Travelling and Coming Home

Does anyone take a good driver’s license or passport photo? I took the stuff to renew my passport to the post office yesterday. It’s not quite reached its expiration, but if you’re planning on travelling out of the country, your passport cannot be within six months of expiration, depending on your destination. Who knew? I went down to my local pharmacy to get said passport photo and the woman at the counter was very nice and very clear about the rules. No eyewear, no smiling, and your head has to be exactly parallel with the ground – no tilting, no “but my right side has better hair today”, no photo-retouching because one eye has always been larger than the other. Look straight at the camera and think about the most boring day in your life ever. Seriously, that was her instruction to me, and the photo turned out evidently exactly the way she knows it needs to be. She pronounced it “perfect”, I looked at it and decided that not only does the camera add 10 pounds, I think it adds 20 years. Without any head tilt, the effects of gravity around one’s eyes and the skin under one’s chin become rather pronounced. I just KNOW that can’t be how I appear on an ongoing basis! Feel free NOT to tell me your thoughts on that understanding.

When I asked this nice photographer/behind the counter pharmacy store clerk about the rather definite rules she has about the passport photo process, she kindly explained that the security people now look for points of recognition on your photo, not on how closely you look like the actual picture. So it’s about the shape and angle of your jawline and cheekbones, and about how close or far apart your eyes are set, and the height and depth of your forehead and where and how protruding your eyebrows and/or brow lines are, and the width and length of your nose. They do NOT look at how all those things fit together and make an evaluation of beautiful or ugly, “so,” she says, “you really have nothing to worry about.” Hmmmm, I’m still wondering what she meant by that statement? I went ahead and invited her to Grace, and she went ahead and thanked me and said she wasn’t looking for a church so I went ahead and said we were starting a new community that might be “less churchy” out at the Ball Conference Center, and she went ahead and rather firmly told me she wasn’t looking for a church or a less churchy place to go on Sundays and I went ahead and invited her to Saturday night and she went ahead and smiled and handed me my receipt and told me she hoped my international travel went well and to have a good evening and I went ahead and took the cue and left. I wondered when I got to my car if she was contacting Homeland Security or Border Patrol to tell them to watch out for me and my newly-applied-for passport because I might be somewhat annoying.

My first passport ever, and I still have all of them, I got in 1979 to travel in Europe the summer after my junior year on a “wind band” tour through Purdue University. We travelled and played in 7 different countries with band members from across the United States and I’ve never been so homesick in my entire life. We gathered and rehearsed in New York for 5 days before leaving for Europe and were there another three weeks before heading home. I know it was one of those life-shaping experiences for which to be ever-grateful, especially as a kid from a small town in western Kansas, but I was never so glad to be home in my entire life. My second passport I received in 1984 when I decided to head to Germany over spring break of my first year of teaching to see my friend Jayne singing in the Opera at Kaiserslautern in West Germany. Between performances we travelled to Switzerland and France and all over the German countryside. One of the things I remember most… driving on the autobahn… NO SPEED LIMITS – hooo baby. My rental car was not even close to the Mercedes and Audis that went flying by, but it was some fun for this accelerator presser! My third passport was a 1999 version when I helped lead a group to the Vladimir region of Russia. We had hoped to do a medical mission and some construction on and in a small rural village health clinic. It didn’t happen. It was still a very culturally closed area considered “red” and the local community and government were not about to let us see the health needs they had. In fact, we found out later they had moved the few people that were staying in the clinic to another neighborhood home so we could stay at the clinic and “believe” that they didn’t have any health issues. It was the oddest experience I think I’ve had – we knew we weren’t experiencing the reality, but we couldn’t find a way to build enough trust to get the truth. My fourth passport was my last one in 2009 when we took our first group to Liberia, West Africa. It was a life-long dream in my ministry to find a way to do mission on the African continent and it opened my eyes and my world to so very many things. Overwhelming as it was, the mix of optimism in the midst of desperate times was a profound perspective that stays with me. Working with young people who were former child soldiers and seeing in them the hope that education offered was humbling. It is difficult to believe that was ten years ago.

In all those passport pictures is the record of change. I look at each of those faces, somehow resembling the one in the mirror, and I’m taken back to how much I didn’t know, how much life I had yet to experience, how many things in the world I believe I had figured out that in fact were beyond my “knowing” and the growth of humility that happens as I learned that truth. How many faces continue to move in and out of my memory with each of those periods and mission travels and desires to do good things and wondering a little and a lot of bit if the good outweighs how little we knew of what we were doing. It is still true that mission within and outside the borders that human beings set up between ourselves is about relationship. Relationship with those we serve, relationship within a team, relationship with our sending church home and the umbrella of all that relationship with God. What never failed was how glad I always was to be home – from a concert band tour to a visit with a friend to mission with brothers and sisters near and far – I am always glad to be home.

If that is true for me… I can surmise that’s true for those who are forced to leave their homes under absolute desperate situations. We are experiencing the greatest migration of populations of people in global history and what that means for our future really depends on how we choose to respond to the “stranger” in our midst. There’s that whole Jesus deal from Matthew 25:35 “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” Jesus doesn’t really say I was a stranger with a valid passport with an appropriate picture that while not ugly or beautiful matched up to the measured points of facial recognition so you welcomed me. He probably would have if he were living in 2018? Since he was from the Middle East he may have had a hard time getting past border security with that beard and those sandals and that whole robe-with-a-braided-belt look. I know, I know, immigration and documentation and massive population shifts and limited resources and, and, and… all make the issue of borders and security far more complicated than the whole “I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” scripture reference. And yet I wonder. So what I do in the midst of that “wondering” is pray, and work at making our Mission Center as welcoming a place as possible for all folks from anywhere, and pray, and intentionally put myself in places beyond my comfort zone with people I may not completely understand to learn about “their” way of seeing the world, and pray, and work on my own heart of generosity and hospitality and pray. I endure in my prayers for world peace – I will NEVER give up on believing and working toward a peace that finally means a safe place for people to leave and come back to, a place without borders and boundaries, a place we each finally and together can call home.