Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Story: Letters, Lessons and Love

11 months in Indonesia. 

It is about how my story was woven into the Indonesian story.  How Indonesians became apart of my story.  It was woven so intricately that my story is insistent that they are apart of it.  In fact, my story can never be thought apart from their story.  The stories tangled and now they will seemingly part, but that is just an illusion.  The stories are bound together forever, because they are the seeds and fruit within the Story the binds everything together.

The fruits of peace and justice flowed as God built up a community between Indonesians and myself.  This community also has many fruits that have yet to be revealed—that are still hidden.  And some fruits have not even become ripe—maybe they have not even started sprouting. While so much of the story has been revealed, the fruits of how Indonesia and myself tangled for a year are not yet fully harvested—maybe the harvest has only begun.  That is why the story is so captivating.

My story is lost within His Story of a Kingdom of justice and peace.  It’s lost within that story because my story can’t be separated from the Kingdom story—or any of the other smaller stories going on it. The Story resonates to the depths of my being as I danced in the joy of peace and justice blossoming and wept when shalom appeared crushed.  I spent a year learning how the Church dances to peace and cries at injustice.  And how it itself forges shalom.  And how it itself violates shalom.  The Church was the ugliest and most beautiful thing I have ever seen.  Even though the ugliness and tragic missteps could have turned me away, there was a tremendous and irresistible vocational calling towards being apart of the Story through the Church.  Specifically, towards educating, equipping and practicing diaconal and peace work with the Church.  I imagine this future for my story because I look back at my story and it points me in that direction. 

The story is important to remember.  For the memory of a story gives possibility.  So here are the stories of how some Indonesian brothers and sisters had their stories intertwine with mine.
Dear Debora,

It may have been difficult to use words to communicate between your deaf ears and my novice Indonesian, but my time in your presence on that musty green chair next to your bed where you sat or lay, was powerful because it was beauty amidst brokenness.  Your frail bones, wrinkle ridden face and grey hair along with your surprisingly talkative nature, your welcoming open door and your faithfulness to God, brought so much texture and color to my life.  You often shared your home with a drunk and died with nothing more than a pile of clothes next to your bed in a filthy house.  But it is exactly in that house and on your bed where God met us, and changed me.  It's because having Holy Communion on your bed next to the mice that scurried the floors while we sang hymns is a powerful practice of breaking the body and pouring the blood.  That is the place where you, Deborah and I, Jason come to a cross where all the mire of your ugly material poverty meets the tragically stubborn poverty of my affluence.  Deborah, I told this story, about you, me and God at your funeral a couple weeks ago.  I'll see you again, one day.                  

Dear Erik ,

As co-pastor and friend, your persistent heart of justice has been a tremendous gift and consistent refuge for me in a place where a heart like that has been hard to come by.  Your fearless conviction of a just God amidst great forces of an eagerly embraced capitalism, the formation of a domesticated God and grave inequality in Indonesia, has been life-giving.  To preach so explicitly and terrificly about God's love for the poor in a church where loving the poor has been largely forgotten.  However, you do not give up the prophetic struggle and decide that troublesome churches are just that--to troublesome.  Neither do you stop the fight for justice when its progress crawls, stalls and falls.  So often I just want to either end up some place where justice is further along and where progress is quick.  But you have taught me one of the greatest lessons of this year, that it is the places where justice is furthest behind and where the progress is frail and fraught, that a Disciple of Jesus is incessantly drawn.  That's been a tough lesson.  Your steadfast practice of discipleship as the way of ministry has formed the way I understand not just ministry, but a way of life and my future.  Knowing, being and walking along side people in discipleship is what the world so desperately needs.         

