Thursday, December 13, 2012

Waking Up in Memphis

Below is an excerpt from ESR student Brent Walsh's devotional for LifeJourney Church on the theme of "Overcoming Our Fear of God's 'Disruption'" and the scripture passage Acts 8:1-4:

I woke up in a Memphis economy hotel with nothing but my wallet, a pack of cigarettes, and the clothes that were tossed carelessly over a chair. The morning sun peeked through the crack in the curtain and specks of dust hovered in the glow. I looked at my watch, pulled myself up and let my legs drop to the side of the bed. I stared at the dancing specks for a long moment as my mind replayed the recent events of my life.

Two weeks prior I had enrolled in an ex-gay ministry called Love in Action. This was my last resort. I thought maybe the experts could figure out what was wrong with me. The emotional hoops they put me through, however, were far more traumatic than helpful. It was supposed to be a two-year residential program, but last night, with little planning or forethought, I silently slipped out the door of the residence home and slid into my baby blue Olds Cutlass Supreme. The car was almost twenty years old, but it was my only friend that night.

The first place I went was a gas station where I bought a pack of Marlboro Menthols. I was planning my trip back home, back to Illinois where my family lived. It made sense. I didn’t know anyone in Memphis. I didn’t have a job or a place to live, so I might as well hit the highway that night and head north.

But there was uneasiness in my gut when I thought about going back to Illinois. I wanted to go back home — my heart was hurt and no one could fix a broken heart like my mother. I pushed myself off the hood of the car, flicked the butt of the cigarette, and slid back in the driver’s seat. Instead of the highway, I went in search for a motel.

Leaving the ex-gay ministry was terrifying because my departure was more than a personal decision about my sexual orientation; it was a statement about my religious beliefs concerning homosexuality. I had consciously switched sides from anti-gay to pro-gay. In the war between “us and them,” I had left “us” and joined “them.”

I called my father from the motel room in Memphis to tell him I had left the program, but I wasn’t coming home. My hands shook and my heart thumped like a tennis shoe in a dryer as I hung up the phone.

“Fine.” I stabbed the word in the air, my sacrifice of submission. It wasn’t pretty, but it was all God was getting. I stepped into the shower and peeled the paper wrapper off the complimentary bar of soap. “I guess you’ll have to take care of me.”

“Do you trust me?” God seemed to say from the other side of the shower curtain.

“No,” I answered bitterly. Then I started to cry, my tears getting lost in the flow of hot water down my face. “I don’t know.”

You can read the rest of Brent's devotional here:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Thanking God for the miracle of food

 ESR student Abbey Pratt-Harrington delivered this message during Worship on November 29: 

…Food is important to me and my family. It is where we get nourished and spiritually fed. And that’s wonderful.

Then I go to my supervised ministry at Open Arms where I encounter people who are poor. Poor like the widow in the story of Elijah who fed him from her last bit of flour and oil. These are people who do not always know where their next meal is coming from. They do have food stamps and food pantries. This is our countries way of taking care of the poor like God asked. However, these resources do not go that far.

I do not know why I never realized the poverty around me before I worked at Open Arms. I have worked in soup kitchens before and I have studied poverty. Maybe this realization came from actually sitting down with the clients who come through and looking at their finances with them; realizing that there really was no that they can move money around to find ways to feed themselves. This is a harsh reality.

So I have these two worlds. One where I cook free food for people who can probably afford to pay for it. And I truly take joy out of cooking it for them and marveling about the miracle of food. My other world is where I come face to face with people who do not have enough to eat. It started to make me question how this could be. How could I like with this dichotomy? Where was God in all of this?

I wish I could say that I have come up with great answers to give you but I haven’t. What I have come to is a way to live with these questions. It started when I came home from work one day and was standing in my kitchen trying to figure out what to eat. Mentally I was complaining about not wanting to eat anything that I had. I realized how terrible this was. I had food. Even if I didn’t want to eat it and I should be grateful for that. Then I remembered a passage from a book I read about a year ago. The book was called The Year of Living Biblically. In the passage the author was talking about how he had started saying grace. His prayers didn’t just say thank you for food, they said thank you to all the people who went into the process of bringing the food to his table. I thought I would try saying grace like that. Doing that has made all the difference.

Now when I eat, it does not matter what I’m eating. I can find ways to be grateful for the food. I think about and thank all the people who have touched this food. Some of those people could be the ones I help at Open Arms. By doing this I am not only more grateful but I feel connected to the wider world. Everything from the sun to the cashier in the grocery store is part of my breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is a way of inviting others to be with me and thank them. It does not solve the problem of my having food and others not, but it allows me to eat without feeling guilty and gives me strength to continue the work that I carry out. It reminds me of the miracle that is food and it reminds me that I have God to thank for that.