KOH2RVA: Day 229

2013-04-26 07.24.30On Monday of this week a few of my colleagues and I met with Dr. Terry Whipple to continue our conversation on making Richmond “the healthiest city in America.” According to Forbes magazine we’re already number 12. What would it take to move us to 11, and then 10, and then 9? That’s what we talked about on Monday and Dr. Whipple’s interest, of course, is helping people who are sick and suffering get better. His brilliant strategy is a program called the Physician Within, an educational mission designed, as Terry say, “to keep people out of the emergency room.” So, if you or someone you know is suffering from back or neck pain, don’t miss the next session of the Physician Within, Saturday, May 4, from 9 – 11:30 in the dining hall at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

But that’s only the half of it.

Because being the healthiest city in America involves more than not getting sick. It also involves getting, and staying, healthy. So, cities are rated on the number of walking trails and bike paths and public parks they have. They’re evaluated by the question: “How many people are out there, eating less and moving more?” Because that’s the kind of thing that can make a city truly healthy, and not just unsick.

So, my brother Ed came to visit at a bad time, when all that was still on my mind. On Thursday we loaded the canoe on top of the car and spent about four hours paddling on the James, downriver through some riffles and then back upriver, portaging around a dam or two and digging in to buck the current and get back to our starting point. By the time we got finished our arms were tired. But later that afternoon, I took him to the Jewish Community Center, where I work out, and while I was lifting weights in the fitness center he swam laps in the pool—lots of them. This morning I brought him along for ecumenical jogging with my friend and Episcopal priest, Wallace Adams-Riley, and although we didn’t run as far or fast as we usually do, I think we ran enough that Ed was beginning to wonder what he had gotten himself into.

I left him out there on the sidewalk, still talking to Wallace about his work as a missionary in Mexico, and how St. Paul’s Episcopal Church might want to invest in the work that he’s doing (God love ‘em, these missionaries never miss an opportunity to talk about their work). I came in to blog, and have breakfast, and recover from the run. Soon I’ll be dressed and ready for work, and out there on the streets again, thinking more about Richmond’s spiritual health than it’s physical health, and doing what I can today to bring heaven a little closer to earth.

For my brother Ed, heaven may come when he and his wife Debbie drive away from Richmond later this morning, and for the five-hour trip back to Rutherfordton, North Carolina (where they’re staying while on furlough), he gets to put his feet up and rest.

Adios, Ed. Come again soon!

KOH2RVA: Day 228

Brothers smallLast night my brother Ed spoke at First Baptist Church (he’s the one on the far left in the picture, the oldest of the six Somerville boys. The others are Scott, Jim, Greg, Gray, and Bill). Ed is a missionary in Mexico, where he has been serving for more than 12 years. He told the church last night that when he first went to Mexico he took his wife, Debbie, and all eight of his children with him: his own missionary “team.”

But then he told us why he went.

He said that when he was still in his twenties he prayed that God would let him lead 100 people to the Lord in his lifetime. But then he became the director of a Christian camp in North Carolina and in one summer he baptized a hundred kids.

And so he prayed again:

“Lord,” he said. “I wanted to bring 100 people to know you in my lifetime and now I’ve done that. Would it be too much to ask that I might bring (gulp!) 1,000 people to you?” But God reassured him that he was a big God, and after ten summers directing that camp Ed had baptized 1,000 kids.

And so he prayed again:

“Lord,” he said. “I never dreamed that I would lead 1,000 people to know you in my lifetime. You tell me you’re a big God. Are you big enough for this? What if I asked you to let me lead 10,000 people to know you?”

And that’s how he ended up in Mexico, where some 85 percent of the people don’t have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Ed is trying to get the Good News to them, mostly through a Christian camp he calls “El Monte” (the Mountain). The work has been harder and slower than he might have expected, but God is a big God, as Ed would say. Nothing is too hard for him.

It occurred to me as Ed was speaking last night that he’s not really trying to bring heaven to earth. He’s doing this the old-fashioned way: he’s trying to get people to heaven. But when he talks about the way those beautiful brown faces shine with joy as they learn of the love of Jesus, and the way the tears begin to flow, I think heaven does come to earth,

Every time a heart is broken open,

Every time the grace of God gets in.

