How We Rose And How We Fell – Too Numb to Recognize the Difference.

“There is a gathering of the friends
Who sit in smile and stories tell
Of how we live and how we die
And how we rose and how we fell

The laughter near while tears yet nearer
As inner worlds we turn to light
An offering to each the other
A love that strong resists the flight

Oh hear oh tender heart and soul
You’re not alone, you’re not alone
For in your words your story too Is woven with a multitude
With hand in hand who fight the night
’Til all of us are safely home.”
(William P. Young)

You know you are working international when…… Your hands are numb from a motorcycle ride to the villages. Yeah, kind of stupid, but yesterday consisted of trying to do some office work nursing two numb hands. The motorcycle run to the villages was the culprit as I spent the whole day running all over the Sahel for drip irrigated garden inspections. By the time I got back to Sikasso my hands from the wrist down to the thumb and forefinger knuckles were tingling, numb, and itchy. Reminds me that I’m not so mighty and tough after all,  “… and how we fell….

I put up my thumb and it blotted out the planet Earth. (Neil Armstrong)

So yesterday I was taking some anti inflammatory pills, waiting until I could  type a little more easily…you never realize how important a thumb and forefinger is to getting office work done, until it’s hard to use them. :-). Something about that “opposable thumb” thing that sets us apart…

“I had learned that a dexterous, opposable thumb stood among the hallmarks of human success. We had maintained, even exaggerated, this important flexibility of our primate forebears, while most mammals had sacrificed it in specializing their digits. Carnivores run, stab, and scratch. My cat may manipulate me psychologically, but he’ll never type or play the piano.” (Stephen Jay GouldThe Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History)

But speaking of numb…..I spent the weekend reading: “Neighbors and Wise Men: Sacred Encounters in a Portland Pub and Other Unexpected Places” by Tony Kriz.  One of the best books I have read in a decade. I laughed, nodded, and cried, laughed, and cried.

“Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?” ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

His story tells of his struggle as an international Christian missionary who eventually lost his faith in Albania, Yugoslavia, and Hungry, unable to rediscover it in a theological Seminary, but was surprisingly, to him,  guided back to faith by the most “irreligious” people you could imagine.   The story resonated with me because I have been what he has been,  although the author has never been a humanitarian worker like I am. My encouragement, like his,  comes from the most unusual sources, too.

His story of unfolding struggle and searching captivated me so much I could not put the book down. Some will read more into what he says, much more than I do. They will approach this book as a theology, it will fail, and they will snark.  However, as a story on community, and neighborhood with skin on, it is a powerful life lesson I needed to hear.

He has a shared story, a story that has us learning, being corrected, encouraged, poked and prodded from unusual sources that simply do not fit our paradigm. Yet we confess that very little of the encouragement has come from the expected sources.

“In my life, more often than I have wanted to admit, the themes of God’s story have come from people who did not wear my same religious uniform, did not have my same spiritual name badge (Hello! My religion is . . . ), and certainly did not come from my same background or experiences. But they were God’s voice all the same………And in my neighborhood today, I am learning that ultimately my spiritual formation is found in our full-body incarnation in our very specific time and place. The other person is not my enemy. They are the hands of my healing and the mouthpiece of my enlightenment….. When the story of my spiritual lineage is declared, it will certainly include my grandmother Gigi, my dad and my mom, as well as numerous Christian mentors and friends. It will also boldly and unapologetically include wise men like Fidnet, my Albanian (Muslim) grandmother; my friend Luli; and an anonymous Muslim cleric. It will include Pope, Katarina, and Dennis the bartender; it will include Jared, Carlos, and a couple dozen Reed students who dreamed together on Thursday evenings; it will include Robbie and Bobbin . . . it will be filled with my neighbors.” (Neighbors and Wise Men: Sacred Encounters in a Portland Pub and Other Unexpected Places. Tony Kriz)

The story really reflected a similar numbness in which I lived for many years, and in some ways still do. Was it the stupidity of youth, or just stupidity?  I am no great poet, or analyzer of human behavior; I’m just a fisherman trying to help people in this world in my own very flawed way. I don’t pretend to have answers of my own… I just listen and point to better sources.

“When a man or woman is truly honest (not just working at it) it is virtually impossible to insult them personally. There is nothing there to insult…..Their inner poverty of spirit and rigorous honesty had set them free.” (Brenning Manning)

Numb hands, and a recovering numb soul. Why do either matter in the midst of a more-than-tummy-rumbling-hungry nation in West Africa?

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