This week I’m sharing a series of stories and reflections from my time spent studying abroad in Central America. These are excerpts from my memoir in progress; stories that have shaped me, shattered my pretenses and preset beliefs, and sculpted the way I live and love and encounter God today. I hope in some small way, you can relate and be challenged to reflect more deeply on the experiences that have influenced you and your faith. Check out Monday’s and Tuesday’s posts to catch up.
Most days, our professor, Don Mike, would pace back and forth like a lion waiting to go in for the kill. His sporadic mumblings sounded like growls and soon he would be roaring. My jaw would clench as my heart pounded. He would reduce my beliefs and upbringing to egocentric self-validation. A means of exclusion. Judgment. My faith was offensive, a stench in the nostrils of the Almighty God. A darkened city on a hill. The tasteless salt of the earth. The hypocritical light of the world. The hair on my arms would stand up and it would feel like I’d swallowed a car battery. If anyone, he’d be the one to know when the church was being ineffective; he used to be a Catholic priest.
|Don Mike lecturing to us on a field trip in Costa Rica.|
By this point, the pulsating vein in the middle of his scrunched forehead looked ready to burst. I would forget that that he coined himself a “recovering Catholic.” I would forget that he did not hold a monopoly on truth. And while I hated him and everything he was saying, I still began to believe that maybe I was the enemy.
I began to question my entire life as a Christian—which was also my entire life as a person. Appearance was everything. Christianity was only rhetoric. I was only rhetoric—empty words that sounded pretty but meant nothing and helped no one. I could justify and preach and condemn, but loving didn’t come so easily. Although I had been plagued with guilt and self-doubt, I had always thought that I did enough when it came to giving and serving the poor. I was nice to my friends; I didn’t do drugs; I gave money to the church. I prayed. I read my Bible. All of my spiritual strivings turned irrelevant in the shadow of Don Mike’s angry eyes. I thought of the starving children I had seen digging through trash in the garbage dump, begging on the streets of San Jose, and knew that no amount of Bible reading and prayer groups could make the world fair.
I wanted to be more than words.
How have you been challenged to live out your faith? Have you ever discovered hypocrisy or hollowness in your own faith journey?