would you like to see me with num chucks?" He asked eagerly.  He'd brought those with him too, and we cheered him on as he whirled those around with amazing speed.  Korean martial arts do not traditionally use num chucks, but somehow he had gotten some.  I guess he used to watch plenty of cheesy Chinese movies too - before he became a monk! That was the first time I had ever seen them used and we were all deeply impressed. We clapped and thanked him and thanked God for sending him to us to alleviate our uncontrollable fears.

He finally ended the show and had to sneak back into his monastery without being caught, so we reluctantly said good night, and felt a whole lot better about going into our tents to sleep.  We had prayed for God to protect us, and out of the wilderness, He brought forth unto us... a monk with num chucks!  We'd been so emotional, I don't think we had a lot of faith at the time.  I'm guessing that the protection of God had more to do with our moms and dads praying for us back home than anything else, but God took great care of us nonetheless.

So still with a bit of trepidation and worry, we slid into our sleeping bags and fell into deep sleep.  It had been a very eventful day.  And more eventful days were still to come...

More tomorrow:)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

We find Narnia and I question my faith

Bomosa temple, South Korea
(Continued from yesterday...)

It was past midnight and I slept fitfully, uncomfortable on the hard ground beneath my sleeping bag and the closeness of my tent.  I was in my normal state of feeling sorry for myself and wishing that I was a totally different person - the kind that always did things right.  I was convinced there were a lot of those kinds of people around, while I was the odd exception.

But there was a part of me that knew that whatever embarrassment or discomfort I had to go through, I had to do this.  I had to face this experience and believe it would be good for me.  The greatest shame was not what I was going through (which, thinking about it now, was so minor that it wasn't worth all the angst) but the thought of becoming a whiner and giving up and turning back. According to my standards, that would be an unforgivable shame.  Giving up was for losers, and though I might be a mess-up from time to time, one thing I wasn't, was a loser.  I had to make the best of the embarrassment and push forward.

Hours of discomfort had passed, and when it seemed like I finally drifted off into a real sleep, I noticed an intense warm light glowing all around me, even through my closed eyelids.  It was my tent, radiantly orange in the morning sunlight, practically blinding me in my sleep.  I was exhausted, but I couldn't take laying in what felt like a fireball.  I was up and dreary eyed, wanting a nice clean bathroom, but instead having to stumble off to a bush to hide behind with a roll of toilet paper in hand.  Nowhere to brush our teeth, we hadn't showered for over 24 hours and it didn't look like were would get clean any time soon.

Coach Gustafson was up and raring to break camp. "This is the worst camping trip I have ever been on," she said, "There are no campsites in this place, we've got to find a better place to pitch our tents.  This is awful."

No one had eaten since the train trip, but she was determined to find another spot to settle in and then eat our breakfast.  So with our tents folded and repacked, we hefted those heavy bags back onto our sore backs and started hiking again.  My arm was feeling really painful, and was so swollen underneath that it felt as if someone had implanted a baseball under my upper arm.  But I was not going to be a whiner, so I marched.  We climbed higher as the sun shone brighter and hardly anyone talked.

At the time I didn't see any spiritual lesson or revelation from God, but He was speaking and teaching me some valuable things through the trip and many more were yet to come before the week ended.  I was completely unaware that my determination to go through shame, pain and discouragement was an act of faith.  Faith that God would see me through this and that He would work out the rest.  My determination was just a simple attitude, not a great spiritual gesture, yet it allowed God to start turning things around for me and teaching me about what is possible when you step out in faith.  I didn't feel very spiritual, but I was connecting with God doing what I believed I had to do.  I suppose all those Sunday school lessons on perseverance and doing the right thing were so embedded in me that I didn't see any other option.

We finally got to a spot where we decided to pull out some of our food rations and eat a bit of breakfast.  We sat on a hillside with some boulders for seats, and ate.  With a beautiful view of the valley and some food in our stomachs, everyone's mood changed, and smiles came back on everyone's faces.  I was getting hot and decided to use just the t-shirt that was under my sweatshirt.  As I pulled off my top layer, the girls gasped to see my deformed arm.  It had turned an intense shade of reddish purple, and every vein and capillary was visible on the badly swollen spot between my elbow and shoulder.

