A Journey With the Living Christ

Here is the 2000 West Hills Church Germany team. We were not the choir but we sang like one!

Here is the 2000 West Hills Church Germany team. We were not the choir but we sang like one!

I am really enjoying this medium of the weblog. It gives me a chance every day, if I take it, to put down stories of people I know or have known or places I’ve been so I remember them once again. I am a collector of memories, but they are all collected in my head and heart. I have bits of flotsam around that remind me of some of them, but others just come to me at odd moments. As I was reading through some of what I’ve written over the last three weeks, it seems I need to write about George and Germany.

George Moore was my pastor for 18 years at West Hills Church until he died November 24, 2012. For the almost eleven years I worked for him, I called him my pastor, mentor, boss and friend and he was all those things. He was also the one who showed me what it really means to be on a journey with living Christ.

My eyes were really opened to this when I signed up to be a part of the team that went to southwest Germany in June, 2000. There were sixteen of us on that team and we had two full weeks together. There was George, of course, leading us with his wife, Pam. Dwaine Price, who was our choir director at the time, came along. Leisha Eiten was the elder for mission, and she along with me and my sister Jana, formed a trio of “maiden aunts” also known as the “unholy” sisters because we were not nuns! Priscilla Powell and I came to know each other and she would later be my best woman when I married my Steve. Steve Thedens, who can quote entire passages from Monty Python routines, shared the back seat of a Volkswagen van with me for many miles and I heard them all! Hank and Marna Davidson, Karen and Loren Loibl (Karen and I share a birthday), Gwen Mason, Linda Schuchmann, Randy Hess and Char Srb rounded out the team. I list them all because that was the first thing I really experienced on this trip: a community bound together in our love of Christ and the idea of incarnational witness. Our love for God and our fellowship together was lived out loud. We opened ourselves to each other in love, in fellowship, in honesty and vulnerability. It was an expression of the body of Christ that I had never known or opened myself up to experience before then. And two important words that I learned on this trip: Glaube and Liebe, faith and love, and their inseparability that I have experienced over and over again on other travels.

I traveled to Germany twice more for West Hills Church. In 2002 after Steve and I were married (six weeks later!) we took our honeymoon mission trip there, repeating the steps of the 2000 journey, which Steve was not on. Leisha came with us as elder/chaperone. We still laugh about that. Once again we stayed in homes with friends we had made in 2000, members of the Evangelische Kirche (protestant church) in Öhringen, near Stuttgart. It was post 9/11 by then, and we had amazing conversations with pastors and others about our president’s careless use of God’s words: You’re either with us or against us, he said. Having conversations with those from other places about faith was part of my learning experience on this journey.

In 2005, we returned again as part of the choir, where we spent a day at Dachau. I was the chaplain on that trip and also the mission coordinator for West Hills. My mentor and pastor George had prepared me well to have an experience of God that allowed me to lead worship for our group in scripture and song. “Precious Lord, take my hand,” we sang as we had experienced the last steps of many who were led to slaughter in gas chambers and ovens. Who else would take their hands? The Twenty-third Psalm became more than just a scripture to be read at funerals for me there. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me.” I could hear the voices of people speaking those words in context. On a quiet Friday here in Omaha, my mind wanders and these memories come flooding back like they happened just yesterday. They are as fresh and alive even now.

My journey with the living Christ continues as I experience new family relationships in the Middle East. But it goes back to George and Germany and I needed to put that down today.

Identity

arabic letter nIt’s the end of another day and time for bed. I just stood in front of the bathroom mirror and brushed my teeth and took my hair out of the small ponytail I have been wearing this past week. I pull it back because it covers the hairless portions of my scalp. I have an autoimmune disorder called alopecia areata. Periodically, my immune system tells my hair follicles that they are alien and the hair must go. I end up with these patches on my head that have no hair, and it bothers me. It makes me feel odd and unlike those around me (women more than anyone else) with full heads of beautiful flowing locks.

As a small child I had plenty of hair and wore it long in a braid or a ponytail. My sisters always had their hair short, but mine was allowed to grow out. In pictures from my youth it is always there.

That's Steve and I, sick and asleep at the end of that trip to Germany. You can't see it, but about 60% of my hair is gone.

That’s Steve and I, sick and asleep at the end of that trip to Germany. You can’t see it, but about 60% of my hair is gone.

In 2005, I noticed one day when I was doing my morning routine, pulling it back into a scrunchy…there was a lot of scalp showing and it scared me. I was getting ready to travel with our church choir on a relational journey to Germany and Austria, to share God’s love and good news through music. I couldn’t get to a doctor fast enough before we left, so I took a hat with me to cover my head’s near nakedness. I hated the way I looked and it made me feel less than human. How could a woman be bald? People would stare, wouldn’t they? They would look at my lack of hair and not be able to hear what I had to tell them through music. It was devastating.

On that trip we made a visit to Dachau, the German camp where thousands were put to death because they were Jewish. The first thing they did to the prisoners there upon coming to the camp was to shave all their hair, whether they were women or men. I remember seeing the pictures displayed there and mourning for the way we can dehumanize those who walk this earth with us because they are different from us: different in their ethnicity, in their family of origin, in their faith. I remember looking into the eyes of those in those old photos and seeing only their humanity. We were the same: flesh and bone, man and woman, parent and child, human, made in God’s very image. And he knows the hairs on our heads or the lack thereof.

And I wept not for the loss of my hair or their hair, but for the simple fact that we were all part of the human family: God’s children. And we had found a way to take that away from each other.

Today, that is happening in other parts of the world. There are those who would drive away their neighbors because their expression and belief of God and his word are not the way they see it. They drive them from their homes and all they know and all they have for the sake of some sick, twisted ideology. They are rejected for no good reason, like my body rejecting the hairs on my head as alien. This is not of God. This is part of the brokenness of humanity.

And so today when I look in the mirror I am looking past the bare places on my scalp. My identity is not there. It is with my brothers and sisters sent wandering again into the wilderness. Their homes have been marked with a symbol that someone else sees as derogatory; a mark of humiliation, like the shaving of hair.

They have been called “nasrani,” expressed with the Arabic symbol for the letter n. They have been called Christian. And I will wear that symbol with them. We are family. Our identity is found with our triune God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. And he knows the hairs on our head.