Monday, July 9, 2007

Global Belonging

What is the challenge we’re called to rise and meet?

Our eleven friends on the Bolivian medical mission trip are facing challenges today, what was to be their second day in Cochabamba, altitude 8392 feet, three-fifths of a mile higher than Denver. I say it was to be their second day there. They left here early Friday morning, and it was going to take four flights (three transfers) to arrive in the Garden City of Bolivia, eighteen hours of air travel…

But yesterday afternoon this e-mail arrived: “Due to a delay in the American Airlines flight out of Miami, we arrived in Lima too late for our Bolivian connection. The upshot is, we are staying in a luxury hotel in Lima recuperating for the next leg, delayed by one day. Not so bad, except that due to missing our Santa Cruz-Cochabamba flight and the lack of available seats on that route, we’ll have to take a bus tomorrow instead of the plane. Twelve hours instead of forty-five minutes, but I suppose we’ll get to acclimatize to the altitude gradually. We’ll update to the blog soon (”

I don’t know firsthand what the first couple of days’ experience is likely to be in one of these short-term clinics, but I’ll bet the learning curve feels as steep as Cochabamba. No shortage of challenges: communicating across a gulf of language, offering the best that is in you, interpreting puzzling behavior, taking the right risks, avoiding the wrong ones, finding your way, becoming a team, learning from mistakes… In general, probably no different from what those apostles encountered, the seventy Luke tells us about today.

To them our Lord says, “You have within you a power to share. I know, because I put it there. I free it and guide it. This power of peacemaking, peace-bestowing, won’t diminish you: it will strengthen you, and none of it will be lost. Those who are open to you will receive me, and those who receive me receive the One who sent me, the One whose reign of justice and peace is being built by the likes of you. And what goes around comes around: you will be blessed in the giving. At the least, your peace will come back to you. And more: as you bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill my law, you are sharing in the very nature and presence of God. Life will never again feel limited to the ways of the world. You’re helping the way of God come on earth as it is in heaven—my new creation is happening in you!

I believe that our medical missioners will hear a message something like this, whispered by the Spirit as they guide patients to and from surgery, as they sterilize instruments and wipe foreheads and hold hands in recovery, plunge toilets and dispense medications.

Our eleven friends stand on a front line of global belonging. They aren’t the only members of St. John’s standing in such a place of opportunity and challenge, this summer. Three sisters—Paola, Lili, and Alex-- are in South Africa and Lesotho, working with Grassroots Soccer, a program that uses the international culture of sports to educate young Africans about HIV and AIDS, making testing available, breaking taboos by talking about cause and effect, building relationships, dealing truth that can set people free. What a paradigm of global belonging these three young women present: Mexican-American Episcopalians finding their vocations in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s a paradigm with a future. Let’s pray that it becomes a common one.

Crossing cultures and borders willingly was uncommon in the ancient Middle East, and we hear that in our story from II Kings. A Syrian army commanded, Naaman, is urged to travel to Israel to find the prophet Elisha, to cure his leprosy. He’s indignant that he should have to leave his homeland, his superior homeland, his homeland right or wrong, and cross into inferior Israel for treatment. But he goes, and his meeting with Elisha disappoints him. Without the slightest trace of drama, the prophet tells him to bathe seven times in the Jordan River, to do what any number of Jewish peasants would be doing at the same moment (and what our Lord Jesus would one day do, to cement his bond with ordinary human beings), to strip down and wade in and be made clean. “Fine rivers flow through Damascus—why should I not bathe in them?” he asks his servants in a rage, and they calm him by observing that it’s such a simple thing he has been told to do—wouldn’t he rise to the challenge of doing anything that was truly hard to regain his health? Then why not something as simple and basic as this?

Let’s keep that question in mind, since it’s the one I announced at the start: What is the challenge we’re called to rise and meet?

That question has been raised and answered by this weekend’s international Live Earth concerts. On seven continents, over the 24 hours of 7/7/07, yesterday, more than 100 music artists were expected to perform, and two billion people expected to participate either remotely or in person, to mark the beginning of a multi-year campaign led by the Alliance for Climate Protection in the U.S., the Climate Group and Stop Climate Chaos in the U.K., among others, to inspire people, corporations, and governments to rise and meet the challenge of solving the climate crisis.

At Giants Stadium in New Jersey, Wembley Stadium in London, Aussie Stadium in Sydney, Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, the Coca-Cola Dome in Johannesburg, Makuhari Messe in Tokyo, the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai, and HSH Nordbank Arena in Hamburg—and in countless church halls and school auditoriums around the world—the world rocked, yesterday.

For what purpose? To foster global belonging. To get us to recognize that we all stand on the front line of responsibility, and to encourage and challenge everyone, all of us, each of us, to sign the Live Earth Pledge which you’ll see on the green sheet in today’s worship leaflet. Seven points. One powerful message. Answer the call.

What is the challenge we’re called to rise and meet? I want to let former Vice President Al Gore answer that question, from his July 1st op ed piece in The New York Times:

“Our children have a right to hold us to a higher standard when their future—indeed, the future of all human civilization—is hanging in the balance. They deserve better than a government that censors the best scientific evidence and harasses honest scientists who try to warn us about looming catastrophe. They deserve better than politicians who sit on their hands and do nothing to confront the greatest challenge that humankind has ever faced—even as the danger bears down on us.

“We should focus instead on the opportunities that are part of this challenge. Certainly, there will be new jobs and new profits as corporations move aggressively to capture the enormous economic opportunities offered by a clean energy future.

“But there’s something even more precious to be gained if we do the right thing. The climate crisis offers us the chance to experience what few generations in history have had the privilege of experiencing: a generational mission; a compelling moral purpose; a shared cause; and the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside the pettiness and conflict of politics and to embrace a genuine moral and spiritual challenge.”

I hope I’ll see few green sheets left here, this morning. Whether it’s here in church or later at home, read the seven points of this pledge. We’re all in the sandals of Naaman today, a man of courage and conviction who had to lay aside his business-as-usual approach to life in order to accept an unlikely commission, a task on which his very life depended.

Like him, we’re hearing a prophetic voice calling us to bathe seven times, to take seven steps. Like Naaman, we can object. Our challenge is steeper in that no one’s telling us that all seven of these steps will be easy to do. But surely they’re basic to our future, and to the healing of the earth.

To read the seven pledges, go to