Coach was the most shocked at the sight - all of a sudden her voice became tender and caring as she inspected my arm.  "Are you going to be okay?  Do you think it might be broken?  Should we take you to a hospital?" She asked with genuine concern.

No, I was fine, I said.  It wasn't broken, just badly bruised.  And anyway, how was I supposed to go to a hospital without my parent's documents or money out in the middle of nowhere?  I saw a look of approval on Coach's face.  I was being brave and she was proud of me for it.  At that moment the whole burden of guilt and embarrassment vanished, and I felt validated that a tough lady like her could be proud of a mess-up like me.

We kept on hiking and looking for a better spot after breakfast, and finally we found it - the perfect place.  It was a grassy clearing on the side of a hill, close to a babbling stream where we could wash our things and ourselves.  It felt private and tucked away far from the noisy temple area.  And then Rachel and Naomi began to shout.

"Look, look!  It's Narnia, we're in Narnia!  Look at those mountains, it looks just like Cair Paravel where the kings and queens of Narnia have their thrones!"

Sure enough a beautiful mountain among many others was directly across from our little hillside, and atop that mountain was a huge rocky outcropping that looked like it could be a palace.  We decided that the next day we all had to climb it and see the rest of our lovely Narnia.

We pitched our tents again, sure that this was the best place ever, and decided to do some exploring.  Coach Gustafson had never seen a Buddhist temple, and was curious to know what it was like.  A few girls chose to stay behind and rest at camp to keep an eye on our stuff, while others of us went with her to look at the ancient buildings with their ornately painted statues.  

Most of us on this trip were raised in Korea, and though our missionary parents were there to spread the gospel and win new converts to Christ, we were all taught to have a respect for the traditional religions there.  Of course they were false gods, but making fun of them or even feeling fearful or disgust with them was not acceptable.  The Koreans worshipped these things according to traditions that had formed over hundreds of years, and many had never known any other god to worship.  Buddhism was all over Korea, as well as animism - the worship of the spirits of nature.  It was so ordinary for us, we didn't even think twice about it. So it was an interesting experience to watch the reactions of our coach as she took it all in for the first time.

The entrance to the temple held huge, grotesquely scary statues on both sides, considered to be "temple guardians" painted with bulging angry eyes and lifting spears and swords as if they were ready to impale anyone who walked through.  They would supposedly scare away evil spirits.  From there we went from one hall to another where different Buddhas and gods stood or sat in different positions, all with incense burning around them and coins of offerings tossed at their feet by their worshippers.  Some had a few silent followers from the local town bowing and praying to them, mumbling and holding prayer beads or throwing a rounded kind of dice like object to determine if the Buddha was giving them a yes or a no to their request. Shaven headed monks in their grey robes hung around, doing whatever monks were supposed to do.

Coach Gustafson was deeply disturbed by what she saw.  She was angry, sad, and felt such agony to see these people praying to carving that they believed to be a god.  I had never seen anyone react like that before.  It was as if her heart ached for their souls.  What I thought would be just a fun trip to see a historic site, turned out to be a sobering time to reflect on what real faith was, and what was wrong with me that I had seen Buddhists worshipping at their statues hundreds of times in my life and had never cared one way or another about them.  What kind of Christian doesn't care? What kind of a faith did I really have?

As we made our way back to camp, I wondered what else we would do, and whether this would turn out to be boring trip now that we had settled in.  I was completely wrong.  There was so much more yet to happen, and so much that God wanted to show me.

More tomorrow...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The journey goes south

Continued from yesterday...

We all piled into the rickety old train packed with Korean travelers heading to different destinations along the Seoul - Pusan express line.  Families with little kids, farmers, workers, old grandmas going to visit relatives in the countryside, stared at us and laughed as they saw the bunch of American girls with their blond leader heave their heavy backpacks onto the over head racks and settle in for a five hour long ride.

