So it’s been a couple of years since I last wrote anything of substance regarding anything remotely theological (or faith centered for that matter). I have recently been called back into pastoral ministry which required Laura and I to put to bed the ministry we founded in Massachusetts (Tender Shepherd: a Ministry of Soul Care). While we are sad to end one ministry, we are certainly excited to begin this next stage of life.
In one significant way I was silent over that same time period. It has not been because I have not tried to write, but in some sense I experienced a loss of my proverbial voice. Looking back I now recognize that this time has been in some ways a forced sabbatical. It has also been a time to reconnect and refresh. Having served in vocational ministry for the last 20+ years, I lost touch with life on this planet. I guess you could say I got caught up in church and faith issues to such a degree that my sense of reality got skewed.
This is not to say that church and faith issues are not important, which I believe they are. But when we become so immersed in them that we forget what is of vital importance then we have crossed a line. It is one thing to protest immigration laws (as well as the many other social justice issues) and the oppression our culture causes. It is an entirely different matter to work with and care for these people who have migrated into this country (whether legally or illegally); to come to a place where you call them friend.
During my time in Massachusetts I had the privilege of working for a company whose employee list was made up of a majority of these delightful folks. Working with them in what were often times difficult situations I developed real relationships with some of these who face difficult circumstances resulting from having left family behind. Many of the challenges surround their assimilation into a foreign culture whose values and priorities are drastically different.
What I discovered over this span of time was the difference between talking about such circumstances divorced from the human beings who are living them and the (very) personal nature these circumstances are when they are connected to faces of my friends. Immigration may be an “issue” facing the United States of America, but not for me any longer. It represents life and death for many of my friends. The politicized bigotry attached to this national and church “issue” is the source of fear for numerous people who simply want to work and provide a better future for their families.
How I used to think about this particular “issue” was a safe way for me to talk about it and not truly be invested in it. I could talk about what the Bible says about treating aliens. I could preach about the command to love our neighbor. However, I never really had a horse in this race. I knew of these people but didn’t know them, much less call them friend. Now when I hear politicians (as well as some people, including Christians) pontificate about immigration using bombastic language, I hear the words directed at my friends. This is not a political issue. It is highly personal. The problem with western politics (national, ideological, or religious) is that they remove the human element and replace it with language games. I knew this before, but somehow I lost my way.
Having said all this, what I mean to say is that things of faith are personal. They are shared and expressed publicly, but they are very much personal.