Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cuban Vegetables, Puerto Rican Thanksgiving, and Our New Life in the Swamp

One year when I asked my father about coming up with a Christmas wish list, he said that as he gets older, he sees less value in things (physical objects) and more in experiences. (A worthy consideration for anyone who has “hard to buy for” friends and relatives.)

Most people are impressed when they find out Brandon and I were willing to travel all the way across the country so I could serve the church here—and it was, indeed, a major sacrifice in some respects. But there is nothing like the excitement of moving somewhere really new and different.

I think I’ve mentioned before that when I first realized this area is a swamp I was kind of terrified—especially since so much of the land around here is still completely undeveloped (the church itself is on the edge of a nature reserve). But it means seeing all kinds of wildlife. Just naming some birds, we’ve seen Muscovy ducks, marbled godwits, hawks, wild turkeys, hooded mergansers, a night heron, white ibises and snowy egrets—and we’ve seen lizards, frogs and turtles I have yet to identify—and (so far only as roadkill, but still) armadillos! Can’t wait to get out to the Manatee Viewing Station …

About a week ago we checked out a Cuban sandwich place (nothing says Tampa like an authentic Cubano) and also tried a soup made from root vegetables—there were two or three different kinds—very similar to a potato, but with distinct flavors. And a week before that we tasted a unique beverage at a Carribbean joint: Irish Moss. It was pretty bizarre, and even the Caribbean waitress had never tasted the stuff and acted as if she’d been afraid to try. We found out later you can buy a can of it at some grocery stores. I guess it’s basically a red algae (extract?) boiled with milk and cinnamon.

And we had the wonderful good fortune last week of being invited to have Thanksgiving dinner with a Puerto Rican family. We were treated to scrumptious, melt-in-your-mouth roast pork, rice cooked with some special kind of Puerto Rican bean, rich homemade flan, and a boisterous cast of characters who welcomed us like their new best friends. They even roped us into their traditional game of bingo (for nickels) and our beginners’ luck won us $1.05 USD and five cents Canadian. It was everything a couple of gringos could have hoped for!

So, anyway, we are missing loved ones back on the west coast, but having many wonderful new experiences. And now that we’re more settled in, I’m going to make an effort to get back to blogging regularly again …

Friday, November 2, 2012

Faith Is a Kind of Insanity

As I've mentioned, my new church is very tiny. Someone in an advisory capacity expressed to me she was afraid I might have a hard time building the church up because going out into the community and meeting people will not be the easiest thing for me. She was thinking I ought to be going to coffee shops and malls and local sporting events and anywhere people gather--and I can only assume she thought I should be randomly introducing myself to strangers and inviting them to the church.

Even though I knew from the beginning that that method is just not very sensible, I have been nagged by a vague feeling that she's right, I'm not cut out for this kind of work, because I am generally reserved and not really the gregarious, assertive, salesperson type.

But this is where the insanity comes in. It's a particular kind of insanity necessary to being a pastor (long term, that is)--and it's also called the gift of faith. I don't have any rational basis for thinking this, but I do believe that if an outgoing extrovert who instantly makes millions of friends was what this church needed, then that's who God would have called here. But since God called me, clearly what is needed is a sensitive poet-theologian type. 

This kind of thinking is irrational. And many would also consider it crazy to move all the way across the country to lead a community of six people--and not immediately begin preparations for selling the building and dissolving the congregation.

But that's what makes ministry--and all of life--interesting: people do not act rationally, and so there is no way of predicting how anything that involves people will turn out. And however much "science" can predict, it does not even begin to explain human experience. 

Atheists may believe "science" has emptied the world of so many figments of imagination--spirits and fairies, ghosts and psychics, saints and bodhisattvas and God--but such poverty of perception is only an intermediate stage on the way to a more enlightened awareness--there are forces at work in the world that we have not explained--perhaps someday we will, but if we do, it will probably be an explanation that goes far beyond even the current theories of quantum mechanics. Perhaps it will require a leap in conceptualization as great as that needed to leave behind a strictly Newtonian worldview. 

But for now, there is no "scientific" explanation of the spiritual--and so it is that for people like me, for whom spiritual realities are at the center of (or should be at the center of) our work, a certain kind of faith-insanity is necessary. 

I will state the obvious here (which very few people seem to want to do) and say that the situation is dire and bleak. There are many things to be discouraged or worried or even angry about. But with God, all things are possible, and all things are guided to their proper purpose. And this church, small as it is, is definitely alive with love and hope--no, not at all dead yet. So here I am, faithfully insane, doing my best to lead them, and waiting to find out just what kind of miracle will unfold this time ...