It was spring and the breeze was just right, as our opened windows let us watch the cityscape and then the countryside fly by.  It was easy to forget that once we arrived at our destination we had no idea what we would find or where we would eat or sleep.  We were on a high school camping adventure and we were going to have fun. We had packed sandwiches and drinks for the trip and Coach Gustafson would surely know exactly what to do when we got there.  She was the grown up, we were the kids.  That's the way it was supposed to work.

Hours had gone by, and it was my turn to sit by the window and stare out at the passing rice fields.  I wasn't enjoying school that year, I wasn't happy about myself, I didn't like my teachers, I had a feeling that my friends weren't really my friends, and I always lived in a constant state of feeling guilty for not being good enough.  I never knew why I felt that, but it had become my identity.  I was the girl who wasn't good enough.  So this trip that let me just gaze out and feel the breeze on my face with my elbow resting on the window's edge for hours in silence, was a perfect escape from the awkward unhappiness of my soul.

And then without a moment's thought, the heavy glass train window framed with steel, came crashing down on my arm.  The window was heavy, and my friends screamed and rushed to pull it upwards.  They couldn't budge it.  Some Korean men ran to my rescue and with some struggle lifted it from my arm.  The place on my bicep where it had fallen was pinched down to the bone from top to bottom, as if all the muscle and tissue had been pushed to either side of the injury.  My arm was free, but the shape of my arm looked as if it was in an invisible vice grip.  It was painful, but I was in shock and just grateful that it hadn't broken.  Coach gave me some ice from her cooler to keep it from swelling, but in an hour's time it had swollen quite large.  "Great," I thought, "Not only is everyone going to be mad at me because I have a crummy tent, I'll be an invalid for the rest of the trip."

But there was no turning back.  We were just an hour or so away from Pusan Station.

It was late afternoon when we all piled out of the train, tired, grumpy and in the mood for a bath and a soft sofa to watch our favorite TV shows before our moms called us to dinner.  But home was hundreds of miles away.  We still had to find the temple, hike through the grounds, find a campsite, pitch tents, make our first meal and figure out how we'd be able to brush our teeth and tidy up before we climbed into our sleeping bags.  And then there was... the tent.

We asked around and found a local bus to take us to the temple.  It was packed.  When we got there, we found out why.  It was a Buddhist holiday and the whole area was covered with people celebrating with picnics and lanterns and music and lots and lots of noise.  Coach Gustafson, the avid camper from Minnesota, was not amused.

The base of the Buddhist temple was in a valley surrounded by many rolling hills.  To get away from all the people, we'd have to hike uphill with our full backpacks, as the sun was quickly going down and our bodies were ready to give up for the day.  So we shouldered our burdens and started hiking up and up the windy dirt paths, having to move to the sides as happy singing Buddhists - many of whom were drunk - would be coming down the mountains and passing us with lots of exclamations of "Hello how are you!" Seeing American girls hiking up their mountains was such a surprise and a great chance to practice the little English they were taught in school, that we were bombarded with friendly greetings and curious stares the whole way.

We finally got to the end of one path, only to find many more nighttime picnics going on with lanterns and much singing and dancing.  The Korean Buddhists looked like they were just getting warmed up for the night.

Miss Gustafson was a good coach, but she was a young woman in her early 20's who was feeling the weight of her responsibility pretty heavily.  She was in charge of all us girls, but she had to depend on us to translate and navigate for her. This was not Minnesota - not at all!  Her frustration caused us - me in particular - to feel really insecure.  If she didn't know what was going on, we were sunk.

Eventually a temple guard must have found out about the strange foreign girls wandering around, and he came to find out what we were doing.  Camping?  Here?  Well, as far as he was concerned, we were a liability.  Having daughters of foreigners exposed to any kind of danger on their property could become a serious problem for their reputation.  He insisted that we pitch our tents right where we were standing and not move a step further.  He wanted us to be where he felt we would be safe.  It was not at all a pleasant place to be, but we were all tired and it was pitch black in the countryside.  The only light we had was of the distant lanterns of the partiers and our little flashlights.  Coach found a small flat spot on a nearby hill and guided us there to spend our first night.

