disturbed in the desert

It’s Lent. I am a disciple, trying to fast and pray in the desert. I’m getting hungry for some great elation, getting worn out from discomforts. I am all hot and bothered–hah! I am disturbed.

I’ve been thinking “perhaps that’s the whole point of discipleship.” We must be disturbed. This journey with Jesus is a journey of conversion– personally and communally. We must remain open to God changing our hearts, our minds and our lives from the inside out.

Disturbed is defined as “intruded on, bothered, rearranged, mixed up, interfered with and turned upside down.” A dictionary also told me that those who are disturbed often are “concerned, upset, flustered, unsettled and disconcerted.” I have learned that all those things happen when we’re living the Gospel.

When I have gone to live with those on the margins of society, I have been appalled, infuriated and outright disgusted with what they must live with.  Racism, discrimination and violence; health, education and environment issues are all tangled into the web of social problems related to poverty. For example, world hunger isn’t really as simple as “we need to share our food.” We also need to change the system.

I showed this video to some students at the high school recently in order to demonstrate how complicated problems like world hunger are:

When we learn the truth of how–and why–people are suffering, it’s hard to not become upset and turned upside down.

I am not sure where I learned the phrase, but I often find myself thinking that in order to follow Jesus we must be standing on our heads. This past week a student asked why John the Baptist was standing in the water when he was preaching (as he was in the movie I was showing them). I didn’t have a good answer because I had no clue. What I said was all I could think of: “All holy people seem slightly crazy.” I was surprised when my student nodded with what seemed to be satisfaction. I think that if a religion teacher would have told me that when I was 15 I would have been a bit upset. “You’re saying I have to be crazy to follow Jesus!?”

Well, yes. There is a certain amount of radical trust, impulsiveness, scandal and risk that is required if we’re really trying to follow Jesus.

Eleven years ago, when I was only 20, I took one of those crazy risks. I flew to the other side of the world and studied abroad in South Africa.

I was wandering around a big foreign city where crime rates were high; many people didn’t speak my language, and I was enjoying it. I was disturbed and deeply converted. I began to understand myself differently. Maybe I wasn’t a shy, small town farm girl after all. When God disturbs us–turns us upside down–we even start to think about ourselves in new ways.

God quickly showed me how to be involved with his people and his church. I prayed, started asking people about opportunities and then began volunteer ministry at a shelter and in a prison. A lot of things unfolded and with every new experience I was transformed, converted, changed.

In South Africa I developed relationships with the wealthy and privileged and the poor and marginalized at the same time.

I was exposed to the extreme contrasts of economic injustices. It felt very unfair–very wrong that people who were extremely rich could live right alongside others who were so poor they dwelled in tin shacks, had to carry their water and used car batteries for electricity.

I remember one day when I came home from volunteering at the shelter and was especially confused and overwhelmed–disturbed–by all that I had experienced. My housemates were getting ready to go see the musical Cats and offered me an extra ticket. I quickly got dressed up and went along but barely enjoyed the show. “How could people possibly enjoy the wine they were sipping while people were right outside the doors–on the streets–without any food?” I wondered.

I knew that Jesus wanted me to share, not feel guilty or stop having fun.  For the rest of my time in South Africa I decided to love and give without abandon. If people asked me for things I’d trust God and their goodness and give meals, clothes, money, school supplies; whatever I could. It was risky but worth it. And the amazing thing I learned about giving was that I didn’t need to worry. I could do it freely. If I was recklessly being loving, generous and faithful God would take care of me. And God totally did, being a loving parent after all.

Now, back in the middle of mainstream United States of America, the land where the uncomfortable and our injustices are much more hidden, I find myself wondering if it is my calling is to disturb others, to shake people up, challenge them and tell the youth that yes, you must be slightly crazy if you want to be a disciple.

The fascinating, beautiful, wonderful thing is that God is still disturbing me by what I am encountering. Good thing I get to be in the desert to feast, or…um…fast, in all these conversions.

"simple and quiet: a scene from Lesotho" Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“simple and quiet: a scene from Lesotho” Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

 

 

 

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