Colin McDonald, CVV 19
First week of Lent
As a current fourth year medical student at the University of Missouri, the past four years have been a whirlwind of meeting new healthcare providers, struggling to learn new procedures (let alone the physiology of the entire human body) and interviewing a diverse, multitude of patients. Everyday has brought an immense amount of hardship but also allowed me to witness the face of God in the pages of daunting textbooks and in the spoken words of a laboring patient. Most evenings when I head home from a long day at the hospital, the Holy Spirit is burning bright in my heart as I offer up thanksgiving for the privilege of being a minister of medicine.
But some days, the rigors of the healthcare field weigh heavy on my mind and my prayers are filled with only desolations. I struggle to find God’s light in individuals who repeatedly lose their battle with alcohol, patients who are resistant to life-saving medical advice and pronouncing a patient dead despite all medical interventions.
I recently attended a Family Medicine physician conference that focused on medical student education in Austin, TX and this theme of mounting emotional stress resulting in rising numbers of physician burnout was discussed during one of the mainstage lectures. The speaker repeatedly asked throughout the talk, “Who ministers to the minister?” This question still lingers in my mind, especially since in a few months I move from medical student to physician and know many more desolations are in my future.
I also was reminded of my time in CVV as I, along with my housemates, grappled with self-doubt and frustration at our respective service sites as we came face to face with the bleakness of the cycle of poverty. There were days when we got back to WoHo and all we wanted was to be alone and sit in our despair. We could do nothing to change the circumstances of a homeless youth at Urban Peak or find some way to better assist a family of eight who could still not provide enough food for their kids after a stop at Metro Caring.
On those difficult evenings, I witnessed the power of community. The simple act of being present for someone who was processing their confusion and emotional turmoil over dinner or through a one on one discussion in the kitchen nook, always stands with me as what true community looks like. We each were ministers at our Denver service sites, but my nine fellow housemates were my companions and support system on the year long journey of CVV.
As I prepare for Easter and my impending medical school graduation this May, I pray that I am able to strengthen the community I have surrounded myself with. The healing ministry I have ventured down has only begun, but as I learned during my time in CVV, I need to prepare and allow myself to be vulnerable to my fellow physicians, wife, family, friends (that includes you, CVV 19, near and far) and God. Even Christ called out for aide as he was put to death. I too must humble myself and ask for support as continue to encounter desolations and heartbreak from caring for patients. I challenge you this Lenten season to ask yourself, “Who ministers to me?”
Casey Sharp, CVV 18
Second week of Lent
“Hope Above Optimism”
We often abuse the concept of hope. Despite the complexity and absurdity of the English language, we have certain words that we lazily throw about in too many situations to the point where they lose all meaning. “Love” is another one. I love my family. I also “love” burritos. I hope that good ultimately triumphs over evil in the world. I also “hope” I do not get stuck in traffic here in Atlanta (that is usually a vain hope). We often quote our English translations of one verse in particular, which wraps the weightiest words into one easily ignored package. “But now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Truly, “love” is the greatest, but in this 2018 Lenten season we would do well to pause for a moment on hope.
Hope is subtle, and it easily gets lost in the noise of faith and love. Pundits on network news weaponized faith, and we wage cultural wars – or literal wars – over the defense of whatever dogmas we bundle together under the banner of faith. This is not unique to religious folk either. Atheism or any of the non-theisms of the world have their own faith, and it has its own value even if defined by what their faith is not, and all the faiths of the world have done violence to one another. Still, faith good and beautiful when properly managed and expressed. Most people act out of motivations they are ignorant of themselves, and they use “faith” after the fact to justify them, but when properly attuned and built “faith” constructs the profound actions of our greatest leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., and its force is unstoppable. Faith then serves as the scaffolding that structures our love, which is the greatest of the three. Likewise, love is very loud. Love is an action. Otherwise, it is not love. Speaking of love without action is a misnomer which only refers to a chemical reaction within the brain. That may feel good, but if love does not manifest itself in the world – in the way we live our lives and treat others – then it is not the love referred to in our English translations of Corinthians.
Pope Francis said, “It’s best to not confuse optimism with hope. Optimism is a psychological attitude towards life. Hope goes further. It is an anchor that one hurls towards the future. It’s what lets you pull on the line and reach what you’re aiming for.”