The moon came out and it was time to unpack our tents.  Sandy, Alice, Rachel and Naomi and the rest pulled out their dad's tents and started setting them up.  It was the moment of truth.  I pulled out my little orange pup-tent with no floor and bright yellow nylon ropes and did my very best to make it look respectable.  I rammed the tent poles into the ground, stretched out the cheap nylon fabric, pulled and yanked my ropes as tight and straight as I could and hammered my plastic pegs into place.  But no matter how much I stretched, hammered or pulled, my little orange pup-tent sagged and tipped to the side like a sad cartoon.

Everyone was too busy with their own stuff, that no one noticed me.  That is until Coach Gustafson turned around and saw me struggling, just as the moon shone bright through the clouds and asked in a loud, coach-like voice.

"You call that a tent, Sansom!!?  You said you were getting a good quality army tent - what happened?"

And then all eyes were on my disgrace.  I wanted to die.  But who wants to die in the middle of nowhere surrounded by partying Buddhists?  No, I'd have to just grit my teeth and go through the shame. I told everyone the story about the friend who wasn't allowed to take the tent he had set aside for me off the army base, so I was stuck with buying the only thing that resembled a tent that I could find.  I might as well have just brought a sheet and thrown it over a ladder to sleep under.  But Coach was already mad about everything, and all the other girls had claimed the nicer tents they wanted to sleep in.  I would be alone in my orange envelope - so I thought.

Nancy, one of the sweetest, kindest-hearted girls I ever knew looked over at me and said, "That's okay Evelyn, I'll share your tent with you.  It looks just fine to me!  I think orange is a great color!"  That was the most thoughtful, unselfish gesture that anyone had ever shown me in my young life.  So Nancy and I unrolled our sleeping bags and crawled as carefully and gingerly as possible into position, just hoping and praying that our tent wouldn't collapse on top of us during the night.  I prayed, and wished that I would wake up at home and this would all be a bad dream.

More tomorrow....

Monday, August 27, 2012

Life lessons learned from camping at a Buddhist temple

Seoul Korea, 1977
When I was 16, I had one of the most amazing camping trips of my life.  I had gone on lots of fun excursions with my family before, but this one sticks out in my mind as one of the highlights of my teenage years.

The background is, I was a missionary's daughter, born and raised in Korea, attending a school built by American missionaries for children of foreigners in Korea.  Most of my friends were other American missionary kids who had been born and raised with me there.  Every spring, our school took a break from normal classes had a week or two of extracurricular activities that were meant to be learning experiences.  There were cooking classes, Chinese calligraphy lessons, archery lessons, tours of ancient Korean burial grounds, sports activities, bike rides to the closest island, and all kinds of fun stuff we could choose from.  In my junior year, our girls P.E. coach, Miss Gustafson, was chaperoning a girls week-long camping trip somewhere in Korea.  Miss Gustafson was from Minnesota and recently employed in our school and had no idea that camping in Korea would be a challenge.  We who were familiar with the country knew it was going to be rough, and we all looked to her and her expertise and great enthusiasm for the outdoors to make it fun.  

We were teenagers, used to our parents planning everything.  If a grown-up said something was going to happen, we didn't really think much about how it would happen, because it always somehow did.  We met after school in the girls' locker room to decide what to bring, how we were going to cook, who had sleeping bags and tents and where our campground would be.  Poor Miss Gustafson was shocked to find out that camping supplies were basically nonexistent, few of us had tents, canned food was expensive, and Korea in 1977 had nothing remotely close to an American or European style campground, anywhere.

Korea had been destroyed during the Korean war, and so much overpopulation kept the country in a state of just trying to find space for everyone to live.  Many people lived in shacks and eked out a living selling seafood, trinkets, coals for cooking, and anything that would keep their families fed.  The first main highway connecting the two major cities had recently been built, and Korea was full of dirt and gravel roads that wound through hills and mountains that were either solid rock faces or terraced into rice paddies.  It was amazing to see how any plot of land could be taken and made habitable by people desperate for a place to live.