Dear Endang, Febi, and Ike, 
I play scenes like this over and over in my head as I go to sleep. 
Bike down the wide street until a 1-meter wide path appears to the left between concrete walls.  
Roll down the path for 50 meters then turn abruptly right and go along side a dusty volley ball court and kids screaming at me for another 50 meters.  
Turn a sudden left where people hang-out, and chickens roam, only to turn right again.  
But I always miss this corner.  
But it is fine, because the lady who lives on that corner shouts "turn."  It's because she knows where I am going, because your house is my goal every time I enter that jungle of homes, chickens and paths.  The final 30 meters to your house I pass about 10 homes.  The last time I came over your weren't even home, but sitting on the neighbors porch chatting.  And that's the norm.  And we have spend hours and hours doing just that.  The rhythm of life between you and your neighbors, was a tremendous pulse that entered my life, that was repeated in countless other neighborhoods, where I was blessed enough to be welcomed and made as one of you.  No fences or walls, just the Indonesian flow of life between you and your neighbors, whom despite your differences of faith, live loving your neighbors as if that is all that matters.  And when you become enriched by this rhythm, you begin to beat to it too.  And when your in synch with it, your life begins to reverberate with the same pulse.  It's that pulse, the way you and your neighbors love so well, so much better than I do, that makes me wonder.  Maybe you are right.  Loving your neighbors is what matters most.  Loving those close to you.  Loving closely.  Loving like Jesus in other words.  That's what matters.  Then the label Christian or Muslim just doesn't seem to matter that much anymore.  That's probably why I never think once whether you and all our friends that we sat with are Muslim or Christian.  I look upon those women as the most spectacular examples of neighborly love.  I look up to them as people whom grasp the way of Jesus far better than I.  I look up to them as teachers.  I saw myself as their student.      

Dear Sunardi, Mundiah, Istiqomah, Amin Wahyudi, Zahrotul Umami,  Ainur Rohmah, Alifaidah

Remember that first time we met?  Back in October, I wandered through the streets close to my home, and you started to talk to me on that crumbly road and we have not stopped talking after that.  The kids and I would scamper off to the river and the neighborhood kids would run down the streets to kick a ball around.  I dreamed of meeting people like you, and God graciously gave you into my live.  The clarity of your Indonesian, mutual eagerness to learn and the way we would laugh and talk all afternoon are unforgettable.  When we played in the grass and ate on the floor, it was as if there was nothing else in the world except your family and I.  When we split ways, I never felt that I needed to give you money to help with your child who has hydrocephalus or school fees; nor did you ask for anything other than one last visit.  The $$ signs and “poverty” that so often mar the names of people like us were replaced.  My name was Jason.  Your names were Sunardi, Mundiah, Istiqomah, Amin, Umami, Ainur Rohmah and Alifaidah.  Those are the names that will stay in my heart.

Dear Nindyo, 
Meals.  I will never experience it the same again.  From cobra to horse, to the dog meat we ate for lunch (two days in a row!) or that entire goat head we ate that last week--we ate lots and we ate often.  And it was a lot of fun.  But it was more than fun or necessity.  It was the very place and time where stories were shared.  Where joys were shared.  Struggles were shared.  Dreams where shared.  Faith was shared.  Actually, it was where faith was lived.  Eating meals is how we loved each other not as a pastor looking down on a young adult, nor a supervisor on his employee, but as best friends.  Where ever and whenever we will meet again I know one thing.  There will be a meal.

Dear Mammi, Mamma, Pappa, Daniel, Irene, Gladys and Geraldy  
You were a host family that gave up so much.  From eating, travelling to sleeping, the love received was bountiful.   That is why all I can say is “terima kasih.”  It is thank-you in Indonesian and literally means, “to receive love.”  And that is what happened indeed.  You accepted me into the family and I will never remember in more clarity than the way we would sit around at night talking, laughing and teasing one another.  You feed me extraordinarily well.  And knowing that offering someone food is the greatest act of love in your culture, you loved incredibly well.   Your intentional love is something I will never be able to pay back to you.  There is one thing I can do.  That is to extend that love towards the foreigner and stranger like you did this year, to the foreigners and strangers that I will meet for the rest of my life. 

Dear Ibu Suprih and Eva,

I thought I said good-bye to you a few weeks ago.  Then one day I was sitting still on some steps by a friend’s house just watching life.  The chickens roamed and the kids ran naked from the bathroom to the house interrupting the chickens patrolling their apparent kingdoms.  Then I looked down along a concrete path between a string of homes and suddenly you were there with your beaming grin.  I am pretty sure my face was just as radiant. It was as if we both stumbled upon something great and words couldn’t describe it.

