Home, Part 3

Home, Part 3

Part 1. Part 2. Mission Year blog.

It’s been almost a year since I got back from Chicago. I am still not completely sure if I’m “home,” or what the word even means anymore. After a year, I am starting to wonder if there is a normal to return to. “Adjusting back” feels like a pipe dream; I don’t even think I want to adjust back, except that sometimes I do. Sometimes I wish that Mission Year never happened, that I had stayed home, that I had never met the people I met, experienced what I experienced, or witnessed God in his street clothes. It has changed everything about me, except that it hasn’t.

The two divine imperatives that appear most in the Bible are: 1) Do not be afraid, and 2) Remember. I am not surprised that for many of the displaced Israelites who read, studied, and memorized the scriptures, these two commands resonated deeply.

Do not be afraid. Remember.

I came home with every intention of living out my new values in my own context. I don’t doubt that half of the motivation was because I believed in those things and the other half was because I needed to prove to everyone that I was a changed man. Regardless, I failed miserably. I didn’t meet my neighbors like I said I would, didn’t get involved with the homeless community like I said I would, didn’t radically change my spending habits like I said I would, and I essentially became the Nate I was before, except this time with new thoughts and values in his head. So excuse me these days if I trust someone’s hands and feet more than their words and ideas. The biggest thing that changed about me after Mission Year was my ability to talk about justice, reconciliation, and the Gospel. How scary it is that I did so little about it with my hands and feet. Even scarier, that people still listened to me. I have not earned the right to say the things I’ve said.

Do not be afraid. Remember.

In my defense, everything has felt so cheap these days. I cannot do charity anymore. I cannot volunteer at a soup kitchen or organize monthly service projects for church. In Mission Year, all the service we did, all the “help” we gave, the love we extended and received was predicated on the most crucial part of the program–that we lived with the people we “served.” In that sense, every unilateral word like “charity,” “service,” and even “love” were deconstructed and reconfigured; we weren’t “missionaries” doing “charity work” or “loving the poor;” we were simply people who lived on the same block looking out for one another. Any “service” we did for someone else was invariably done back to us. Mutuality was only possible because we lived together.  I am growing more and more disillusioned with the Evangelical lexicon when it comes to missions, poverty, and the Gospel.

Do not be afraid. Remember.

And yet even those feelings are projections of misplaced guilt that I have because, well, I came home. I was able to leave the West Side of Chicago after one year of what my friend calls “ghetto tourism.” In many ways I used our neighborhood for my own growth and after I had learned what I needed to learn, I went home. I had that luxury. And now, painfully aware of my privilege and wealth, I often feel paralyzed by guilt or the incessant need to separate myself from people who reflect back to me the things I want to leave behind. I’m not one of those privileged Asians, I tell myself. Except that I am.

Do not be afraid. Remember.

What is perhaps most frightening is how my year in Chicago has changed my expression of faith. I can’t sing the songs anymore. They are too simplistic, too Bible-Belt, and I think the Jesus described in those songs would get his ass kicked if he made his return in East Oakland or South Side Chicago. I have walked out on too many sermons this past year, frustrated with privileged, idea-heavy homilies that cannot fathom a Jesus in a homeless shelter, a God who lives in back alleys and brothels, or a Gospel big enough for Leon and Lawrence, whose mental illnesses isolated them from any meaningful relationships. I am not asking for Social Gospel, only Good News that is courageous enough to acknowledge reality and brokenness, one that has any point of intersection with a hurting humanity.

Do not be afraid. Remember.

I say all this simply as a snapshot of where I am. This is not a cry for help or a request for advice. In many ways, this is the “home” I have arrived at. I can try with all my might to tear it down and change my situation, or, I can put some decorations up, plant a garden, and enjoy it for what it is. Today I commit to not being afraid. Not being afraid of my questions, doubts, guilt, or my contradictions. Today I commit to remembering. Remembering Chicago, Mission Year, my team, our neighborhood, and who I am in Jesus.

Like it or not, this is what I must live with, worship with, pray with, and love with today. This is my life as it comes to me from God. This is the God I know in Jesus. This is the God who gives my life significance. Whatever I am, or whatever I hope to be comes in the love of this God for me. The day is about receiving God’s love; enjoying God’s love; placing my many, many fears in God’s love. This is today: a new turn, a new chapter, the same loving Father whom Jesus called Abba.
– Michael Spencer