Hope is faith plus expectation. It isn’t necessarily rational either. Optimism is rational. I have seen and experienced good things, and my brain has calculated the probability of more of the same. Hope exists without clear evidence. It is faith reaching out and expecting love, which is always tangibly manifest in the world, if it is real love. I spent some years living in the Holy Land after my time at CVV, and I continue to work with groups that promote dialogue in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I am not optimistic about the outcome of that conflict. Rationally, I expect a third Intifada sooner rather than later, and many innocent people will die. Still, I hope that the work I have done there has some good impact on the region, even if it only changes the lives of a few individuals. That is of infinite worth. I hope in some goodness, even if I cannot rationally see it.
Turn on the news, and you have little reason to be optimistic. You are not obligated to be optimistic either. If you are chronically pessimistic to the point of morbidity, we can help that psychological state with proper community, professional therapy, and maybe even medication. Some shred of optimism – a psychological state – is important to survive, but it is not the same as hope. Some days I have little reason for optimism. I see a President embraced by millions for his hatred of others and vulgarity. I watch an economy driven by the worst greed in a country with a widening wealth gap with no signs of stopping and wages that have not risen for most Americans since the 1970s. I see lost young men recruited by hate groups here in the US or Jihadi groups and violent nationalist movements around the world. I even see the alleged champions of morality within our churches abusing the dignity of women and LGBTQ people made in the image of God. In some sense, it is our responsibility as informed and compassionate people to stare into the abyss of current events, though on occasion we need to delete our Twitter accounts and turn off the onslaught of tragedy bolstered by ad revenue (another depressing fact) and make what room we can for hope before diving back into the fray of society.
I have little reason to be optimistic when I calculate the probable results in many headlines, or even difficult situations in my personal life, but – this might sound strange – I am very hopeful. I see incredible people rising up out of nowhere to stand against these waves of violence, hatred, and inequality. They are the underdogs, and they may lose, but I have hope in them. I also have hope in myself – that I will not fall victim to morbid despair. I’ve seen Israeli and Palestinian children embrace across divides that are seemingly impossible to bridge. I hear of a neo Nazi who abandons his path of hatred and embraces love for others. I see workers organize, and I even read of a very wealthy CEO who recognize the injustice of his gross advantage and uses his influence to advocate for something better. I see a hateful President repeatedly rejected. I see refugees welcomed by good people. I see gay couples celebrated in my Catholic parish. I may have little optimism, but I see the beginning of a pendulum swinging back in the other direction, and I am hopeful.
Hope is the anchor thrown out into the ocean where we cannot see the bottom. In the Koine Greek of the New Testament the usual term for hope “el-pē’s” carries a connotation of expectation. It is knowing something is around the corner. In the Old Testament, the usual Hebrew word for hope is “yä·khal’” or sometimes “kä·vä’,” which are both used in the context of watchful waiting. Hope is not quietly patient. It waits, but it is constantly looking out the window for what it expects. Hope is eager. Sometimes our faith becomes stale. Sometimes love and charity appears lost for a time. In those spaces hope remains.
River Simpson, CVV 22
Third week of Lent
“Living Out Lent”
Entering Lent, we often feel called to give up some bad personal habit, some unnecessary thing in our lives, essentially we feel called to prune off the actions and stuff in our lives that hinder our relationship with God.
Admittedly, this is something we all find very hard to do as we can easily choose something so small that we forget about it or so big that we feel overwhelmed by our sacrifice and give up. Lord knows I have often chosen to give up dessert and then been bogged down in questions as to whether cookies count as dessert if eaten as a snack. The answer is no, but it takes all my will power and reliance on God in order to make it through Lent keeping that answer the same.
All this interior frustration self-denial is worth it, though, because by journeying through our own spiritual desert of temptation and purification like Jesus did, we may prepare ourselves for the joy of Easter at the resurrected Christ. For, by recognizing who we aren’t and by taking away what we don’t need, we realize who we truly are and what we truly need. That is, we come to realize that we are beloved children of God who are in desperate need of His love and redemption. By accepting this great truth, we may look earnestly at our lives and alter them for the better because now we finally know who to turn to in order to be who we are and get what we need.
