Saturday, June 7, 2008

A time to grieve...

Human issues are God issues...
or at least they should be.
When God sees the way we as humans(His children) treat each other, He must certainly grieve and experience deep pain in seeing these atrocities we create on His earth to each other. To me the absence of evil is the prescence of love, and this prescence of love can seem to only come fully exercised through God, meaning that where true love exists, so too must God. And that where true evil exists, God is absent or uninvolved. I believe God can have wrath and anger as much a part of His nature as love, however this is not to be confused with evil. This evil then comes from His creation, human beings. Being that we have free choice and ability to follow a right path or pursue evil through our own selfishness, many of us have chosen evil and brought it forth in many forms in the world. By choosing to act for human rights, I believe one is choosing to act for the rights of our God as well.

When over half of the Tibetan population is terrorized, forced to flee their homes and culture, and committed mass genocide against...God grieves.
When hundreds of thousands of underage girls are committed to the slave-sex trade, billions of dollars are made on the industry, and some governments even prosper from this evil...God grieves.
When life after life is lost in the so-called "holy war" fighting over land and power...God grieves.

These things are out of God's nature. They are the absence of love and the prescence of evil. I believe it is our goal, those of us who understand this love, to not only be proactive and helfpful in the fight of such evils, but also to share in this grief and sadness that God experiences from all this as well. It should pain us deeply to see how we as humans have failed to love each other in so many areas, and as a result unleashed evil and repercussions of our own selfishness. God must weep as He sees how we have wreaked havoc on our own home.

I have always wondered why people tag and vandalize their own communities. It never appealed to me to carve my name in the bus I have to ride to school in, or tear the door off of the toilet which I may someday have to use, or graffiti the walls of the neighborhood I have to live in. I'm sure God must share in this grievious bewilderment at what we as humans do to each other and our own surroundings as well. We seem to advance from one evil to the next, all the while ignorant of our weeping Maker who sees us doing it all wrong.

In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet Jeremiah shares in God's grief over the status of the nation of Judah, which once was a Godly nation where brothers loved each other, but now was ridden with evil and wrongdoing. In verse 21 of the 8th chapter of Jeremiah, the prophet utters these words which reverberated so loud in my heart while in this Tibetan-exiled land of Dharamasala, "Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me." It is not simply enough for us to sympathize with God and the people of these terrible situations, but we must empathize with them and share in their pain just as Jeremiah does in his situation. Later on in this chapter of Jeremiah, God speaks up and shares in Jeremiah's grief over the lack of compassion and love for God in his own nation.

It is sad to see how far our own sin and evil can take us, and it is always so far away from truth and love. I must not only understand these peoples pain, but share in their and God's grief over the absence of love. I must learn to grieve every time I hear of the slave-sex trade, homelessness, war, religious persecution, and any other human issue I come across on a daily basis. The hope is that this grieving and empathizing will lead to proactiveness, a prayerful heart, and a desire to not allow the presence of evil or the absence of love exist in or around me. There is so much we can do one thing at a time to start fixing the messes that we have created in our own world, we are often the cause of our own disease.
We must share in the grieving process, and start with prayer.
Jeremiah 9:1- Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Kill My Pride