So since our fearless leader had no idea how to plan for a camping trip in this strange land, it was up to us girls to figure out where we should camp.  We asked our parents who laughed at the idea of camping in a country still a bit war torn, and with no structure whatsoever to accommodate camping foreigners.  Someone's dad came up with the Buddhist temple grounds that lay outside the city of Pusan, a five hour train ride from the capital of Seoul, where we lived.  "Are there campgrounds there?" asked our coach.  "No, but the Buddhist temple has a lot of land, we could probably find some place to pitch our tents..." Of course no thought was given to getting a permit, notifying anyone, even looking at a map to see where we might be going. Coach Gustafson was clueless, and so were we.   We knew we'd have to catch a train, ride for hours and hours, then find our way to the temple and that was about as far as we could figure.  But who cared - we were going camping!

The day dawned bright and early and we all had our backpacks loaded with cans of food, clothes, pans and plates and forks, flashlights, and everything we thought we'd need.  About 12 of us were meeting at the Seoul Train Station for our train to Pusan.  My dad helped hoist the backpack out of the trunk of the car and set it on my shoulders and gave me a hug good-bye.  I stood there and thought of how unbearably heavy this thing was and wondered how I was going to actually hike with it for the next week.  I had promised to borrow a US Army tent from a GI friend of my parents at the local military post.  Coach Gustafson was counting on that tent.  I didn't have the guts to tell her that the friend didn't come through with his promise.  My mom had taken me to the closest thing that our town had of a camping store and we found the worst looking bright orange tent I had ever seen.  The tent pegs were cheap quality, there was no floor to it, there were tiny aluminum stakes that bent at the slightest pressure, and it was small.  Real small.

"Hey Sansom (my maiden name) you got the tent?" asked Coach.

"Yeah, I got it right here in my backpack," I said as confidently as I could.

I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that when we opened up all of our tents at night, that I would be in big trouble.  But it was still morning and who knows, maybe something amazing would happen before then.  Maybe someone will see us in the train and just hand us a free tent.  Maybe my tent would transform into a beautiful all-weather, high quality piece of camping gear. Maybe everybody else's tents were just as lousy as mine and no one would know the difference.  Too late now, the train had pulled into the station and it was time to board.

More tomorrow...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fill in the gap, anyone?

I've been listening to podcasts about the lives great men of faith in history who impacted the world in powerful ways, from the first men who translated the Bible into common languages, to others who had to fight against the established churches of their time to bring the gospel to the ordinary people of their lands.  It's been fascinating, and yet somehow sad as well.

Here were men like John Wesley who started a revolution, a Great Awakening, or George Whitefield or Charles Spurgeon who were considered massive influences in the advancement of the gospel, but practically each one had strange drawbacks in their lives.  Spurgeon had anxiety attacks and severe depression.  Whitefield had painful gout and at times could barely stand.  Wesley had marriage problems that left him miserable and poor.  How could it be that such servants of God could be so plagued with problems?

There's a mindset - a paradigm (for those of you who'd like to add a new word to your vocabulary:) among Christians that fighting the good fight of faith only includes fighting against sin, injustice, unbelief and anything that blocks the gospel from being preached.  No true Christian would argue against any of those things.  But there was a huge gap in their beliefs when it came to confronting evil spirits attacking them in their personal lives.

When Jesus encountered the poor woman bent over double in the synagogue, He rebuked the evil spirit that was in her.  How did He know that a common problem of osteoporosis in an old woman was a spirit?  Why wasn't He just sweet and kind and feel sorry for her like most "good" Christians are taught to do to the sick and infirm?  Why did Jesus speak against the fever that afflicted Peter's mother-in-law?  But the biggest question is, why did this concept of rebuking evil spirits disappear from the Early Church?  Only during the Pentecostal movement in the early 1900's did people begin to believe in healing - and though there were many legitimate healings, a lot of quacks and charlatans came along to create havoc so that now, the idea of a faith healer is nothing but a joke.