__________________________

Hint: if you visit the El Monte web site, and want to know more, click on the pull-down menu called “Updates” and type in this password: elmonteupdate

“I Hate My Body!”

You never know what you might find in a book called Women Who Run with the Wolves, or in a chapter called “Joyous Body: the Wild Flesh,” but I was delighted to find this important corrective to much of what our culture has taught us about our bodies.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes:  “My friend Opalanga, an African-American storyteller, is very tall, like a yew tree, and as slender.  I am built close to the ground and of extravagant body.  In addition to being mocked for being tall, as a child Opalanga was told that the split between her front teeth was the sign of being a liar.  I was told that my body shape were signs of being inferior and of having no self-control.

“How amazed I was to hear Opalanga say that as an adult she had journeyed to the Gambia in West Africa and found some of her ancestral people, who lo! had among their tribe, many people who were very tall like the yew trees and as slender, and who had splits between their front teeth.  This split, they explained to her, was called the Sakaya Yallah, meaning ‘opening of God,’ and it was understood as a sign of wisdom.

“How surprised she was when I told her I had also as an adult journeyed to the isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico and found fome of my ancestral people, who lo! were a tribe with giant women who were strong, flirtatious, and commanding in their size.  They had patted me and plucked at me, boldly remarking that I was not quite fat enough.  Did I eat enough?  Had I been ill?  I must try harder, they explained, for women are La Tierra, made round like the earth herself, for the earth holds so much” (pp. 201-202).

What wonderful pictures of womanhood!  And how wonderfully different from that bosomy, airbrushed and unattainable image on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine month after month, that image so many women keep trying to force their perfectly tall, gap-toothed, or beautifully short, earth-shaped, bodies into.

I wonder…was Adam a balding, bow-legged Semite, with crooked teeth and twinkling eyes?  Was Eve a squat, heavy-thighed helpmate, with lovely gray locks and a voice like running water?  Did God look on his creation in that moment, made in his own image, and say with a smile, “Behold!  It is very good!”?

I don’t know.  I may never know.  And I wouldn’t want to suggest that whatever shape we’re in is the shape we’re supposed to be in.  There is still much to be said for a reasonable diet and regular exercise.  But let me say this: there is a difference, a theological difference, between getting yourself into shape and getting yourself into someone else’s shape.  To do the latter is to deny the goodness of God’s creation.  It is to say that somehow, when God made you, he made a mistake.

That is a lie.

As the psalmist says, as Clarissa Pinkola Estes might say, as you yourself can say without fear of divine contradiction:

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” (Psalm 139:14).

Catherine’s Home!

My daughter Catherine has been doing an internship at the Smithsonian this summer.  It sounds very glamorous until you realize that she’s been working with the annual Folklife Festival, which means that for the past two weeks she’s been wearing her “Staff” T-shirt while enduring the heat and the crowds on the National Mall.  Nonetheless she can’t seem to stop smiling, and on the way home last night she talked non-stop about the people she’s met and the connections she’s made.  She talked about picking up trash alongside one of the curators at the Smithsonian, and watching indigenous Mexicans whirl around a 40-foot tall pole, suspended by their feet, and the possibility of doing some work with the Peace Corps after she finishes college…

And that was just the first ten minutes.

It does a parent’s heart good to get that kind of report from a daughter, to hear her happy and excited.  And to wake up this morning—knowing that she is in the house, catching up on some much-needed sleep—well, that does a parent’s heart good, too.  Sure, the living room is full of the stuff we dragged in from the car and dropped there last night, and yes I still have to haul most of it up the stairs to her room.  But not now.  Not while she’s sleeping.  Not while the house is still breathing a sigh of gratitude, and her dad is thanking God that…

Catherine’s home.

________________________________________
Thanks to Skye Hallman for the picture, and for being Catherine’s wonderful youth minister and friend for all these years.

Buenos Dias!