Eventually words came out.
A couple other times this year you would spend all your days wages on lunch for me.  So this time I took you out to lunch.  We walked 20 meters down the path to a buy some vegetable with peanut sauce on rice.    

Then that grin smacked across your face again and before words could come out, laughter did. 
You chuckled and asked a question in a way that best friends only do.  “Jason, guess what Eva (her daughter) and I did yesterday?”
With burgeoning curiosity I asked “what?”
You paused your eating and just laughed some more and then found the composure to articulate words.
“Eva and I biked for 4 hours and got 6 watermelons for free and then biked home with them for another 4 hours.” 
In simultaneous joy we both had one of those laughs were tears come out. 
I then asked, “how many did you already eat?”
With proud embarrassment you broke down into laughter again.
“We ate two of them already.”

We must have finished our rice.
I don’t remember. 

All I remember is the radiance of our faces.  The faces of a 50-year-old Muslim widow earning a $1.50 a day and myself with faces glowing as if we found something worth telling the world.
It is as if we found the pearl and were ready to give up everything to keep it.
It is as if all we wanted to do was tell the world about it.
It is as if we knew that the words we spoke and the laughter exchanged would last a lifetime time.
But what was shared was eternity.

This story captures so much of my Indonesian story.  I want this story do capture my life.  But I know my life is already captured in the Story. Now to go and be everything that was caught up in these stories.  But to do so in Canada once again.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Wonder of Diversity

"Hey, so what's Indonesia culture like?"

The answer to that question became much more difficult to succinctly answer after a recent trip.  

I went to the island of Sulawesi.  The funky looking island in the center of the map.
I visited an area called Toraja (where the yellow marker is on that island). 
Famous for its cultural/religious practices in regards to the dead, National Geographic has filled there and it is one of those "must-see" places in Indonesia. 
Luckily, I spent my week off the tourist trail.  It ended being an incredible experience of community unparalleled as I just lived alongside the people of Toraja.

You know, I was going to write about the communal ways people life in Java (my part of Indonesia) and then I was told in Toraja that, "you have not seen anything yet!"  In fact I was told that in Java people are individualistic.  Not sure what that makes Westerners then...

I experienced spectacular communal ways of living.  People's entire lives are directed to help each other.  The funeral event is the climax of family loyalty, community care and mutual loving.  It's hard to describe what it looks like and how it influences me.  That's why I mostly just sat still and in awe the entire week.

Here is a go at words and pictures...

This was my front yard for a week.  Traditional homes and traditional rice storage buildings with the massive roofs and intricate wood carving loomed above all of life.

See my eyes...that's me and the buffalo communicating.  This beast stayed in good terms with me.  The next day, as I walked towards one on a road, communication deteriorated so badly and quickly with a buffalo that I leaped into the ditch escaping imminent impaling from a delinquent buffalo.
Try to picture it, it will be worth it.   
With almost fairy-tale quality, I strolled through the hills.  And over every hill was a church and not a single mosque.  The people here are uniformly Christian, but historically animist.  The fields of rice, next to traditional homes and storing rooms with roads winding up and down valleys were lovingly shared by the Torajan people.

So loving were they, with such emphasis on inclusion that I was accepted as a family member after the 3rd day.  They told me to tell my mom/dad at home that I have family in Sulawesi.  Amazing!  
Stacked up on the traditional homes are buffalo horns.  The more you have, the wealthier.  The bigger they are, the wealthier you are.  This collection would be the result of one funeral event. Yes, they killed 28 buffalo at one funeral for one person.  These are mounted on a home that is loyally passed on to each generation.  In the past, the more buffalo meant better chances going to heaven, since they met Jesus, that has changed. 

