the city and the soul

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None of this makes much sense, but in a real shocker there’s wifi happening in Nebraska and not a ton of other things going on. And I tried to write all week, but I was at a frustration level that couldn’t really be articulated without more swearing and hurting of feelings than I really wanted. Anyway. At some point I will probably talk about blah blah what I’m thankful for, blah. But for now there’s this.

By all laws of genetics and upbringing I should probably be a country type person. The sort who likes guns and wide open spaces and country roads. Even my dad, who was raised in Oklahoma City, loves coming out here to like…shoot stuff and walk around outside, I guess. I mean we lived on six acres in Deer Creek. I’m not that person though. I’m the person who gets lonely in a room by myself, let alone in the woods on my own.

I’m reminded of that, of course, sitting here in Hoskins, Nebraska (population 285 per census, which is actually less than the sign says. Old sign, I guess). And by ‘in’ Hoskins what I mean is ‘on a farm fifteen minutes outside of Hoskins’. These are my roots, yo.

I learned to drive on a dirt road out here when I was thirteen. I used to fish in a thousand little farm ponds, Andy Griffith style with a bobber and a worm. I’ve been snipe hunting in a cornfield and sledded down a pasture hill (which ended with a nasty rope burn all the way around my neck, but that’s a story for another day). This is where I came to build snow forts and play full tackle football with my brother and cousins, all of whom are over 6’3” and could throw me around like a football (this is also where I learned to fight dirty. If you try to throw a punch at me I will probably bite you). I learned to shoot a gun out in the woods, and later that day we herded cattle with a four wheeler. When I was six, I broke my cousin’s nose in a fight on a bridge with a one eyed turkey (I don’t remember anything else about this incident, but I imagine it was a little odd). I have also washed ducks with baby shampoo, learned to lead a calf, and entered a pie in a county fair right here in good old Hoskins, America.

There isn’t a high school anymore, but my mom actually holds a track record still up in the old building (it was the last year the event existed, but let’s not split hairs). And there’s a rock quarry where we go swimming in the summer. I came here every Thanksgiving, every summer…but the memories stand out.

And, I guess it was eight years ago, this is where I stood in the first rain of the summer at a funeral. This is where death grew teeth, for me. Where I began to realize that life was something you have to fight for.

And it sounds like some kind of idyllic Mayberry, yeah? I hear people talk about breathing. Talk about how they can’t breathe in the city. They look up at the stars, because there are more here than I have ever seen before, and they think about how this is living. They don’t call it land, they call it ground. And they spend money on seeds and put them in the ground, and every year the crops grow. I don’t know if that would ever stop being a miracle to me (but honestly. It terrifies me.)

But here’s the thing…I’m not that person. I came here three years ago a few weeks after I read Shane Claiborne for the first time. I wrote in my journal that night that the city saved my life. I still believe that. Running barefoot through downtown after an ice cream truck while the men in business suits laugh. The kids all huddled and migrating as school lets out. The buzz of energy. The way Waco looks at night from the top of the suspension bridge. I am built for this. I’m an extrovert, empty and open. And the tide of faces and sounds and needs and emotions of the city fill me in a way that nothing else can.

The title of Social World II was “The City and the Soul”. That is, of course, the class which had me read a small, unassuming essay by John Howard Yoder. It was from the Original Revolution, and it changed my life. That class, and the conversations we had, gave me an entirely new perspective on what I wanted. For the first time, I was excited about the way my life could be. Really, I cannot overstate what that class was in my life. The city and my soul just…they need each other. 

I had forgotten. I’ve been so tired. I’ve been so lonely. I sat on my steps Friday night as it sleeted and stared at the capitol dome. I sat there steeped in the frustration of not being able to help anybody. Of not knowing the right thing. Of worshipping God in a warm church while my brothers and sisters are outside in the cold. I’ve been exhausted with the rhythms of the city that seem so solid. The ones that seem to leave somebody out, no matter what we do.

There’s a hole in me, and I’m hemorrhaging tears and pain and emotion. It’s leaving me so empty. I’ve been so empty. Oddly enough it’s Augustine who reminds me of a God who fills broken vessels by containing them. I’m reminded that alone I run dry. I need the faces, the emotions, the pain, the joy…I need all of it around me, containing me. These are the things that fill me up.

I’ve been feeling futile and frustrated and achingly, impossibly lonely. I’ve been sitting outside while my hair freezes over with sleet and the stream of headlights on the street slows. I tried to fend it off with space to think. I thought I could come out to the country, here where so much life has happened to me, and stare up at the stars. I thought if I could see them again, it might start to make sense.

Instead, I remembered the small, strange melody Jesus is teaching me to sing. When you’re lonely, befriend the friendless. When you feel useless, let yourself be vulnerable, even be taken advantage of. When you’re frustrated, use the words to light up the dark places. I’m remembering that hunger isn’t some kind of punishment…it’s a reminder to eat.

Easy or not, I’m for my city. I love it even when I sort of hate it. And like Jeremiah says, I seek its welfare because if it prospers, I prosper. I’m all in on this, because when God calls you to something it’s not the kind of thing where you create a backup plan or an exit strategy. I was made for this, and I won’t be satisfied doing anything else. I guess I just needed to realize that. 

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