“What can you get accomplished in two days?”
That question was posed to me by a church member the night before I left for Port-au-Prince, Haiti* with a team for a 5-day mission trip that would include 2 workdays. It was a valid question that deserved an honest answer. And that answer was—
You can’t explain Port-au-Prince to anyone who has never been. You can show pictures and tell stories, but you can’t explain the heat, the trash, the smell. In a place with such profound need, what good was it for 14 Americans with no particularly useful expertise to fly down and spend 2 days working on a project?
It was no good, of course. We couldn’t have made a dent in Haiti’s problems in 2 weeks, 2 months, or 2 years, much less 2 days. We send a medical team in February that literally saves lives for a week in Haiti Outreach Ministries‘ clinic, making a real difference—but then they go home.
I have wrestled with the validity of taking short-term mission trips.** It is so easy for well-meaning (white) people to do more harm than good, to go do something that makes them feel good about themselves while creating more work for people who are already stretched thin in terms of time, energy, and resources.
It took me 2 trips to Haiti to release some of the discomfort I felt about our endeavor. I still get squirmy when the focus shifts to getting things accomplished—as if we have superior knowledge or skills or work ethic, something to offer these poor Haitians who so desperately needed a great white savior. No, thank you. I tell our teams over and over that although we do go to work, our primary role is to listen, to bear witness, and to share and receive God’s love and grace.
I was one of the countless people who saw the image of Omran Daqneesh, the little boy pulled from the rubble of his apartment in Aleppo after an airstrike, and was moved to tears. It’s a gripping image. The face of war is not a soldier or general–it is a 5-year-old boy, covered in ash and blood. It’s a stark reminder of the true cost of military conflict.
I started writing a song for Omran almost the moment I saw his picture. It took a long time to work up, and I still don’t think it’s finished. In the process, I was reminded of another viral image–that of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi‘s body washed up on a beach after he and many others drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to escape Syria.
If anything matters at all
No matter how big
No matter how small
— Pierce Pettis
This summer, I spent my vacation at a songwriting retreat called “Writing a Song That Matters.”
It’s basically music camp for adults, but way more amazing than I could have imagined. It’s held at the Garrison Institute in the Hudson Valley, and it’s led by Dar Williams and three other incredible singer-songwriters, Raquel Vidal, and Michele and Rick Gedney.
I knew from the moment I saw the description that I had to go. I hadn’t been writing much music for a while, but I had been itching to get back to it, and this seemed like the perfect creative kick in the pants. I had no concrete expectations but definitely high hopes. And the retreat smashed and rearranged all of them by being better than I imagined.
I wrote a new original song, because praying for and preaching good news is hard these days. In the wake of Orlando and Baghdad and Istanbul and Baton Rouge and Minneapolis and Dallas and Nice and so many other sites of death and destruction, it is hard to proclaim healing and resurrection.
When the words to this song started coming to me, they came in a very different formulation. It started something like, “I know you don’t promise us freedom from suffering.” A little pedantic, some nicely resolved theology about why bad things happen.
But that wasn’t the song my heart was singing. My heart was broken for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters who continue to be excluded and persecuted, especially in the church; for victims of gun violence everywhere who are sacrificed daily to the god of American “freedom”; for everyone in the path of indiscriminate, dehumanizing terror; for my black friends who are not ready for healing and are not even sure God cares about them, because it sure seems like nobody else does.
A few weeks ago, I found myself in a conversation I have had many times, about work and writing and time and vocation. I found myself, as I have too many times before, complaining that I don’t seem to have time to write.
I expressed my incomprehension at my dad’s ability to pastor a large church, tend to his family, and still churn out a book a year. Maybe I just need more sleep than he does, I laughed. (I do.)
A colleague who was listening quipped back. “Does he spend as much time at the gym as you do?”
I paused, trying to do the math, but I knew the answer was “no” right away. I paused because that wasn’t the point at all.
That one little question sent me down the rabbit hole of a bigger question:
What have I been doing instead of writing,* this thing I intermittently claim to want to give my life to?
Posted in Ramblings
Tagged life, writing
This is a continuation of an earlier post reflecting on learnings from a 152-mile, 3-day supported bike ride I did this past week. You can read lessons 1-3 here.
Riding near, but not up, Pilot Mountain.
4. Use the Right Gear.
When I was a kid, I hated going into low gear on my bike. In fact, I refused to do it. Even when I got to a hill, I would keep my bike in high gear, stand up, and push down with every bit of body weight and with every bit of energy and force I could muster for each and every turn of the pedal. What happened, of course, was that I got to the top of the hill completely exhausted, or I didn’t make it to the top at all and had to get off the bike and walk the rest of the way.
Yesterday, I completed a 152-mile, 3-day supported bike ride from Gastonia, NC to Lake Junaluska—C2LJ, or Cycle to Lake Junaluska.
I made it!!!
I wasn’t entirely sure I would make it, but I did, and what’s more, I loved it. And I learned a lot along the way. So here are some potentially cheesy but hopefully practical lessons I took from my bike.
1. Take Up Your Space.