From December 31 to January 4 I was in Pittsburgh, celebrating a reunion of the folks I want to Cairo with this past summer. Our trip was very transformative for all of us. We were the most unified team I've ever been a part of. I felt incredibly at home with those people for the couple days we were all together.
The reunion was a great opportunity to catch up on each others' lives since Cairo, talk about our re-entry processes and how everyone was doing with the commitments we'd made this summer. things like that are really good for me, because I am not naturally good at self-reflection. When people ask me questions I begin to understand myself. The whole self-reflection thing deserves its own future post.
This is the story of my re-entry.
In Cairo I had been so long away from the diseased air of materialism, consumerism, an entertainment culture that I felt like a new person. You have no idea how all-encompassing that culture is when you grow up in America until you escape for a time.
Coming back I sat for 9 hours (I'm completely making that number up... it was a long time) in an airplane with my own personal TV screen, watching movies. I've never been one to watch much television, but I dove right back in. I didn't really talk to anyone during the flight. I didn't watch anything that I would normally consider "bad." But I got off the plane just feeling grimy. This was the beginning of a deep selfishness that was at the core of my reaction to my Cairo experience.
Debrief in Miami was amazing. I loved the team more and more. Mike, Luke, Jon and I confirmed our commitment to live in community with one another at the end of the current school year. We talked about some issues of race that had affected our team which some of us weren't even aware of. God used debrief to continue to stretch me, and to prepare me for the rest of the re-entry process. Without that week, I'd have been much more of a mess than I was.
After a two-day car ride back to Harrisburg with Don, I was met by very patient, curious, loving parents. They were great -- willing to give me space and wiling to sit and listen to me tell stories for hours about people they had never met. That week of nothing could have been really good for me. I tried to spend a lot of time in silence, processing. But I ended up just closing in on myself. I became very self-focused, very selfish.
Finally after a week I traveled to some weddings and began to interact socially again. I had some friends who were gracious enough to want to listen to my stories, and some who were not only willing to listen, but also to learn.
Coming back to campus I was able to start tutoring, start co-leading a social justice small group, start talking to people at church about serving the poor in their neighborhood, start planning an urban plunge for Rochester, start trying to plan were we'll live next year. The passions that God had grown in me over the summer had an outlet. I was starting to live according to my new understanding of the whole gospel. But having this external outlet allowed me to cover over the selfishness that was rooted inside me, to leave it there unaddressed.
My roommate and I began to hold each other accountable in more structured ways. God arranged our schedules so neither of us had obligations until 10am. We started getting up together at 8, so we could get ready, spend some time in scripture study and prayer quietly before God, and still have almost an hour to talk and pray together. God really blessed my devotional life through that, and was drawing me closer to him. But there were several sins and temptations that I couldn't seem to shake.
But it wasn't until one Sunday at church that God began to reveal the selfishness at the root of those temptations. James says it's by our own evil desires that we're dragged away and enticed, and that was certainly proved true for me. I was sitting in a room alone at church when God gave me this image of my soul.
It took me all the time between that revelation and the reunion to work that out, to confess my selfish retreat from the things God was doing in me by separating me from this polluted American air, and to finally purify my heart before him.
white as snow
you wash my soul
so white, so white
white as snow