My wife woke up nauseated and exhausted. She was sick for the first seven months of her pregnancy with Hanna. It was frustrating to watch Lisa suffer, to stand behind her and hold her hair out of her face while she threw up. We will spend the next month in this nomadic lifestyle with no bed or toilet to call our own, and there is nothing more sickening than embracing someone else’s toilet.
Joel Vestal, my college roommate, is in Houston for a season, and we met for lunch. Joel is a 28-year-old global-justice advocate who has traveled to more than 60 countries under the umbrella of the organization he founded, Servelife International. He was in Stockholm a few days ago as a sponsor of the Stockholm Accord on Ethnic Cleansing. (Apparently more people have been ethnically cleansed in the last century than have been killed in all the wars of the last century.) Joel built relationships with representatives of the president of Algeria and smoked cigarettes with Desmond Tutu’s assistant. He helped them write an accord to help prevent unnecessary deaths because of people’s religion or ethnicity.
I thought of Muslim Albanians killed by Milosevic in the name of ethnic cleansing as I participated in a dialogue between Christians and Muslims later in the evening. The men sat on one side and the women on the other (many with their heads covered). My worldview was expanded by many concepts from the Koran. Their Eastern worldview is fascinating to me. I believe that Christianity, which is basically an Eastern religion co-opted by the West, has become more Western than it is Christian. I am a follower of Jesus Christ, not Muhammad. But I believe there is a great deal of truth that I can learn and stereotypes that should be broken. The first question for the Muslim leader was about the oppression of women and represents an obvious difference in our faith. I have studied the Koran and am bothered by passages like An-Nisa: 4, which gives husbands permission to beat their wives if it is “necessary.” Also, being in the presence of women who are forbidden to speak to me is strangely uncomfortable to me. I hope to learn more about their faith when I share a meal with some new Muslim friends next week. I am thankful we can discuss our theology over coffee rather than machine-gun fire.
I always have a long lists of “to do’s,” and I had one that I needed to take care of in the area where we were looking for a house. A few weeks ago, I preached at the Star of Hope Mission. It is a nightly service for almost 200 men who live at the downtown mission next to the Astros’ new ballpark. I preached on the story of Jonah and the way God pursues us. The book of Jonah is the diary of a disobedient bigot who wanted God to destroy the very people God asked him to preach to. The men loved this story of prejudice, failure, rebellion, and, mostly, forgiveness. Before I left, the director asked me to speak to a man who was lying on a cot listening outside the doors. He had a two gunshot wounds in his stomach and looked in desperate condition. He pulled back his shirt to expose clear plastic covering his midsection. You could see his bleeding stomach and colon just below the plastic. I was amazed he was still alive. He wanted me to pray with him, so we prayed together and asked God to show mercy on him. He told me about his life and his children and the pain he had caused so many people. He had a daughter who lived close by. He said, “I want her to know God; will you help her and bring her to your church?” He gave me an address, and I went by to see her today. What would I say and how could I help her? I knocked on the door and a young boy told me she was not there. In fact, she had moved away almost a year ago.
I am a pastor, and that means I care for people. I am a teacher/storyteller, spiritual director, friend, mentor, and a giver of hope. I love it and am made for it. I had hoped to share with you a week of faithful service as I counsel, encourage, and guide people who I love and care about. Today’s unfinished business is like most days’, because no one ever arrives spiritually. We are works in progress, all of us calling out to our Creator who is the finisher of our faith. It’s now 2:37 a.m. As for this diary, I’m finished.
Check back on Monday for a “Diary” by Amy Spindler, “Style” editor of the New York Times Magazine.