Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Black Diamond Slopes

If you've ever been skiing, you might relate to this feeling. It's the feeling you get when you know you're doing pretty well: you're turning, you're stopping, you haven't fallen while getting off of the ski lift (causing a traffic jam & forcing everyone to stop & untangle poles & skis & goggles from inside your jacket) in at least three runs. It's that feeling you get towards the end of the day, when you've mastered your slope (more or less) and start to believe that you can hold your head up in the ski lodge (as long as you don't slip down those wet metal stairs in your awkward stiff boots).

And then it happens: some toddler-- some infant who shouldn't even be walking-- comes careening down the slope in a blur of knitted wool, skidding to a stop in front of you with comfortable confidence and a happy-go-lucky smile. You want to hate them, but you can't help admiring them. And, you also want to either 1) turn in your skis, go back down to the lodge and take up Hot Chocolate Drinking as a hobby, or 2) push yourself harder and go higher up the mountain.

Now, I confess, I stopped skiing when I was about 16, and became an expert at drinking hot chocolate. I realized that if I was going to improve on the slopes, it would require long, cold rides on ski lifts to the top of the mountain, along with fear, injury & hard work. I don't like being cold, I'm afraid of fear, and complain about paper cuts. Clearly, my career as a hot chocolate drinker was set before me.

I bring this up, not because we are planning a trip to Tahoe, but because of some new friends that have been keeping me up at nights.

No, I'm not talkin
g about our new upstairs neighbors that like to have parties until 2 & 3am, playing bad disco & country music (with the volume set to 11) and line dancing on the hardwood floors directly over our bed. Apparently I still haven't forgiven them for last night... but that's a different story.

I am referring to a group of people we've met through our Abolition Workshop. Chris & I have been attending a 6-week workshop on human trafficking & modern day slavery. We have also been reading a book on slavery, attended a fancy $100-a-plate benefit dinner for the International Justice Mission (someone else bought our tickets!), watched a great documentary on slavery, and are attending a conference in Berkeley on Global Slavery this weekend.

As you can imagine, I feel a little like my whole world is revolving around one subject, but it's not through some new obsession or a trendy buzz issue. Ironically, each of these o
pportunities (the workshop, the dinner, the conference) have presented themselves to me separately, through different people & sources-- almost as though this was a season in my life where I was meant to really stop and focus on this one issue.

Through this process, I have been introduced to more than human
rights issues. I have met some fascinating, wonderful, passionate & alive people, who have challenged me and made me feel alive in the process. They are the kind of people who hear Jesus' words when he says, "Sell your possessions and give them to the poor", and actually do it; the kind of people who shop at thrift stores (and still manage to be stylish) because they don't want to fund slavery in the textile industry, and who are perfectly content walking, instead of owning a car.

Now, I know they sound radical, and a little weird, and I guess they are-- but not
in a Branch Davidian, "Jesus is coming back tomorrow" kind of way, and not in a preachy, obnoxious "Meat is Murder" kind of way... They are comfortable & accepting and have fun & interesting conversations on topics other than prayer, the Bible, or human rights. And although they are comfortable & accepting, they have really challenged me to push myself a little higher-- to not become complacent where I'm at. Which is where my child ski prodigy metaphor comes into play.

One might think that, because I'm a Professional Christian-- because I have my quintessential photo in a refugee camp with hungry children, because I raise my own salary instead of having a "real job", or because we have the highest Bible-per-square-foot ratio known to man in our tiny apartment-- that I am (metaphorically speaking) one of those child ski prodigies, flying down the slopes, at the top of my game. But these new friends of ours have caused me to look around and see that there's a lot more mountain up there, so to speak.

For a long time
now, I have been thinking that I've been doing pretty well-- not in a self-important kind of way, but simply working hard to live out my values. Like I said, our rent is paid by charity, and we called a mud hut Home this summer, for crying out loud. When it comes to our organization, Chris & I are considered fairly cutting edge-- or at least pretty "out there", with all our talk about the poor & social justice. Until recently, most of our friends in San Francisco have been wealthier than us. When we go to their parties, they talk about spas, vacations, flat screen TV's, and buying new homes & cars. The result was that I had (or thought I had) the subtly sweet flavor of a martyr-- someone who sacrificed for an important cause... and sometimes felt slightly deprived, as well.

But now-- now, I feel challenged & stretched & even a little
uncomfortable. I think of everything I have, and the things I take for granted. I think of the battles out there that are so important to fight, and how little I am truly doing to fight them. When I hear stories about the Thai girl who was sold to a brothel by her aunt, the Indian family who was tricked into slavery in a brick kiln, the Bolivian men trafficked to Russia for hard labor without pay, or the Ghanan child tortured on cocoa plantations, I know I am obligated to do something. I know that the life I am leading now is not an appropriate response to those true and awful stories.

I'm not saying that I now suddenly believe that what I do or have done is unimportant or trivial-- I love my job & deeply believe in what I do. This is not stemming from insecurity or comparison or a sense of failure-- but, as I said, I have simply been noticing that there's a whole lot more mountain up there.

What is interesting is that these new friends have brought along with them both a feeling of discomfort and contentment. I feel deep, deep contentment with what I have. Life is so sweet right now, and I can honestly say that I want for nothing. There are so many times throughout my week when I stop & take a deep breath and simply marvel at how much I have, how lucky I am, and what a great stage of life I am in.

Being challenged to give more, to do more, and to be more has-- ironically-- given me such gratitude for what I have. Life feels full & rich & worth living. It feels like the decisions I make are important and the way that I live can make a difference. It's more than the starry eyed idealism of a college freshman whose professors have suddenly opened up a whole new world to them, birthing naiive passion. This feels deeper & more calculated. Maybe it's because I know how much it will cost, and maybe it's because I know I'm not quite ready to give it. These battles are fought-- and paid for-- at little bit at a time.

There's always someone out there who's further down the line than you, someone who is more experienced or more talented. But I think, in my mind (as silly as it sounds), I had hit some sort of invisible glass ceiling, seeing the people beyond us as exotic Mother Theresa types, on the other side of the world. Now, I am realizing that "Mother Theresa" lives down the street, and is a normal, everyday person who has taken the same issues that I am passionate about and turned them into a lifestyle, rather than a mission trip.

As I write this, I struggle to find the right words to describe the profound impact these friends & these issues are having in my life, my heart, my mind. I could write a book-- maybe one day I will. I just pray that instead of finding the right words to describe it, I can simply show it through my lifestyle-- as they do.

Thank you, Sarah, Mark, Lisa, Adam, Jeff, Melissa, Justin, Ally... you have made me look higher.

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