For the funeral event that I attended, over 20 buffalo were slaughtered 'center stage' with everyone from 3 years old to 93 years old watching keenly.  An all black buffalo costs about $3000 and a white faced one about $9000.  Then put those numbers into Indonesian buying power and its even more ridiculous to the foreign onlooker.  An good income for a rice farmer, like many people living in Toraja, is $100-150 a month.
Think about that.  People lives, their work, money and time, are completely orientated and dedicated to those whom have passed away.  Wild!
I became gravely concerned when I realized that the only body part not being cooked in the buffalo meat stew was the horns.  Here you can see the bowels are being emptied into the wheel barrow, then given a nice rinse and then cooked up.  The 30-odd pigs killed for the event also were dissected and prepared in a similar way.  
Among the pools of buffalo blood and screeching pigs, I led many a procession of 300 + guests to the buffalo/pig meat feast.  The funeral was for a women who passed away 4 years ago.  They wait so that all preparations can be made, while the cloth coffin has been waiting in the attic of a home for the entire time. Dressed up in Torajan fashion, I walked a snail's pace solemnly.  It was an incredible privilege to have such a central role in pinnacle event of the week long funeral activities.   A Canadian tourist snapping photos asked me, "so, you got married into the family here?"  Nope, but got adopted into the family after 3 days.  
I was blessed by not being a tourist.  By living with the community, I understood there hearts and lives intimately.  I would just sit in the river bank watching people wash their buffalo faithfully every day.  We would watched when the buffalos were slaughtered.  We would sit next to their buffalo and watch them eat.  We all got some buffalo meat to take home that attended the event. This will may sound funny, but the way that the people lived with the buffalo was quite spiritual.  Anything you spend so much time and money one ends up being very spiritual.  Just like shopping, due to the time and money put into it, can be very spiritual.  Just that they are putting all their time and money into a great act of love for each other and the one whom has passed away.    
Buffalo fighting was another traditional funeral activity in a week full of rich tradition. And where would that happen?  Right in the rice paddy.
I don't want to brag at all, but ummm......I got a raw half of a pigs head as a good bye gift.

Beautiful Torajan fashion!
Dear mom. Every rule you told me growing up about how to eat, I know break every day.  Some may say its uncivil, but I prefer to say its fun.  I eat like a cave-man, but (still!) without a beard.  When I am back home, excuse when I eat noodles and rice with my fingers or when I prefer to chew things off of large bones.  Love, Jason.  

So when you come up to me and ask, "hey, so what's Indonesian culture like?"  
And then I pause and think for a bit. 
The above experience is one reason why.
Indonesia is huge and diverse!

Just look at the map at the top.  The five major islands of Indonesia dominate the screen.  I have now been to three of the big 5.  And those are only 5 of the more than 17,000 islands in Indonesia covering 5,300 km west to east.  6000 of those islands have people on them that come from over 300 ethic groups and speak over 700 languages.    

For the above pictures, just remember I didn't live there for the year and that this is one ethnic group speaking speaking one language in one mountain range within the mosaic that is Indonesia. 

And for all the rest of the pictures from the past months, nearly all are from one part of one island native to a few languages and ethnicity. 

Anyone want to come back to Indonesia with me to see the rest of the 17,000 islands?    

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ordinary, Extraordinary.

A magnificent land.  A beautiful people.  And someone who finds great joy in both of those.  From the usual to the peculiar, the mundane to the spectacular, its been mine to enjoy these past months.  And still for a few weeks.    

Besides some work and vacation related travels, I have kept up relationship building with a wide variety of people.  When not visiting people, I have been going to the regular church events.  When not doing that, I have been working on 3 final projects.  

1. Writing a 15-page report on the diaconal work of the church and my recommendations for it.  I will present this to the elders and the pastors soon.
2. Preparing for a 1 hour session on Creation Care at a youth retreat.
3. Preparing a inspirational and reflective message for the final youth/young adults night.

I got out to some tropical islands to take some deep breaths of clean air.....you forget what that is like over here.  
2 men going home after a day at sea...
There is a few perks to being on a pastoral team.  One of them was a rafting trip.  Pastors here are a lot less formal and mellow, and a lot more of teasing and just general craziness.

Ah, one of the most active volcanoes on earth and it was all mine for a day.  Well, along with about 120 other photo demanding Indonesians.  By the end of this adventure to the craters rim and down its sandy banks, nearly every Indonesian on this mountain got a souvenir with me in it.  My souvenir from this trip was a wicked sun burn that was a great conversation starter for about 2 weeks afterwards as it obnoxiously peeled away.

