Saturday, December 13, 2008

Another Year Over

Well, that’s that. The Mexico City Semester Program has come to an end.

Transitions are rarely simple or easy, and this one is no different. As you know, faithful reader, I’ve often struggled during these last four months through such an intensely structured program and such constant community. I am ready to move on to the next adventure, ready to join mi esposa Christina in Guadalajara and discover what’s around the next bend of life, the next circle of the caracol. Because of all that I am quite ready to escape from this Lutheran Center compound.

At the same time, I felt some seriously bittersweet pangs these last twelve hours as I packed up and said goodbye to Casa D and its inhabitants. When I left Chicago, I wondered whether I’d ever be able to make friends as good as the ones I made there. I’ve had that question answered. El viaje de la vida would be near impossible without companions like these. Of course, karma extracts its price in the goodbyes. Always the goodbyes, the inevitable goodbyes…

Above: Our group in Chiapas, with program director Kim on the far left, professor Hector in the middle, and administrator Susana on the right in the back row.

Above: My host family in Cuernavaca.

Above: The group on the last day, with our professor-in-residence Randy Nelson.

As for the program itself, well, sometime in November, sometime in Chiapas, the scales tipped for me, and everything became worth it. It wasn’t a perfect program. I have many regrets about things we didn’t do. But I wouldn’t trade Acteal for all the world. I wouldn’t trade the faith I was given there, a faith that had withered suddenly filled with life and energy, hope and light. And all in a place of death…it is such a mystery still. I’ll spend the spring turning it over in my head, and in my heart, I am sure.

And if Acteal filled my faith, this last week of the program has re-forged my vocation. Ethics professor Cynthia Moe-Lobeda has been with us all week, giving us feedback on our papers, putting everything we’ve learned into a rigorous theoretical framework with deep Lutheran roots, offering us advice, support, and challenge as we head on to the next place God calls us. As she bid us goodbye last night, she called out: “See you in activist clergy circles!”

It was kind of funny comment; I’m not sure I want an “activist” label placed on me. I don’t know why I fear that, but I do. Yet within her goodbye was something beyond labeling. She was taking us seriously, as colleagues in ministry, as fellow church workers in the vineyard of the world. She and her husband (a Lutheran pastor) and Kim and all of the people who travel in their “circles,” whatever you want to call those circles, are inspiring examples of people making their faith active in love, day in, day out. They really believe in these things, and they are making their beliefs reality.

And if I’m honest, the things they believe in are things I believe in, too. I’ve been disillusioned more than once for at least the last six years. And my disillusionment gradually wore down the things I thought I believed in, ideas of justice and peace and a radical following of Christ. They were all there in college, I know they were, but somewhere along the way they were worn down or fell away or were softened beyond recognition. Life in the “real world” drained it out of me. I suppose I’m being too hard on myself, remembering the story differently now. Yet I can’t help feeling that this sense of deepened faith and commitment and the life-giving energy that is filling my heart is a great gift, the sign of something new, something restorative, planted within me. It is, I think, indicative of a faith that was planted many years ago, nurtured anew at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and radically deepened by the people we have met here in Mexico these last four months. I don’t know where it will lead – life will throw up its obstacles, as it always does – but I hope this flame of new life will stay alive, somehow, some way.

Well. Enough navel-gazing. Now I find myself on a bus to Guadalajara, watching the increasingly arid, desert-like landscape fly by outside my window. “Time is a train / makes the future the past / leaves you standing in the station / your face pressed up against the glass…” Bono once sang in a song on my favorite U2 album. For the last several hours, though, I’ve had a different song in my head, John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over).” Just that one line: “And so this is Christmas / and what have we done? / Another year over / a new one just begun…”

Well, Sr. Lennon, there is a lot left to be done, it is true. I have seen some of the deep suffering of this world, and I have heard the call to accompany it, to help the crucified bear their cross. I can see the work before me, laid out as if on a vast landscape not unlike the one outside my bus window. I have snippets of Oscar Romero’s Prophets of a Future Not Our Own sermon running through my head. But you, Sr. Lennon, asked a retrospective question: What have we done? And this year, I have to say, we’ve done quite a lot.

And so it is: “Another year over, a new one just begun…”

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