So far on my trip I have found myself seeming to float along quite nicely physically and spiritually. I hadn't yet found much too physically or mentally trying along the way. I hadn't experienced much struggle or confusion. My prayers were seeming to flow out of my heart quite nicely. I never really had to walk far, work hard, or do much really for that matter. Its been all sights, fun, and a very enjoyable journey for the most part.
In this pleasurable monotony, I failed to acknowledge the accumulation of serious amounts of pride. Of course my prayers were flowing nicely, I gave no time for God to speak. Of course there was no hard walks, I payed a rickshaw or some form of transportation to take me everywhere in the heat. Of course I haven't worked hard, I have come on this journey with no real work or purpose in the first place.
Last week, Mike and I took a trek through one of the Himalaya mountain ranges up to Anna Purna Base Camp. This had to be one of the most physically and mentally trying things I have endured in quite some time. Instantly, my pride began to get put in check as I thought that I would have what it took physically to get through this, but quickly found that I was struggling just as much as some of the 60 yr. old+ men were. We made some good friends and I always seemed to trail the group of people hiking, and sweated more than anyone on the whole trek I believe. I had to accept the fact that I was not the yogic superman I had thought I was going into this trek, and had to be comfortable conquering this mountain at my own pace, even if it seemed far inferior to the physical level of the people I was traveling with.
After 8 days of beautiful views, tough full days of hiking, and also lots of fun, we finally made it back to lakeside Pokhara in Nepal. Now I was feeling overjoyed to be on flat land, and extremely proud of myself for making it through this. As we began relaxing and enjoying food and drink, my pride was haulted again by my own mouth. A close friend acknowledged my pompous and pretentious way of speech that sometimes intercedes more recent conversations, usually in reference to health and/or organic living. I was silenced immediately.
It hurts so bad to take a fall from the top of a house built of pride like this, and I assure you that I needed it very badly. Even after my small lesson with pride in the mountains, I puffed my chest right back up in comfort and spoke in pride again. I began to realize how often I let my own pride belittle and hurt those around me whom I love the most. I speak of unimportant things in such a way as to benefit only myself and not anyone participating and listening to my conversation. And when it comes down to it...I know nothing, I am nothing, and I was the one always at the back of the trail.
Thankfully, I had just prayed days before for a sort of "burning" off of sin, or in this case pride, just as the prophet Isaiah experienced. I got what I prayed for, and it was painful. For a day I sulked and over analyzed every short coming and prideful thought, and I believe it was all quite necessary. I am glad to serve a Maker who is in love with the one at the back of the trail. I am at peace now knowing that God comes to the rescue of those who experience this void of nothingness and has the love and power to build them back up. However, I never want to become the recent reflection of myself that I was shown again. I believe this build up of pride had built up a sort of barrier between God and I, and that it made my spiritual life only seem to glide along, when in reality...I was in need of a reality check.
When I was 17 years old I indulged in a tattoo on my shin that bears the banner, "Kill My Pride". At the time, I dont think I even really knew how important this cry would become in my life. God...Please Kill My Pride on a daily basis. In the last year I have realized just how devastating pride can be, and how much of it I have in my life that needs to be purged. I hope and pray that this purging continues daily. I have now experienced the pride before the fall that I have so often read about, and I am humbled to say the least.
Forgive me.
Grace and Peace.
A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you're looking down, you can't see something that's above you.-C.S. Lewis

still the same...

Or at least I still "feel" the same.
After two months now of traveling through two countries so different from mine, how could I possibly still feel the same?
Yes, I have experienced much and seen a lot, but yet as I come to the the last few weeks of my trip, I know I will be returning home with just as much confusion and bewilderment at what to do with this life God has given me.
Going home for me is exciting to see the people I love, however I am quite fearful of falling back into old patterns, and not being able to follow through on some sort of passionate goal in furthering the Kingdom of God here on earth. I dont want to be rich, or famous, or popular, or smart, or well spoken. I especially do not want to participate in the mundane. I am fearful to lose my spark and passion for this journey and life that God has called us to live.
So...I guess its begins with that. Avoid the standard, and strive for something larger than me.
Now if I just knew where to start?
Grace and Peace.
Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." (Harold Whitman)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Are you there God?

India can be the most beautiful place, but it can also be the ugliest place.