However, this personal pruning and realization of our true selves is only half of what Lent calls us to do. We now need to act on it. Look at Jesus. He entered the desert to find His true self, but he didn’t just stay there or said, “That was just a good thing to do for 40 days.” Firmly assured in His personal identity, He left the dessert as the man He found there in order to begin His God-given ministry on Earth. As followers of Christ, we must do the same to honor our God. For, as St. Irenaeus once said, “The glory of God is man fully alive,” and we humans have no greater goal than to give God glory and we are no fuller alive than when we live true to ourselves and act out our vocations.
As such, let’s begin this Lent in the same spirit of openness and dedication to God’s will as Jesus did, so that we may find and become our true selves. Knowing that if and when we fail, we will be found, redeemed, and set aright by God ever nearer His path for us.
Magda Hernandez, CVV 5
Fourth week of Lent
“Housing will never solve homelessness, but community will.” -Alan Graham
When does your heart swell with love? Lately, my heart has been leading to the Community First! Village here in Austin, Texas again and again. Most recently the coordinator for the Genesis Garden shared with us how this vision unfolded over the last 20 years. She described how Alan Graham and his crew delivered meals with Mobile Loaves and Fishes on the streets of our city. These simple interactions created opportunities for making connections human to human and evolved into friendships. There was still something more to this mission – a desire to get the chronically homeless off the streets. The purpose become more profound as he received guidance from his friends that were formerly homeless. There was one key piece to this vision. Community. C-O-M-M-U-N-I-T-Y. Community. Graham explains it this way, “The single greatest cause of homelessness is a profound, catastrophic loss of family, whether by forces like death or divorce, or institutional failures in the criminal justice and foster care systems. When the family unit is dissolved, the remaining members can become adrift and vulnerable, with no one there to pick them back up if and when they fall down.”
From the outside, onlookers might think the physical design is beyond measure. While it is beautiful, there is more to this setup that makes it sacred. You see, residents actually get together frequently to share a meal. They have no indoor plumbing in their tiny homes so they must take turns in the community bathrooms/showers and they even share an outdoor kitchen. Missionals also live on the grounds with the intention of checking on their neighbors and building relationships. I think this is the part that keeps bringing me back. The fact that brothers and sisters are spending their energy building relationships. This reminds me of the quote, “When all basic human needs have been met. What humans long for the most… is to be witnessed, to be loved, and to be heard.”
Part of the mission reads “We provide food and clothing, cultivate community and promote dignity to our homeless brothers and sisters in need.” You can see the endless effort being put into cultivating community with the way the village is taken care of by volunteers and residents. “Promote dignity” reminds me of one of our activities with Mary Frances where we had written what we thought were our 7 core values. Slowly she had presented circumstances that caused us to lose one core value at a time. When it came down to the end, I distinctly remember being left with only my dignity. In that activity I remember thinking how awful it would feel to be treated as invisible. I could see myself shouting at passersby, “I’m still here! I used to be you. I’m still here!”
So what does this mean for us in our daily lives? Where can we have compassion outside of our circles in order to build community? Are we really in tune with the needs of our community members? My friend shared with me that our society has this habit of asking, “How are you?” Most of time we get responses like, “I’m fine,” or “Good.” We all know that there has to be more to those automatic responses. She said that in other cultures it would translate to, “How’s your heart?” Our society likes to be busy and that has pushed us into being disconnected. Imagine how relationships would change. And when you really don’t have time to listen, simply acknowledge the person and say, “It’s good to see you.” While we are at it, how about we learn people’s names and use it when we see them at the grocery store, on the bus, at our workplace from our boss to the custodian, and even our neighbors. After all, we are ALL significant because we are One Body.
Community First! Village – A New Movement
Alan Graham: The Man behind Mobile Loaves and Fishes
Chris Morgan, CVV 17
Fifth week of Lent
Our relationships bring our values into focus. They ask us to show our priorities. They can hold up a mirror to our lives. What is your relationship with God calling you to do this Lenten season?
Abraham’s relationship with God called him to move into a foreign land and to be willing to give up his only son. Moses’ relationship with God called him to speak truth to power. David’s relationship with God called him to repent. Jeremiah’s relationship with God called him to lament. John’s relationship with God called him to proclaim the coming of the Messiah. Paul’s relationship with God called him to travel the world preaching.
