A month ago I returned to Minnesota after a quick, but lovely, trip to Kenya. The Mission Office staff journeyed to our partner diocese of Homa Bay. We went to be part of a variety of diocesan and parish meetings both evaluating the partnership as of late, and looking at goals for its future. It was a jam-packed week which made the time fly by, and before we knew it it was time to pack our things to return to the airport.
And though the scale at the airport suggested otherwise, I carried little home with me this time in way of souvenirs. It was after all, my third trip to Kenya. But one thing I was sure to bring home was a container of Kenyan coffee.
Each day during my stay there I would begin the day with a cup of coffee, Kenyan-style. It consisted of boiled milk, mixed with a spoonful of Kenyan instant coffee and topped with a few spoonfuls of sugar. I’ll admit, the first day took some adjusting to drink down the whole cup. It simply was not what I was used to.
You see, I am not a coffee drinker! It’s more accurate to say that I take my sugar and whipped cream with a bit of coffee. Sweet mocha drinks are a regular for me (for those keeping score, Caribou’s Berry White Mocha with an extra shot of raspberry is my drink king), but coffee without the chocolate flavor and ridiculous amount of sugar? Unheard-of for this picky drinker.
Until Kenya, that is.
I don’t know what it was. Maybe the milk was just so fresh and thick that the creaminess made it more to my liking. Maybe their sugar is just so raw and molasses-like that it added to the taste. Maybe their coffee is just different enough. But whatever it was, by the second or third day, I was in love with my Kenyan Coffee Concoction! So that was the first “souvenir” to make it into my suitcase.
And although it doesn’t taste exactly the same, nearly every day for the last four weeks I have had my favorite mug filled with hot milk and coffee, Kenya-style.
Until today, that is.
Noticing that my container of Kenyan coffee is running out, and in an attempt to save it a bit longer, I decided to have a mug of my old favorite store-bought Mocha drink instead. And whoa! Barely had I finished the first sip when I had a strong feeling of too sweet. It no longer tasted quite the same. The picky drinker, who just over a month ago missed her extra shot of raspberry and sugar sludge at the bottom of her cup when finished, now found herself unable to finish the whole glass of chocolate-flavored sweet drink. It’s amazing how our perspective changes.
But our perspectives do change. A 60 degree day after several months of Minnesota winter has us bringing out our shorts and rolling the windows down; while that same weather after a few months of summer has us reaching for thicker coats and turning the heat on in the car. A newborn baby, bigger than any of your own children were at birth, seems like the smallest thing you’ve ever seen after spending your days with a now-two-year old. Going back to your old school after years away can make the hallways feel a lot smaller than you remember.
A little time away from something or with something different, a sudden encounter or a new experience, and our perspective can take on a whole new direction. And this, I believe, is holy.
For ours is a faith of new perspectives. Jesus’ teachings were constantly challenging the old normal and inviting his followers (and his enemies) to consider new perspectives – on faith, laws, relationships, and God’s-self. The Early Christians’ experience with Christ, and with his non-imminent return, changed their perspective on Gentile-Jewish relations. More recently, Pope Francis’ declaration of the Year of Mercy suddenly had everyone seeing, hearing and talking about “mercy” like never before (it was like buying a new car and then seeing similar ones everywhere – we couldn’t get away from mercy!), with a stronger understanding of and desire for it. And each Lent we spend 40 days praying, fasting and giving alms in order to find a new, deeper, perspective on our relationship with Christ and the Paschal Mystery journey we take with him.
And as the church, the people of God – as the catholic church, being universal – ours is a church of new perspectives. We were created in the image of a Triune God to be in relationship with one another. We are called to be “missionary disciples.” We are made to encounter one another, constantly running into “the other” – whether in the pews around us at Mass, the local grocery store on our way home, or on a mission trip half a world away. God put us in this life together with others, in order to help us continuously find new perspectives.
Pope Francis talks a lot about being missionary disciples, a missionary church. My favorite definition of mission is: “Mission takes place wherever people interact with people, seeking to overcome all that separates them from one another and from God.”
Isn’t this what so many of our encounters with strangers and friends alike, and the new perspectives often gained from our time and conversations together, does?
As God’s church, we are invited day-by-day, minute-by-minute, to have a little time away from just ourselves, to suddenly encounter someone different or experience new ways of thinking and doing. And as a result of this daily thrust into mission, our perspective can take on a whole new direction. This, I believe, is holy. This, I believe, is Godly.
My many mission experiences complete with the new people and places I have encountered have certainly given me many new perspectives. Ranging from water conservation, to community ties, to coffee preferences, I have never come home from a journey or bid farewell to delegates quite the same person as I was before. And each time, each changed perspective, has left me a better person. For this I am constantly grateful.
But the beauty of our church is that we need not work at the Mission Office or fly for 16 hours to have these experiences. (Though if you want to, let us know!)
Look around you. Interact with others. Seek out someone new or different. Open yourselves up to the many possible experiences put before you each day. Be church. Be Godly! But be warned:
Life may never taste quite the same after you do!