On contrasts and convictions

Often the contrast between Oklahoma, where we’ve found ourselves these last few weeks, and China, where we made our life for the past two years couldn’t be starker.

In China, the world seemed all too rich, too raw, charged with spirits and tragedies too great for me to bear.  I lived in a place and a time where children were the ones who had to shake the dust from their shoes and trudge on, or lived in cribs in stark rooms instead of the arms of revelatory love and goodness, or worse, might be left to waste away, so invisible and insignificant to a society and a people who worship modernity and progress–two gods that march relentlessly forward, crushing the least of these.

In Oklahoma, we’re surrounded by our three beautiful nieces, who lack for nothing, and in the summer, they spend their days swimming, playing games, and running in the grass.  A different kind of modernity or progress–the expanse of homes and fields and food and plenty–renders me speechless and a stranger in my own land.

Of course, it’s not all children in Oklahoma or in China who live in these contrasts.

And in fact, there are moments when both cultures seem more similar in their strangeness to me, than expected!

Oklahoma truly has a culture all its own.

That’s what came to mind the other evening as I sat on my uncle’s porch, surrounded by my husband’s extended family, and still trying to sink into an unfamiliar place and make sense of this life interrupted that we seem to be living as of late.

Looking around that certain uncle’s living room, covered in taxidermy, or the sprawling fields brown and parched from a lack of rain, or listening to the chatter on the porch about the second amendment, oil, politics, and brush fires, all made me aware of a shared history, and a connection to one another and the land, that make me feel as though I’ll forever be a stranger in this place.

But something I read this evening convicted me of those meandering thoughts, and it was this line, from a fellow blogger, about how all of us, “chicken man, terrified gay teen, self-righteous pastor, Lesbian Activist, and me, we are all [God’s] kids.”

You see, I not only find my thoughts at times to be critical of my family and friends here, and I also didn’t like the way the words that came out of my mouth sounded in a conversation where people from different worlds attempted to build a common story.

I was reminded that something I deign to call knowledge or wisdom smacks of righteousness when it presumes to know better than the simple people in this place.   And that my own life experiences in China these past few years, when it comes to understanding mission and the Church, are not to be wielded as a yardstick with which to measure others’ breadth of international knowledge, but rather a helpful reminder of how much larger God’s work is than my ideologies or my words can ever presume to teach.

Truth be told, it is so difficult for me to capture those years in China in casual conversations with friends, family, and strangers.  If these days are teaching me anything, it’s that there are no casual conversations.  And that, as Oswald Chambers puts it, “As long as you think that you are of value to [God,] He cannot choose you, because you have purposes of your own to serve.  But if you will allow Him to take you to the end of your own self-sufficiency, then He can choose you to go with Him ‘to Jerusalem.’ (Luke 18:31)”

Those urges to be self-sufficient, to regard myself above others, or dismiss the meaningfulness of these Oklahoma moments for the China ones, claw at me.

But so does the Lord, urging me to be better, to be humbler, to be like a child, ever reliant on God’s purpose, God’s wisdom, and the conviction that we are all children of God, in China, in Oklahoma, and everywhere on this earth.

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