Monthly Archives: August 2014

It may be foolish to keep trying…

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By now you already know about it. You’ve read the articles about Iraq. You’ve watched the livestream of #ferguson. You’ve tweeted a Good Will Hunting quote for Robin Williams. You’ve been an eye at the peephole as lives have spun, twisted, and come undone. Maybe you’ve prayed, maybe you’ve sent help (I hope you have.), but in the end it’s crazy how this has all played out like Shakespeare, or some less important drama. Can’t you sense the scene breaks, the monologues, the punches of wrenching irony? It, all of it, has me reading existentialists and feeling like a bit character caught in a tragedy. And we all know how tragedies end.
No one gets out alive.
It came to me while I was reading that post for Robin Williams. The one with Aladdin saying “Genie you’re free.” Is that the meaning? Is that where he found himself? How easily it could become too much. As a community flies apart, as a country unravels, as everything begins to look hopeless…I mean doesn’t it seem like a lot to be fighting?
Why are we fighting, anyway? That’s the thought I had. Why should we bother trying to fight for racial harmony when one instant, one bad choice could unspin everything? Why should we bother investing in nation building and peace when war can tear through in a matter of weeks and undo years of slow, hard won progress? Why should we fight to be stable, to be okay, to be functional when one moment of grief and depression can turn off the light forever? And then, to make it all so much worse, we can’t even agree on what went wrong. We can’t come to a consensus of who caused this, who to blame, who to even fight against!
This is the part of the story where I would, traditionally, insert a touching anecdote about the hope of children and the future and innocence. It would be warm, and it would give you hope that we may have something to fight for, after all. Most unfortunately, all of the children in my life are sick. It comes, even to those who ought to be holding the future. Leaving even that uncertain.
So why are we fighting? I’m going to be honest, and tell you that I’m not sure. I’m not sure it’s worth it, sometimes. It feels foolish.
I’ve been told that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. May we be the church of the foolish. The church of those who laugh around the death bed and nourish the dying child. The church of those who celebrate the small victory as the city caves around us. May we be the first to rush in when hope is lost.I cannot explain to you that the fight is worth it. I cannot promise you that it will not unravel even as you weave it. I cannot offer you any evidence that you are not wasting your time hoping, wasting your time trying, wasting your time fighting. If I’m honest, these may be the foolish things.
Almost as foolish as believing that there was anything left to salvage in the mess I made of myself. Almost as foolish as sending a perfect, powerful being to die as a poor peasant man. Almost as foolish as building a kingdom of the uneducated and unimportant. Almost as foolish as embracing women and thieves and runaway slaves. Almost as foolish as every martyr, every saint, every person who has left family, friends, jobs, lives, and reputation behind in pursuit of this God who is as invisible and elusive as the wind caught in our fingers.
We, brothers and sisters, were called to foolishness. Called to laugh in the face of death. This is our heritage, and we are not alone.
Please do not give up yet.

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it is beatiful

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We are in the fourth ward of Atlanta, which is not exactly where one generally goes on vacation. She was looking across the street at something, with her eyes squinted. It caught me in a second. The relaxation of her shoulders and the care in her eyes and the way her words came quickly, tumbling over each other…it all added up to a moment in which, suddenly, she was so beautiful. Standing there on the cracked sidewalk. And it happened again with each of them.

As she turned the gold ring around her finger and talked about this boy and making a home. The light was glazed over by the rain, and she was dancing to herself a little from the front seat, with the vent blowing her hair around her face. Her phone lights up with his name, and her face glows.

As she stood in the farmers’ market, holding a bag of produce and waving her hands in excitement. It didn’t matter that the building was under construction or that the drizzle was gray and heavy. She was light and her face was bright with love for the town. Bright with the excitement of everything that she has found here. And it was beautiful.

They were, all three of them, suspended in these perfect moments. These moments in which ‘shalom’ seemed possible, in which everything seemed to be the way it was supposed to be. Never mind that we’re all still feeling our way clumsily through these transitions. Never mind that none of us have managed to fully embody these things God has set in our hearts. It was there, in a moment. The peace of being and doing exactly what you were put together to do. And it was beautiful on their faces.

As I walked through it all, I didn’t feel it in my heart. Didn’t sense the peace, the shalom, of life settling into a holy order. Instead of the beauty, I felt very conscious of the wrinkles in my shirt from the suitcase and the tiny dreadlock forming in my salty ocean hair. Out of step, out of place…I waited for the peace to come. For some sense that I had found this place where my joy meets the hunger of the world. It did not come. I walked through three states, waiting for a sense of wonder.

And I read. I read stories of hope and healing and hurt and horror across the world. I read about just a ton of pain. Of brokenness. And I saw hands reaching. I saw pockets opening. I began to hear the stories, to see the changes, the fighting for the helpless. I listened closely, and was sure I could almost hear prayers rising in every tongue. Pleading for faces and names they may not meet this side of heaven.

It was another moment of vulnerability. Another moment not special except for this sudden glimpse of what felt like peace. The face of the church, the way she was always meant to look. Pleading. Reaching. Calling on heaven and earth to move on behalf of her brothers and sisters. And in that moment she was beautiful. Her snarls and wrinkles faded into this gentle beauty of purpose and…

…and shalom. And for a moment the church was there, was the vehicle it always might have been.