I’m back from two weeks in Mexico, and, as promised, there are stories to tell:

I started my adventures in Puerto Escondido, a little town on the Pacific coast of Mexico popular with surfers for its enormous waves.  I didn’t go there to surf: I went because my brother-in-law, Chuck Treadwell, was celebrating his fiftieth birthday and invited me to come along.  We stayed in a beautiful house near the beach which was available partly because Chuck has some very generous friends but partly because it is so hot in Puerto Escondido in May that no one in his right mind would go there. 

Need I say more?

We tried to make the best of it, however, and in one three-day period I caught a 70-pound sailfish, got up on a surfboard, and went swimming with the dolphins.  In the interest of full disclosure I should probably say that I “helped” catch a 70-pound sailfish: the first mate on the boat actually set the hook, Chuck and his friend Patrick McCoy spent about thirty minutes fighting the fish, and then they let me reel it in toward the boat where the first mate brought it aboard.  And when I say I “got up” on a wave I mean that I was able to get to my feet on a ten-foot board (the surfing equivalent of training wheels) at Carrizilillo Beach (the Puerto Escondido equivalent of a baby pool).  And, finally, when I say that I went “swimming with the dolphins” I mean that I put on a life jacket and jumped into the water in a part of the ocean where we had just seen some dolphins.  I swam, and there were dolphins in the same ocean, but to say that I swam with the dolphins is a bit of an overstatement. 

Just like saying I climbed a 17,000-foot mountain.

I went from Puerto Escondido to my brother Ed’s house near Cuernavaca.  Ed is a missionary there.  He and his family have been living and working in Mexico for eight years, mostly developing a Christian camp where he hopes to reach 10,000 Mexican youth for Christ.  When I got there it was nearing the end of the dry season, and most of Mexico was parched and brown.   And hot.  Did I mention that it was hot? 

Ed’s characteristic solution was to try climbing to the top of a 17.000-foot mountain, a dormant volcano called Iztaccihuatl (which I won’t even try to pronounce).  He promised that it would be cooler up there than it was in Cuernavaca.  In fact, he had asked me to bring along all the winter clothing I could stuff into a backpack so we could stay warm during the climb. 

We took along two of his sons and two of their friends and made our base camp at 12,000 feet.  We spent the whole next day getting acclimated to the altitude (and the delightfully cool temperatures) before starting our assault on the mountain at 3:00 the next morning.  I went up with the first party—three of us, sporting head lamps to cut through the darkness.  We got to 15,000 feet just as the sun was coming up and spent the next four hours gasping for air and clawing our way up to the summit only to discover that there was another, higher, summit about a half mile away.  We hiked down into the notch and up the other side, using the last of our strength to get to that summit only to discover that there was yet another, higher, summit about a mile away from that one, and it was on the other side of a half-mile-wide glacier.  We sat there for a while, catching our breath and watching as another group of climbers made its way across.  As we were watching one climber slipped and fell and started sliding downhill toward a rocky ravine before stopping himself with an ice axe.  Since we didn’t have ice axes (and honestly, if there had been an elevator to the summit at that point I’m not sure I would have had the strength to push the button), we decided to call it a day.  Our elevation at that point was 16,800 feet, about 300 feet shy of the highest point.  We were disappointed, but not defeated, and on the way down began to talk about coming back again someday with the proper equipment.

The rest of the week was less adventurous but deeply meaningful as I learned more about the good work Ed is doing there at El Monte (the name of his camp).  I heard reports from Mexican missionaries, who are being trained to go to places like Germany and Indonesia with the good news about Jesus.  I saw Ed’s plans for adding additional cabins and another soccer field to the camp, to make it even more inviting for the kids who will come there.  And I did some sightseeing in the little town of Ticuman, where a generous farmer gave us a complimentary bunch of bananas (see photo above).  I picked up enough Spanish along the way to negotiate the taxis and buses necessary to get back to the airport, and at 9:35 last night I touched down in Richmond.  It felt so good to come home, and to unlock the front door, and crank up the air conditioning. 

There are some things I’m not going to take for granted anymore.