Spirit Alive: You Not Only Live in History, You Also Make It

Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.
May 23, 2017

With Heart, Soul, and Mind:

Making Choices

"I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world."
Maryanne Radmacher Hershey
Traveling is an amazing thing, especially when you get outside your normal context. I have found this to be true whether I'm in the Amazon on a mission trip, working with students in Mexico, or exploring China as a part of a travel group. I have also found this to be true much closer to home when I hike on a new trail, discover a different part of my community, or visit a place from my childhood that has changed dramatically over time. New travel experiences always seem to bring new insights to life.
Over the years, I have read two wonderful books on travel that remind me of just how important travel is: The Art of Travel, by Alain De Botton, and The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker's Guide to Making Travel Sacred, by Phil Cousineau. Both books provide helpful insights into how to travel.
"What, then, is a traveling mind-set? Receptivity might be said to be its chief characteristic. Receptive, we approach new places with humility. We carry with us no rigid ideas about what is or is not interesting...Home, by contrast, finds us more settled in our expectations. We feel assured that we have discovered everything interesting about our neighborhood, primarily by virtue of our having lived there a long time....We have become habituated and therefore blind to it."
Alain De Botton
"...The art of travel is the art of seeing what is sacred. Pilgrimage is the kind of journeying that marks just this move from mindless to mindful, soulless to soulful travel. The difference may be subtle or dramatic; by definition it is life-changing."
Phil Cousineau
Recently, Susan and I discovered the power of travel yet again when we journeyed to Prague to spend
time with family there and then enjoy a visit to Amsterdam. Both settings expanded our horizons, challenged our assumptions, and gave us new insights into our current context and reality. They also made me think about how we approach mission and ministry in Oregon-Idaho.

Travel seems especially important to think about today as we begin to see the unfolding consequences of the recent Trump Administration travel ban. Not only has this new policy promoted a sense of fear among people living in the US, but it has also resulted in double-digit reductions of upcoming travel to the United States by people from around the world, including Europe, China, Canada, as well as countless other countries. As one article recently put it : "...people suddenly had an unsettling sense that the United States wasn't as welcoming a place as it once was."
I'd like to share three reflections from my trip to Europe that I hope will give you something to think about as well:
1. Throughout our travels in Europe, I found myself appreciating just how open people were to encountering and engaging strangers. We found this to be the case time and again. It is so easy to mistrust those who are different or foreign or are not able to speak our own language. But throughout our time in Europe people went out of their way to be of assistance, even when it would have been easier to avoid a foreigner or do something else with their time.
The best example of this was in Amsterdam, when I ended up needing to see a doctor. We had located a local clinic in the city, but were having trouble finding it. In our search, we asked a man we encountered in the street for directions. He stopped and took time to help us out, pointing us in the direction we needed to go...and we headed on our way.
But as it turned out, we still couldn't find the clinic. Ironically, we ended up coming back along the same stretch of street a short time later and happened to encounter the same man there. We told him we just couldn't find the clinic and asked if he had any other ideas. As it turned out, this time he noticed that there was a phone number on our piece of paper, so he took us to his nearby store and called the clinic himself, even as two customers came into his shop. He told these potential customers that he was helping me out and would be right with them. In the process, he assisted me long enough to get me an appointment with a doctor, make sure that I knew exactly where I was going, and sent us on our way.
Before we left his store, I noticed that the customers had left. I was deeply appreciative of the time he took, especially since he really didn't need to get involved...and yes, I found the clinic, made it to my doctor's appointment, and got the care I needed.

This experience made me think about ministry and what Jesus reminds us in the telling of the Good Samaritan story when he responds to the question "Who is my neighbor?" In short, Jesus points out that it is easier to pass by on the other side of the road, but that is not what we are called to do. The Christian DNA includes an openness to the stranger and a sense of compassion toward those in need.
This encounter in Amsterdam reminded me of this wonderful sign that I've seen posted at some of our churches as a response to the new US travel ban and the sense of fear that it has caused toward neighbors who may look or speak differently from us.
2. In Amsterdam, Susan and I went to the Amsterdam Museum, which had an exhibit called "Amsterdam DNA: How Amsterdam Became Amsterdam." It was a rich, interesting exploration of the history and character of Amsterdam. In the book that accompanies the exhibit, it states: "Amsterdam is not merely the central canals, the high-rise offices along the motorway or Vondel Park. And the city is more than the sum of all the men, women, and children who live here....Understanding Amsterdam means looking back in time. There are four basic ingredients to the city's DNA, which have formed its character over the centuries: enterprise, civic virtue, creativity, and freedom of thought." The exhibit and resource book go on to paint a picture of how all these qualities make Amsterdam the unique place that it is, demonstrating how these different elements play off of and stimulate each other...and in the process make Amsterdam what it is.
In our time there, we could see each of these DNA elements at work in the people and city. It made me wonder what elements would we use to describe the DNA of our churches? Would enterprise, civic virtue, creativity, and freedom of thought be among them? If not, what would you say are the ingredients of your congregation's DNA?

3. In Amsterdam we stayed near the old Jewish Quarter and saw a number of important sites that marked the Nazi occupation of the city during WWII. One of those sites was the Dutch Resistance Museum. In this powerful museum, you were constantly confronted with the question: What would you do-- adapt, cooperate, or resist?

This is a particularly important question to consider since of the 107,000 Jews who lived in Amsterdam in the 1940s, only 5,000 survived the Nazi concentration camps. At the same time, of the 25,000 people who went into hiding (including Anne Frank and her family),18,000 of them survived. Many of those living in Amsterdam during World War II made significant, risky choices in order to protect strangers...who were also their neighbors. Others simply went along with things either adapting or cooperating in some way. The consequences of these choices were a matter of life and death for thousands of people...but these decisions also had a profound spiritual impact on Amsterdam and its historic DNA.

So what would you do when critical matters within our own society unfold and the lives of others are involved? Would you adapt, cooperate or resist?  My guess is that it all depends on what's at stake, but in the end the choices we make influence history as it unfolds. We are not observers to the realities of our world, we are participants as well...and our choices matter.

"Asking yourself a question, that's how resistance begins.
And then ask that very question to someone else."
Remco Campert
 Before we left Amsterdam, we also visited the Anne Frank House, and it made me wonder how a fifteen year old girl could be so much more insightful about life than so many of the adults who lived around her. Many of those adults made the choices that ended up forcing her and her family to go into hiding in the first place.

You don't just live in history, you also make and shape it.
Coming back from our recent journey to Europe has reminded me yet again that travel always makes me pause and reflect on the realities of the world and my place within it...as a human being and as a Christian. Travel also gives me a new perspective on how I'd answer the questions: Who is my neighbor? And what are the DNA elements that define my life and community?

Let us walk in the light of God's love,

Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.



Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org