And it may be that I never feel that look, that peace, fall over my own eyes.At least not again. I felt it, maybe for a moment, that afternoon when I sat with the little girls tugging my hair into braids and smearing sticky red fingers across my forehead. It may never return. It may be that I always walk just out of step with the ache in my heart. But for a moment this strange looking, crazed creature that I am a part of was completely lovely.

I think I will remember it for years. I think I will think back to the fourth ward, and to the highway across Carolina, and to the cluttered street in Carrboro. I think I will remember the flashes of beauty, and remember a moment when the church was present. When the imperfections somehow mattered less than the presence, than the softness around the edges and the sense of purpose.

Today the church was beautiful, even if just for a moment. As the whispered prayers rose across the world, for a moment I loved it, I ached with its beauty.

That kind of feeling cannot last. It flies away the moment a pastor uses a clumsy word or a televangelist smiles crookedly. It falters in the face of the cynicism, pain, tiredness, and assumptions that we have come to associate with the church.

But for a moment, for this moment, it is lovely in the way it was meant to be. It is shalom. And if there is peace nowhere else, it is present here, in this love between those so far away from one another.

 

hitchhiking to heaven

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So I’m back in the city, but while I was in the country the folks in that little town tried very hard to undo some of my more citified traits. They played country music on the radio and used words I’d never heard before and drug me to a rodeo. At one point I was teaching a man who is part of a motorcycle gang how to do an exercise we call the ‘confused hitchhiker’ because you point your thumbs in either direction. He got that rascally look on his face like he was about to drop some down home knowledge on me and told me “when you’re really hitchhiking you don’t get to pick which way you’re goin.”
What? Apparently ‘real’ hitchhikers are just going wherever the ride takes them. The etiquette is that you ask the driver where they are going, and ride along in that direction. If you have a destination in mind, it is somehow less ‘real’. I trust the authority of an aging motorcycle rider who looks as though the seventies were hard on him. On this matter most especially.
We, my friends, are hitchhiking to heaven (segue. oh well). Try as we might, we are certainly not getting there via any vehicle we have managed to create. I picture us there, strung out and tired, asking Jesus where He is headed, and clamboring in for a ride. I picture the way the scent inside the car would be sharply unfamiliar, and I try to imagine what might be on the radio.
And, in this moment, where we are going isn’t up to us (I think Jesus said something to this effect to Peter. Something about putting a belt around an old man and telling him where to go, which is funny because I did that all month with gait belts). The world drags us one way, puttering along in vehicles made of our stuff and our dreams and our people and our accomplishments. But somehow or another we crash. They let us down. And we are stranded. Beaten up and unable to go any farther on our own feet, we hitch a ride.
And I’ve realized you don’t always get to choose. Sometimes God brings you to Woodward, or to Oklahoma, or to wherever it is. And you go, because you had to leave the wreck of your old stuff behind you. Sometimes it’s a bumpy, circuitous route that feels completely pointless, but there you are.
There you are, watching her body go limp and lifeless. Feeling almost numbly for a pulse while he does chest compressions next to you. There you are as her breath rattles back, gasping. There you are. And even if she has somehow evaded death today, it will catch up to her.
Everything dies. And there you are. There you stand stumbling around in the ruins of the wreck, almost awed by how easily the whole thing flipped, and rolled, and caught fire. It was like this, for my patient who rode motorcycles and worked as a truck driver. The truck rolled, burned, and in an instant he had no job and no way back. He caught a ride with a passing stranger, cradling broken bones and walking gingerly on a bruised body.
In an instant it has died around you. Before the odor has set in it looks lovely, for a moment. You love it just a second after it has failed you. And then it is dead and begins to rot, and you turn away, confused at how something you loved could sour so quickly. The corpse, even of a loved one, will send that particular tremor across your stomach and turn your face away.
Everything dies, and there you are trying to love it back to life. Trying to hold on to these things, when we’ve been told they are fleeting, meaningless, like trying to grasp wind. But we try. We want to save it, to collect the insurance, something.
We need to leave it behind. I do. I need to let the dreams die, but more importantly I need to let the plans and the busyness and the piles of just stuff that I don’t need to stop holding me back. I need to walk away from the wreck I made of everything and be willing to catch a ride. To leave it there, in the past, unsure that I will ever be able to return.
In this moment it almost begins to repulse me. I look at the things I have hoarded and treasured and loved even after he told me not to. The family I might have had. The salary I could have made. The really cute dress that cost as much as saving the lives of two Iraqi kids. The pile of things looks suddenly weak, and I can almost smell death on it. In this moment I could leave it, I think. Could go with Jesus wherever it is he goes from here, whether it is to a place like Woodward or a place like Waco, or somewhere else entirely.
But, physically, I am leaving. I am going away from this place where there has been so much thoughtful silence and so little distraction. This place God has spoken and taught and helped. I am leaving this strange hospital where the rooms keep flooding (and that last is not a metaphor, but a reality). And I will go home, and it will be harder.
I only pray he will continue to lead me away from the ruins of what has been and might have been, and into the mystery of what was always meant to be.