In grade 10, my dream job was marine biologist.  I dreamed that without peering into the ocean's wonder, now that I have been stunned by under water beauty.
I found Nemo.  (photo thanks to the snorkel camera man)
3 men practicing the fine Javanese art of sitting and people watching.  Possible talking to one another, but mostly likely just silence and a few smokes.  This fine art is not my finest art.  Smoking being one obstacle.  And secondly, the silence part....just not a strong suit. 
A traditional Javanese home.  Inside, the majority of the space is a big gathering and work area with small rooms for sleeping in the corners and then the kitchen and the bathroom at the very back out of sight to any visitor.  
Here is another crop that those who farm or process it never eat--Cashews.  They were grown in small eastern Indonesian islands, trucked for one week up into the mountains of Java, peeled and then trucked another day to Jakarta where they are then exported.  I joined in on the cashew peeling and I can tell you, the amount of time each cashew takes to peel is one reason you pay more when you buy them in the store.  
Every Politics-Economics major's dream was realized when I bumped into this.  What would that be?  A IMF(International Monetary Fund)-World Bank project.  Of course, I had a litany of questions to ask about this.    

Not all Indonesian pools look like this, but the one closest to my home does.
A few house rules: 1. Chickens have the right to roam anywhere--including poolside.
2. Have garbage?  No problem, that is what pool side gutters are for.  
3. Don't try to make out the unidentifiable objects in the pool.  It will wreck your experience.   
Just look at the sheer density of homes.  Then imagine biking between that all.  And then hearing that mosque belt out the call to prayer.  I'll miss that!  

Thursday, May 31, 2012


Where is the only place on earth where elephants, tigers, rhinos and orangutans live together still? 


As advertised on my previous post, I went to Sumatra. I hoped to see one of the four above beasts before all the trees are cut down and the animals vanish--a feat that Indonesia (or foreign companies?!) are doing quite well these days.  

Seriously, I had had other motives for going. You'll find out..... 

First, a map for those directionally challenged.  The green marker is where I call "home" here in Indonesia, on the island of Java.  The red marker is where I went in Sumatra.  Between the two markers is 800 km of road and ferry crossing.  Which should mean about 8 hours of driving, right?  Wrong!  Try 28 hours of driving, including some of the better road of Indonesia--in a bus.   
Eventually, the bus ended up in a chocolate (cocoa) forest.  And in that chocolate forest was a church.  We, which is a group of 25 people from my church denomination, went to visit churches in Sumatra, encourage them and help with medical care.  
We visited 3 villages and their churches.   In Tto of the villages the way of life was chocolate farming.  Inside the fruit on the trees are dozens of pits that are then dried out in the front of homes.  Eventually, a powder/paste inside is fermented and, tada--cocoa powder.
Mayang and Gabe, two beautiful rambunctious girls.     
Yes, what you think is happening actually is.  I am giving instructions in Indonesian on how to use a syrup for the child.  Over 200 people came through our team and received medicine.  The teeth were wrecked in most people along with many children being itchy.  Those were symptoms of bad water in all three villages.        
These were women that we met and I took some time to sit down and chat.  The women to my right is pregnant and in predictable fashion she asked me to touch her pregnant stomach.  I declined.  But the reason she asked is because of a Javanese superstition that believes that doing that will influence the looks of the child.  And of all the possible physical attributes I could offer someone, what do Indonesians chose?  My nose.  My long pronounced nose. 
In the course of my wandering around the village.  I bumped into a great little shop that would be the dream location for anyone desiring this trifecta of things.  Playing some FIFA video games (back), buying some smokes (front counter) and swapping for a new motor bike (right).  
Morning fog among the palms and rice paddies.  I find the agriculture situation in Indonesia, probably like many places on earth, quite confusing and frustrating. Those whom farm, weather rice, chocolate or corn, seem stuck in material poverty.  When I say that I mean, for example, the it is rare that farming families have the ability to pay for schooling for their children through elementary to high-school.  And when children get a high school education they flee to the big cities.  It is very clear that I eat off the 'back's' of the poor. The political scientist in me, smells something unjust with political-economic policy.  Frustrating, uncomfortable and unjust.   
Despite asking a embarrassingly large amount of Indonesian's in Sumatra if they live close to elephants, I never saw one.  Instead, my only find was a a praying mantis--and it was not even bright green, but brown.  Lame.

