06 February 2011

Machismo and the Kingdom of God

What is machismo?

Is it heard in the hissing, shouts, and car horns I ignore every morning on the walk to work? Is it the alarming portion of men, even Christian men, who don’t seem to take fidelity seriously? Is it in the use of packaged, photo-shopped sex appeal in such a large portion of advertisements for everything from cell phones to real estate? Is it in the lunchroom comments that in Latin America, male-to-female attraction is “all about your body” and not so much about your character or even your face? Is it hidden in the Costa Rican pastor’s comment that we should be concerned that for the first time, women are catching up with men in marital infidelity? (In other words, men have always been unfaithful, but now—gasp—women are, too!)

Urban Dictionary defines it as:
Having an unusually high or exaggerated sense of masculinity. Including an attitude that aggression, strength, sexual prowess, power and control is the measure of someone's manliness. Also, a machismo man feels having these traits entitles him to respect and obedience from men and women around him.
Machismo is all this and more. For me, it has been the uncomfortable consciousness that what it means to be a woman in Latin America is something very different than what I grew up with. (Although it can be argued I grew up in a very sheltered environment. Furthermore, these observations are not unique to Latin America—they are merely re-packaged and re-labeled in various cultures around the world.) On a more theoretical level, it is the friction of our feminine and masculine insecurities and pride. It is the desperate awareness of the curse on Eve, “your desire shall be for him, but he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:17). In this sense, it is not a Latin American problem—it is a human problem.

Machismo is found in the sad complexity that men and women need each other, but we can never fulfill one another on our own. In our fallen attempts to be fulfilled, we are selfish and controlling. On the outside, the man often seems to be in control. But the woman resents his selfish leadership, and because he does not show love to her, therefore she does not respect him. In response to this lack of respect, the man seeks to preserve his pride through control tactics instead of love. Thus continues the bitter cycle—which, unfortunately, is not limited to marriage relationships.

But the cycle of machismo not something I can just sit here and research and talk about in a withdrawn, academic manner. It’s something I have seen firsthand, and it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s inescapable; I am immersed in it. I guess we all are, since it is a worldwide phenomenon—and we live in the world.

The challenge, then, is how to keep living in this world, but not being of or pertaining to this world. If Jesus came to take away the curse, then why do we still feel it? What is this now and not yet of liberty in Christ? The “now” is Christ living in us, creating the kingdom of God in our hearts and among his people, the Church. The “not yet” is the final restoration of all things to Christ at His second coming. The “now” is the “to live is Christ.” The “not yet” is the “to die is gain.”

I picked up a book on the sales table a few weeks ago. It’s called La RestauraciĆ³n de las Cosas Rotas (The Restoration of the Broken Things.) The title struck me because it seems to capture the essence of the Gospel, and of one of my favorite passages—Isaiah 61. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD (YHWH) is upon Me, because the LORD (YHWH) has anointed Me … He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted … To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD (YHWH), that He may be glorified. And they shall rebuild the old ruins, They shall raise up the former desolations, And they shall repair the ruined cities, The desolations of many generations.”

Jesus came to restore the broken things. He came to repair the desolations of many generations of machismo in our societies; to heal the broken-hearted lovers that have lost hope in their quest for true love and fulfillment; to give us the beauty of passionate, self-sacrificial love for the ashes of pride, lust, and control; to give the oil of joy to those who are left mourning infidelity and abuse; that our relationships and marriages would be like nourishing trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD (YHWH) and not of any human manipulation or impatient control—that He alone may be glorified.

I long for that restoration. I long for the harmony God designed for men and women to enjoy. I long to one day have the honor and privilege of reflecting the relationship of Christ and the Church through holy matrimony. But I don’t just want these things for myself. I see the pain and suffering that the curse of machismo causes in our society, and my heart longs for a peaceful love that will humbly serve, honor, and cherish its fellow humans. I want things to be different. For that, I am blessed. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [or justice, in some translations], for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). In the not yet, I long for—in the now, I strive for.

Maranatha. (Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!)

04 February 2011

2010: My City Year

2010: My City Year

I was born, raised, and went to college in suburbs in the Dayton, Ohio area.
In 2010, I spent only 1/5 my time living there. 2010 was my City Year. Sevilla, Spain until May. Indianapolis, Indiana until August. Then, Panama City, Panama.

