Note: I have a goal of writing ~1,000-2,000 words every weekend to keep me disciplined in writing. Not sure if I can make it, but if I write for an audience it motivates me. The writing won’t all be great quality, but I figure if I keep just churning out words, some good things will pop out here an there. Today there are things on my mind about my calling, but in the coming weeks, I may write other random things, i might experiment with some fiction, i might make up things, I might just write a bunch of random stream of conscious thoughts (but let’s be realistic, that’s how I usually write haha). We’ll see where this takes me.
Lately, I’ve been working on the sci-fi epic series, Dune (it’s a little dark, so I have to pace myself and put happier, more hopeful books in between the Dune books). The books are set on a desert planet called Arrakis, or Dune, and follows a royal family that is exiled there and forced to rule there. There is a ongoing theme of merging with the ecology of the planet and finding that the place of exile is actually a place of strength (they end up taking over the universe… okay so kind of crazy, just read it).
One of the early characters is the planet ecologist, Liet Kynes. His job was to observe and study the ecology of the planet, but had spent so much time with the native population in Arrakis, that many outsiders shook their heads and described him as “gone native”. In truth, he had become so close with the natives, he had in fact gained influence over much of the planet and had set in motion a plan to make the planet a planet of water over several generations.
I relate a little too much to this ecologist. (and now I switch from overtly scifi realms (ironically the book is about humanistic false religion) to my own religious convictions)
God’s call to me to North County has changed me.
Recently I moved into north Oceanside, near the back gate of Camp Pendleton. For the last 3.5 years of my 4.5 years of working up in North County, I had lived in north Carlsbad. That was already a huge shift for me. I was kicking and screaming at God, angry at Him for calling me to North County, a place with almost no friends, of cultural isolation for myself. Carlsbad seemed far enough, and I could drive conveniently down to San Diego to visit friends, and honestly it was just about 6 miles from MiraCosta. Close enough.
And now I realize just how much I’ve changed. Through a whirlwind of circumstances, I have found myself moving even further north. In fact, I live the furthest from the center of San Diego than any of my other co-workers now. 5 years ago, this would be exile. This would be the desert for me.
But 5 years after beginning my work in North County, this is life for me. The “wilderness” isn’t so cruel anymore, in fact, I’ve found much here. Instead… it feels right. I could not see myself working in another place or with other students in this season of life.
Nowadays, I tell people I live in Oceanside, and they look at it with disdain. “What’s over there?”
As I sit in my latest apartment that looks over the hills of Camp Pendleton, my heart is filled with God’s love for this place. I’ll tell you what’s over there in Oceanside- A campus that has so many hungry souls looking for meaning. Students that God wants so badly to be close with. Families that need His redemption. A community God wants to heal.
People look at me in pity- “Oh Daniel, community college ministry must be so hard, it must be hard to do anything there.”
My heart swells with anger at the pity people give me, because they haven’t been there. Hard ground? Hardly, it’s simply unreached. They haven’t spent time sitting on the train watching the students as they file on. They haven’t sat on the grass at MiraCosta and Palomar. They haven’t sat down and talked with people in the cafeteria. People literally come up to our community asking how they can be connected to God. That’s not hard ground to me.
But my anger calms down when I remember- that’s how I started. I looked at where I was assigned with disdain. I hated driving an hour every day to be there. My mentor at the time had to sit me down and tell me to get not just physically there, but get my heart there. It’s funny how being present can change you.
I was in a bible study with one of our new believers, and we were talking about helping our broken world and what compassion meant. It made me think a lot how easy it is to confuse compassion with pity and guilt-driven obligation.
And I realized that if there was anything I have learned in these last 5 years about justice, it’s that presence converts our pity and obligation into true compassion. Justice is not about charity, pity or flipping power structures upside down… it’s about nearness. It’s making those distant or divided from one another near to one another in whole relationship. That was Jesus’ mission- to make God near, so that we could learn how to be near with Him and near with one another. Nearness changes us from paternalistic change givers that hesitate because the person might go buy drugs to one who sits down with the man with the sign, gets to know his name, finds he is in fact human, and finds that they have found a friend in one another.
Nearness has changed my heart for the community college. Of course from a distance it looks like hard ground. Realistically, what can you really do to change a campus or an individual when you are both physically and emotionally distant? But upon closer observation, the desert is no desert at all, but a place of life.
Nearness takes us off the pedestal of being one way givers to the “disadvantaged” to mutual giving and receiving. In fact, I’ve come to realize I don’t bring much in comparison to what I’ve received. I am a different person, a different minister, a different brother, a different son, a different friend because of these 5 years in a land I had to learn how to love.
And no, it’s not as romantic as it most people make it out to be. It’s not so glorious to just “be near”. It means giving rides. It means getting made fun of because you are completely clueless about all the cultural cues in white, black, latino, philippino, whatever culture. It means a little bit of isolation. It means walking with people even in bad decisions and keep going in their cycles of self destruction. It means watching some pass away. It means letting your heart break, which is hardly romantic. It’s bloody, it’s muddy… but it’s real. And in the mud, you find a lot of new life if you just stick around and watch instead of trying to clean it off your shoes.
And so this “wilderness” and “desert” is no longer a place of exile for me. I’ve seen too many things grow out of nowhere to believe there’s no water here, that God has abandoned this place. Enough to perhaps call this place home.
I won’t be here forever- and it’s ironic. I was dragged here kicking and screaming… I might have to be dragged out kicking and screaming as well.