I received news on the last day I have with my host family, community and church.  It is July 12th.  I leave for de-briefing in the USA on July 18th.  I am back home in Canada on July 24th.  

But reading news that July 12th is the day I leave for Indonesian de-briefing gave me a real gut wrenching feeling.  There is still much to do, enjoy and learn.  Still much time to be, reflect and change.  At the same time, it will go by incredibly fast.  For me, something I feel strongly mixed about.  

However, right now its like, "really, July 12th, does it have to be that soon?"      

Thank-you for continued encouragement, prayers and interest in my experience here.  Hopefully will see many of you in 2-3 months from now! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lovely Little Things

A Love List:

1. A periodic herd of goats that roams the front of the house. 

2. The sheer density of living here.  It is an endless maze of small paths and streets between homes where I can bike and walk through with endless curiosity.  

3.  Walking down the street and a pedi-cab driver I may have met once, if ever, yells out my name.

4. Little kids will, like all Indonesians, shake your hand when you met and when you depart.  For little kids, they bring your hand to their lips and give it a little kiss.  I'm not the kind of person to say this, but that most be one of the cutest things.

5. Teaching kids to play kick the can in a dense maze like village.  Hands down, I had more fun then the kids.  

6.  The conversations I have at stop lights on my bike.  Sometimes people know my name and things about my life like where I am usually going, and I have no idea who they are.  

7. Sometimes things here can look a lot like home...for example a mall or KFC.  However, driving one night and seeing people doing construction by candle light made me realize things are still a lot different.

8. Seeing 3 guys on the top of 25 ft high scaffolding rolling down a busy road.  

9.  My habitual task of buying juice sirsat (soursop in English).  All I do is show up at the juice stand and say the amount of juice I want, they already know the type. The going rate is 25 cents for a big glass of bliss.

10.  Just a warning my sense of socially acceptable space between myself and you when I get back is going to be awful.  If there is a line of people, you have some body part in contact with the person in front and behind you.  Nearly the same thing goes for traffic.    

11. Within the first 5 questions, it is guaranteed that I will be asked by a stranger if I have a girlfriend and if I am looking for one here.  

12. Cockroach killing time in the bathroom.  Best time: 10-11pm. 

13. Dropping words from the Javanese language (as opposed to Indonesian) in conversation to make instant friends.

14. Laughing.  My supervising pastor has one of those contagious laughs. 

15. Three favorite foods.  
Rice/Tofu and Peanut Sauce 
Rice/ Buffalo kebabs and Peanut Sauce 
Rice/ Vegetables/Tofu/ and Peanut Sauce.
Get the theme?

16. Having lots of friends here from families to elderly people, to kids, to pastors to youth.  Then being able to text them and make a plan to meet, talk or play together.

17.  The beach is an hour from my home.  

18. I took the drivers seat of the pedi-cab and drove around a bunch a kids.  No damages....at least physically.  The kids possibly were damaged as they have declined every offer since the first pedi-cab adventure. 

 19. I found a chameleon!  And some kids taught me that the tail functions as a leash when you play with it.  The game is:  avoid it's sporadic lunges.  

20.  Going to the Indonesian island of.......Sumatra.  Right now.  Bye!  

Introspection: Anger and Humility

Six kids and me acting like one around a bowl with a fish and a mirror.  One thing that the kids would do was to put a mirror in front of the Beta fish.  The Beta would become irritated, annoyed, frazzled and eventually angry.  It is angry at what it perceives as another.  In some ways its so difficult to watch the Beta fish.  

You wish to just tell it, “hey, that is you, stop being angry at the face thinking its another one. Your angry at yourself."  

For the fish to realize this….it would be awkward, awakening and agonizing.   Now hold onto this story.  I will come back to it. 

I have had a hard time describing my experience with church and faith.  Like I told my mom the other day, the key to read my blog is to “read” what is not written.  You may have noticed a void.  The void is the specifics about my actual church itself.  It’s a rather complex and, at times, difficult topic that is more suited to a conversation over tea.

One of the closest analogies I can come to about my experience with general life and church here is this. 