In the midst of this up-and-down battle of my senses here in India, I have also been experiencing a similar rollercoaster-like spiritual life. Some days I wake up on the beautiful and peaceful beach in Goa, or the stunning white city palace back drop of Lake Pichola in Udaipur and really feel God's presence and hear His voice. Then there are other days, when I struggle to get a wink of sleep on a 21 hour bus ride from hell to udaipur, or have to traverse the smelly-trash ridden streets of Chennai to see any beautiful sights that I feel as if God is not there at all and all I had experienced in the beauty was my own imagination.
I am starting to realize that it is in these moments of utter discomfort and disarray when God is trying to speak the most. For instance, I could have had an amazing morning in which I am reminded to be more mindful of my actions towards others(a seemingly easy task on a beautiful beach with no real problems to face right?), and then once I am thrown back into the miserable temperature of the disgusting filthy city, I start treating everyone along my way as if they were mere obstacles in my quest for comfort. Just like that, I forget all about that whisper in the peace saying "be mindful my son of your actions" and I am back to the total distortion and overdrive that drowns out the voice and presence of God I am seeking.
I found myself getting frustrated at God in this bumpy journey toward His plan for me, but we must realize that this is part of the "journey" in and of itself. The ups and downs are where God really speaks to us, and puts to use the wisdom and faith that He has built in us along the way. It's in the whispers of the children and the silence of the desert; but it's also in the rip-off at the market and the angered sweaty face of the man next to you on the train. God does not take His presence away from us while we seek Him, sometimes it seems He just talks a little quieter to make sure we were, and are listening. I think God often repeats back to me, "Are you there Russ?"
Matthew 28:20-"...And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Northern Lights

It all begins with the long aerial journey to start the journey. I was apprehensive about flying, as always, but was immediately comforted to know that my row was empty and I would be able to sprawl across three seats!! The flight from LAX to Germany was long, but I spent most of the time engulfed in an amazing book called Wild at Heart, by John Eldridge. My dad gave me this book highly recommended, and it began speaking to my heart in the most incredible way a book ever has. I was in such a deep dialogue with God through much of the book. I felt like God Himself was talking to me authentically through each well put thought after another. The book really opened the heart of what it is to be a MAN of God and to come to the real heart of the God who made you such. There were so many mental revelations happening through this book, and I continued to thank God during each one. I was starting to feel really excited for the trip and had very little anxiety left regarding this journey.
From Germany, I had to fly to Delhi, and then from Delhi to Chennai. The second long leg of the flight also had a totally empty row for me to sprawl out on and get some rest. While everyone on the plane seemed to be asleep, I was sitting up reading and writing and talking with God. One of male flight attendants approaches my row and asks, "Have you heard of the Northern Lights?" "YES!!!" I replied as he pointed at my shade drawn in front of the window, beckoning me to open it up and see. Sure as daylight, I looked out the wing of our Indian aircraft only to see the most amazing display of the Northern Lights I could have ever hoped for. The man chatted with me a bit about them, while I was experiencing extreme chills and excitement at the shear wonder, mystery, and beauty in these dancing night swirls. These irradescent flows of multi-colored lights were flowing like the gowns of angels descending to earth, and it was all happening about 20 feet in front my window.
I could not, and can not, help but to feel like this was God Himself again speaking to me and showing me that this was the beginning of a long, mystical journey. I prayed and praised God for such a beautiful encounter with one of the most gorgeous natural occurences I have ever wanted to see. Things were feeling alright, until I got into Chennai alone.
Chennai is the hottest and second most populated state in India. It is filthy, and the people are not always as nice here as they seem in other regions. After stepping out of the airport to hail a rickshaw, I was bombarded by a wall of steam which made it feel like I was breathing through a wet sponge! There were at least a thousand Indian people in the chaos of the airport area, and I was immediately feeling overwhelmed and being in over my head. I got a cab to the shadiest cheap hotel I could find, and shut the door and began to pray with a heavy heart and tear-laden eyes. Even after God's mystical experience with me, I felt so alone and out of touch with Him all of the sudden. I prayed through it and started some reading, and God helped me to get out of the room to start the journey alone.
I am reminded of the way God blessed the Israelite people in the Old Testament with many miracles(parting of the red sea, escaping from Pharoah, winning numerous battles, etc.) and how He brought that up to them when they felt forsaken or out of touch. God reminded them of all the many miracles He had showed them firsthand, encouraging them to remain faithful in that memory of His almighty power and omiscience. And yet many of them, still strayed or felt forsaken by God when things went wrong. After my few mystical experiences with God on the flight there, I was feeling far away and forgotten. The first day of sightseeing alone, I encountered the only seeming Christian rickshaw driver who became my driver and tour guide through chennai all at a very humble price. Then, I was treated to breakfast at a hotel restaurant by a business man from New Hampshire, whose english and shared conversation about his journeys throughout his youth really inspired and uplifted me. To add the icing to the cake of God's authentic experience with me are these two men's names; Thomas(from New Hampshire) and Paul(from India-my rickie driver). Not only had God provided the perfect comforting friends and conversations, but they were named after two of Christ's disciples. I am wondering if I will meet the other ten names now!! God speaks in mysterious ways that are authentic, creative, and special according to each of His children's needs and desires. I spent the three days alone exploring sights like St. Thomas Basilica(burial place of Thomas the apostle), Kaballasware temple, Mamallapuram, and the Five Rathas. I did much praying and thanking to God in these places just for this already amazing Divine experience. I have struggled with patience and some lonliness since I got here, but once I met up with my dear friend mike on the fourth evening, everything seemed to be shining again and I was ready to face a whole new set of struggles with him. Never forget the miracles and divine interventions God provides for you, no matter how small, because those could very well be the answers to your prayers and struggles. If you seek Him, He will find you and lift you up from the struggles and triumphs.
I am now really enjoying my time here as we have moved up to a much cooler climate and better area called Bangalore. We are setting out for some serious travel in the next week, and Im looking forward to a whole new set of experiences and lessons from the true Father.
In His Comfort-Russ
Psalm 139:7&8 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