What is your relationship with God calling forth from you in this season? What act(s) of faith is God placing before you that would realize that relationship in the world?
When I was in CVV, a housemate and I tried so hard to live well together but would inevitably trigger the other into conflict, even as we tried to repair what was broken. One day during Lent, we were scheduled to cook dinner together. We had our predictable conflicts, and I found myself saying, “I have no idea what to do with you. I’ve tried everything I know, and I still come up short. I don’t know how to go forward.” She said the same, and that’s exactly what we needed. My relationship with God at that point called me to continue to return to life with this person. It called forth honesty, and God made it fruitful.
This process never ends. Relationships are always asking something from us, so live in the moment. What is that one thing God has placed before you this Lent, today? What is the next right thing? May God show you your next step in relationship and give you the courage to step out in faith, trusting God will provide for you.
Maura Martin, CVV 10
“Blessed be, Ashia”
My morning is beginning, as all mornings do, with the preparation of breakfast. Most cooking is done outdoors here in Cameroon, so although we are one of the few families with an indoor kitchen, it lacks some things that, if I had planned it, I would have included. The most necessary is light. It has one very small window and a lightbulb that hangs from the corner of the narrow room. Often the electricity is out and even with it on, I prefer to have the back door open to flood the room with fresh air and sunlight.
This tiny room has become one of my favorite places, which is good considering how much time I spend here. I think it is because of the back door, though, that it has won a place in my heart. As I cook, I can look out over our communal yard. Often our children play here with the children from the quarter below. From this place I can see our neighbors’ outdoor kitchen. The space between my stove and their fire is not far. We share greetings and laughter daily. In the evenings, dinner prep and dish cleanup is done with the beauty of the sunset through the banana and eucalyptus trees with the city lying in the valley below.
Life here has been challenging. We came to live in solidarity, and even with the luxury of a stove, we have met some success in this desire. Although “success” is not a term that many would attach to our experience. We now know what it is to go without water and electricity for days on end. We have experienced illness, malaria and infection, without the “Urgent Care” that I took for granted at home. We know the trauma of threatened violence, and the grief of the fetal loss of our miscarried twins. We have suffered and my heart has been broken. I had wanted to bring the “Joy of the Gospel,” yet I know I am more closely related to the wounded Christ, than I am to Christ the healer, in this moment. Christ’s passion has taken on new meaning.
Some of the suffering has been excruciating, and yet, in this suffering, we are not alone. The crosses, although heavy for us, are minuscule in comparison to what our neighbors have carried. Although we came as missionaries, more often than not, we are on the receiving end of the Good News. And yet, Jesus promised that this is where we would meet Him, with the “least of these.” Which leaves me wondering, who are the “least of these,” me or them?
This morning is ordinary in my doings, but it is extraordinary in its revelation. As I am preparing my family’s breakfast, the song of my neighbor meets my ears. It occurs to me as I listen to her voice lifted in song that everyone sings here. Everyone dances. The statement “I can’t sing, I can’t dance” so commonly heard at home, is never uttered. If you can give voice, you sing, if you can move, you dance. I hear the Good News. We never talk of Christ’s passion, without his resurrection. My neighbors know the Truth of this, they live it. The courage of their song and dance hits me. Their faith is a lived one.
In the beginning, every time we met some struggle, we were offered this word “ashia.”
We had been told that it meant “sorry.” It wasn’t long before I came to find irritation with this word. One day I expressed my frustration to my husband Ryan over the inadequacy of this expression. I was surprised by his response, “I don’t think it means ‘sorry.’” He explained that although it was used for great suffering, our neighbors often offered it to each other during work, and work is a blessing. We sat a Cameroonian friend down to get a clearer definition. She explained that although it offers consolation, it also offers courage. “I see your struggle, but have courage, this struggle does not have the last word.” I am told that the “Blessed be” in the beatitudes was put there because there is no English word for the word that Jesus used “ash rae.” It was explained to me that “Ash rae” means “I see, I witness your struggle, but have courage this struggle does not have the last word.”
Ashia, Ash rae, those who mourn, they will be comforted.
Jesus’ words from the cross “My God, My God why have you forsaken me” Psalm 22, which is immediately followed by Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I lack.”
There is never passion, without resurrection. This is the courage to dance and sing.