For those of you who know the East Hastings area of Vancouver, this will be at lot easier.  Basically, in downtown Vancouver you find posh, affluent life of the downtown.  Then you can walk a couple blocks and enter a world of poverty, drugs, and prostitution.  In a matter of blocks this happens.  It’s a shocking, scary and alarming walk—a walk that you rather forget--but really it is rather unforgettable.  

Now imagine, having a church right in between the posh part and the destitute part of Vancouver.  Say, a church in that block right before Hastings.  And this church draws people from both parts of Vancouver--the rich and the poor.  It has the very very richest people of Vancouver along with those whom are poorest.  They all gather in the same place for singing, hearing God's Word and fellowship. 

One of the choices of the rich looks like this.  You could come to church, do your thing, and leave or you could come to church and be changed and change both Hastings and your world.  The rich have made this church a massive building filled with the latest technology and finest furnishings. Going to church here could be the most comfortable thing ever.     

In this church, sitting next to the poor, against all assumptions that it would change the rich, shows little signs that it does.  The poor are expected to be there, it just the way things are.  Sure, some food and money is given to them.  In fact, some people far away are paying lots to help the poor here.  The poor mothers, stay poor, there is no way out for them.  In short, helping the poor is nothing more than an expected task of the church—it is just protocol.  Some people can not feed there kids well. 
Some people have no toilets.
Some people can not send there kids to school.  
But you can ignore this all, just show up in your SUV, hang out with your cliché, and then head home and live life behind your gated home or your strolling in the mall.  It actually is very possible for you to not be change even if you share the same pew or street with those whom hope to met life's needs, but struggle greatly to do so.  

There is of course another reaction to attending a church like this--suspended between the rich and poor.  The reaction is one of working towards empowering lives and seeing the call to bring justice as a central act of worship.  There are glimpses of this in certain people and at certain times, but as for the church community as a whole, this course of action seems to be the path much less taken.  

A then there is me.  Being apart of this church like I have this year, could also be something that—well, let’s see—wrecks and changes you.  It inflicts damage on your faith.  At times, you doubt the church.  You are troubled by the people that fill it with disregard for empowering the poor and lack of intentional interactions with  Muslims to know each other more deeply.  You lose trust in passionate sermons preaching shalom when the actions that follow are faint.  It looks to you like a race to the top of the economic ladder.  A flight to capitalism and all that it can bring.  It looks like a big jack-pot, some win and other lose—it’s the game.  There is no real way out for the losers, the winners work hard and it some sense have earned it—the losers just need to follow course.

Not a day goes by that I do not stare into this abyss between rich and poor and the abyss between God's Kingdom call and what happens.  Staring into tears me apart.  It’s ugly, lonely and damaging to the soul.  When the church looks like this it makes me not want to be a pastor.  Something is deeply not the way its supposed to be.  It is an awful sight. It can feel devoid of a God of compassion and intimacy.  The church feels like an institution, concerned with money and power.  

Now remember that story about the kids, me and the Beta fish.  Remember what the fish is actually angry at?

I think the part that hurts the most is how I have realized that the "face" that I get angry at, is actually me.  It's actually myself.  The names, attitudes, hearts, priorities, actions and words of those whom fill the church and make me want to leave it are, when it comes down do it, a lot like me.  It's an awful and awesome discovery all at the same time.  It's being angry and then realizing that the one you are angry at is actually your reflection. It's realizing that I am the Pharisee in in the Parable in Luke 18:9-14 who boasts and is angered by the tax collector, only to realize that the tax collector was a reflection of himself.       

It is one thing to go a place where all live relatively the same economically. 
         Live in the affluent part of your city, that makes faith easier.  
         Live in a place where poverty is ubiquitous, it will often make faith harder.
        Live in a place where affluence and poverty tangle, it makes you angry, then introspective.  

Like the Pharisee, I also find the path to humbly look introspectively at the "face" that is the end of pride and condemnation one of struggle and denial.  Denial that at the end of my frustration is really myself.  Faith is humility.  Faith then becomes anguish.  I am moving past denial and trying to bear the cross of humility in terms of my experience in Indonesia.  It is process.  And it is slow.  But Jesus has me convinced that it is worth it.