Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Preparando Para Pacifico Noreste

This Friday I'll board a plane bound for Seattle, Washington, and put my feet on American soil for only the second time this year. My upcoming internship site - a joint placement split between St. John United Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington State - is flying me out to meet people, tour the area, and generally get an idea of what to expect when I arrive there sometime this August.

I'm simultaneously totally psyched and a bit nervous.

Totally psyched: I've been reading Timothy Egan's The Good Rain, a book about the Pacific Northwest. Egan is an gifted writer (seriously, I've read a lot of books this year, and he's good), and my insides are rip-roaring to get out there and see the shimmering beauties and gut-wrenching struggles that he describes coursing through both the natural landscapes and human communities. It's not a given that a seminarian be excited about his internship placement before he begins, but I find myself more and more excited every day by the woolly wilderness and the citizens of the city alike. This is a good place to start, I hope.

Bit nervous: After ten months in Mexico, I'm full to the brim of Mexican history, culture, and even a little language, but it's been months since I've thought theologically. In short: I'm way out of pastor shape. My friend Zach is nine months into his internship and he's like Rocky after all of his Siberian training in Rocky IV, all set to take on Drago, if Rocky were a pastor and Drago were, well...something. Me, on the other hand, I'm like Rocky before all of that log-lifting and mountain-jogging. I could give you a 20-minute lecture without notes on the importance of Benito Juarez in Mexico's political and religious history, but if you ask me my call story, I'm up a creek - nay, I'm up the Columbia River - without a paddle.

Funny thing, then, that I ran into Luis at the coffee shop today and he flat-out asked me why I wanted to be a pastor. After batting around a handful of wildly disparate topics, he says to me, in his broken English: "I want to ask you about your religion."

Luis has asked me this many times now, and I keep trying to explain it to him, but it never seems quite satisfactory enough. This time, after I try again to explain the mysteries of the Lutheran tradition to a Mexican Catholic, he moves to my own life, asks me again if I will get paid for this (this part is always a great mystery to Luis, who spends his days breathlessly running around Lagos trying to complete real estate deals), and then asks me a question in Spanish that I think I understand even while I hope I don't. I ask him to repeat it, and then it's clear: He's asking me my call story.

I go the short and simple route, drawing a line from the muchas preguntas y pocas respuestas of college philosophy classes to the singularly helpful respuesta I found in the particular brand of faithfulness practiced by a little Lutheran community in southern Indiana. I can't tell whether this version of my call story is satisfying or not. But suddenly Luis opens his mouth and out pour preguntas, questions both personal and abstract but all filled with confusion, anger, sadness, preguntas in which I hear myself eighteen months ago, broken and angry by the violence filling Chicago's streets, preguntas about the presence of continued unspeakable evil in a God-loved world.

I have no clean-fix respuesta for Luis - or for myself. I make no attempt to pretend that I do. Yet in the midst of our exchange I notice two curious things I did not expect.

The first thing I notice is that my faith feels stronger now; while craters still lie gaping where answers should be, the substance of the pregunta-pocked meteorite that is my faith has been chemically altered by what I've learned about Jesus Christ over these past three years, two in seminary, one in Mexico. And the second thing I notice is that this entire exchange feels like God showing up, like the Grim Reaper in a bad movie, a meeting that somehow feels long-expected even while unplanned (how's that for imagery, Z?). The opening pages of Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory come to mind. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in...

Life is about to shift gears in a big way. There's nothing for it: The getting ready begins now.

1 comment:

Mike and Beth said...

Two things. You have so been thinking theologically, all year long. Absolutely. Oh, how I wish that I could meet Luis and others who have been a part of that, because they have.

You are ready for internship, and will love Seattle, even though you will miss Mexico greatly. Another adventure is about to begin.