Monday, March 31, 2008

And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. I leave the all the comforts and pleasures that exist here in my beautiful Southern California home life to embark on a journey through India. I have spent the last year of life doing a great deal of "seeking", and this trip is an extension of this search. I am not searching for God, for I know He exists anywhere and everywhere. I am not searching for myself, for I know that God has made me and that I have a purpose. I am not searching for a companion being that I have a beautiful girlfriend who embodies true love : ) SO...What in the world am I searching for?!
To be honest I dont think this journey is that of a "soul-search", but rather a pilgrimage in which I will seek with all my heart and being to follow the path God has set out for me. Each soul is here for a greater purpose, and I am determined to find mine. I believe my searching days are over because God has found me long ago when I was young. Now the goal is not to find the Divine, for it exists in everything at all times, but to CONNECT with the Divine. I hope and pray that as this journey takes place, my heart and mind will be moved into spaces and situations I have never experienced.
Setting this trip up was much harder than anticipated, but I think that will only add to the pay off in the lessons and experiences gathered. I have spent the last month trying to "be here now", but have struggled with my perception of how this future journey would be. Now, on the day of my departure, its all starting to catch up! The importance of tools like breath, posture, and prayer come into great use on a journey of this kind. I spent a sleepless last night at my parents house fearing the long flight, the language barriers, getting sick, getting lost, and the possibility of feeling generally uncomfortable in a new situation. It wasnt until a conversation with God this morning that I felt at ease. It struck me that there is to be no fear in order for this journey to really change me. If I spent the trip worrying, anticipating, and possibly fearing the unknown then I might miss the experience with the only one worthy of being feared. I am confident that everything happens for a reason, even things like pain and death. I was feeling like I might have nothing to comfort and combat these woes, but as I read my Bible this morning, it lit up! For me, the Bible is the Word, and this morning God showed me that the Word is my comfort. In his perfect Word I find comfort, healing, directions, and most of all I find HOME. I finally felt that calm this morning that I have been searching for the last month of setting up flights and reading travel blog after travel blog. I feel God's presence and hope to stay in this light for the whole of the trip. My woes of traveling are at a minimum now and I am greatly looking forward to this 11 weeks of EXPERIENCE.
Thank you to you friends and family who have supported this journey of the soul for me not only mentally, but financially as well. You will all be in my daily thoughts and prayers. I hope that you can share in my joy of this encounter with God and the experiences in which I share with you. I will do my best to update this blog with the happenings in India and the matters deeper in my heart that coexist. I am looking forward to spending this trip with an amazing friend and brother, Mike Shook, whom is an old soul and whose actions and writings in the last few years of astrangedness have truly inspired me and lifted my faith. Please keep your eyes on the path, and the prayer in your heart, and I will do my damndest to do the same. In His Grace-Russ

Psalm 119:105- Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path.