I have always been the majority. I am a white, middle-class, native English-speaking Christian who almost exclusively hung out with white, middle-class, native English speaking Christians.

In 2010, I spent 42 weeks as a minority—whether by race, class, language, and/or religion. I spent 32 of those weeks communicating almost exclusively in a language not my own.

Needless to say, it was a year of a lot of adjustment, learning, and growth that continues as I live in Panama until August 2011.

On my second-to-last Sunday in Spain, I shared with my church family in Sevilla. I shared how God had proven His faithfulness to me there. I had asked Him for meaningful relationships there, both with followers of Christ and others. He had answered above and beyond my wildest expectations, and now it was difficult to say goodbye. I quoted Ephesians 2:19, which says, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” I told them that thanks to their hospitality and love, although I was the only North American in the church, I did not feel like an outsider—but rather a loved and accepted member of their community.

On my last Sunday in Ohio before going off to Panama, in September, my family prayed that God would send me mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers in the faith. Since I stepped off the plane, God has overwhelmingly answered that prayer.

My host parents Milton and Marisol have quiet and reserved personalities that I cannot claim to understand very well. But with time we have determined to talk through our issues with patience and grace, and have grown very close. They have taught me a lot about submission, authority, prayer, fasting, and trusting in God. When I wake up in the mornings, I see them kneeling at their bed together with their 5 year-old daughter Aby. Aby is a treasure, a child with Down’s Syndrome who is remarkably intelligent, articulate and affectionate. She loves giving big hugs, and going to the park with me.

I am also enormously thankful to my friend Sara—who took me to both the Atlantic and Pacific shores on my first weekend here. She invited me to her Bible Study, where I quickly became a part of her group of friends. We have talked, shopped, eaten, prayed, and laughed together. I spent the Panamanian national holidays, Christmas, and New Years with her big family in the interior of the country. She is like another sister to me, and just one of the many good friends God has brought me.

But for the first few months in Panama, I still felt very lonely at times. I felt lonely because I did not calculate exactly how hard it would be to leave my family again after living away from them for 6 months. But I also felt lonely because I did not have, and still do not have, any friends from the United States who are living here. How narrow-minded, petty, and selfish of me: the value of living abroad is in being the minority and learning from those who are different than you, right? Of course.

That’s why in Spain, I sought out and found opportunities to spend time with Spaniards and other international students. But as I think back on my memories with my amigos Sevillanos, I realize I was rarely without a North American friend at my side. I came to Sevilla with a group of 11 students, and some of them became close friends as we enjoyed the new culture and experiences together. We confided our adjustments, difficulties and little delights. We explored the streets together, returning in the “madrugada” (wee hours of the morning). We complained and cried and prayed and sang and ate together. We tried to speak Spanish, but often reverted to English when we were overwhelmed.

I don’t have that in Panama.

I posted the Spanish version of the famous Prayer of St. Francis Assisi (http://www.prayerguide.org.uk/stfrancis.htm) on my wall above my bed. I love all of it, but the part that resonates with me the most as I live abroad is “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek…to be understood as to understand.”
I have to read this prayer to myself a lot. I read it on the days my otherwise advanced Spanish fails to express my heart on a subject, or when cultural misunderstandings create barriers between me and other people. I read it on the days I selfishly wish to be understood better. I read it on the days I get frustrated by the speck in another’s eye and ignore the log in my own eye.

Just as I felt led to pray for meaningful relationships in Sevilla, God gave me a verse as I prepared for Panama: “This one thing I do: forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). I think there is a reason the purpose of the trip changed between Sevilla and Panama. It is not because I’m not supposed to make good friends. It’s because Panama is not like, and not going to be like Sevilla. Now is not the time to think about how things were before. Now is the time to narrow my gaze on Christ, pressing in to Him in the difficult times when I feel misunderstood. Now is the time to live with my eyes wide open, learning as much as I can.

God, in His great faithfulness, is constantly hiding me under the shadow of His wings. Nothing can separate me from His love. Instead, God uses the times of loneliness to cause me to hide myself in Him. He is answering my prayer to “cleanse me from secret faults,” and teach me submission; and He is fulfilling a mentor’s prophecy that God would prune me so that I can bear more fruit (circa John 15). That is my vision for 2011: to bear much fruit, by abiding in Christ and His words abiding in me. Without Christ, I can do nothing.