The fact that these great influential men had no clue that they were being attacked spiritually and could be healed and set free says a lot about the huge gap that exists in most Christians belief system today.  It's that gap that allows people who don't believe to ask, "Why would a good God allow good people to suffer?"  And the typical Christian answers with, "God works in mysterious ways. We must learn patience and faith through adversity."  And because of these vague and comfortless answers, a good many former Christians have just drifted away from faith completely.  No one could reconcile their life with what they read in the Bible any more.

Is that all there is to it?  Of course God teaches us through adversity, that's basic Christianity 101.  But doesn't He ask us to put on our armor and fight? Aren't we supposed to drive out demons, heal the sick and raise the dead?  How about doing even greater things than Him?

I'd say that it's time we close this gap.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Diligently doing less

Hey, howya doin'?

Busy, real busy!

Yeah, I know how that goes... Later!

That's the common interchange among friends these days, more so than, "I'm fine, and how are you?" as  taught to our parents or grandparents generations ago.  To announce how busy you are is cool. It sounds like humble complaining while actually being a pronouncement of your awesomeness.  You are in demand, indispensable, and therefore important.

These qualities are definitely virtuous - being diligent, hard working, a good steward of time and resources, productive and fruitful.  We associate all of those things with a good person who fills their life with lots and lots of things to do.  Busy people walk fast, talk fast, give orders, keep lists, redo lists, rehash old decisions, keep up production and micromanage.

Not only that, they need to be mentally and emotionally pushed to the edge every day.  Because they are people of great responsibility, they have to be anxious and worried, slightly angry and frustrated, otherwise nothing will get done right.  Right?

But like I mentioned a post or two ago, we are commanded, not just urged, to be anxious for NOTHING.  No anxiety, no worry, no obsessive compulsive behavior.  Nada.  So if you are now entertaining visions of unemployed, unwashed laid-back hippies, you're not quite there yet.  Keep reading.

So we're supposed to be diligent and fruitful, yet simultaneously forbidden to be anxious or worried.  The only way to do that is to understand the power of living in constant connection with God.  We're under His grace.  Not a cheap grace where we can pass off our selfishness with the excuse that God forgives us anyway, but knowing where our limitations are and trusting Him implicitly for the things that need to be done beyond those boundaries.

Understanding grace is knowing that God wants to bless us so much more than we do ourselves.  We may agonize over how small the return is for our work, that we're doing it for God, that we have the right motives, that we're working soooo hard and trying our very best, so why doesn't God bless it?  Do we need to work more?  Sacrifice more sleep? No matter what we can end up feeling so guilty that we are letting God down, that we're being unproductive and bad people, and go into panic mode.  If not panic, at least self-condemnation mode.

We want so much to be fruitful, but all our focus is on ourselves.  Fruit is borne naturally, not with grunts and gasps.  There is hard work that goes into the bearing of fruit, which is caring and nurturing a tree until it is ready to bud and bloom.  But the real work is often in the patience, care and faith that the tree will indeed bear.  There is a life force outside of the farmer that bears the fruit.  His reward comes from his nurturing, and nothing more.

When we just listen to God and have the courage to do the scary things He often asks us to do, we are given the task of nurturing and caring for something that He fully intends to bear fruit.  But when we get carried away with worrying and micromanaging everything that we imagine might go wrong, we're trying to do God's job.  We want to bear the fruit ourselves and get frustrated when its not happening the way we wanted according to our convenience.

Joseph Lampier knew that God wanted to revive souls in New York City more than he did.  But the revival wasn't his business.  In fact the bringing of people to the church on a Wednesday afternoon wasn't his business either.  It was his business to diligently invite, pray and care about the millions who were in need of God.  He was just asked to nurture the miracle with his faith and obedience. God did the rest.    

Sometimes we get so busy being proud of being busy, that we mess up all that God would rather have us do.  Sometimes less busywork and more nurturing of our faith is all that God needs for us to get out of His way to finally answer our prayers.  Less is more.

So when you're next asked, "Howya doin'?"  You can say, "Fine, just fine!"