Remember

It’s been a while.

Eleven years…

Eighteen years…

And even though the pain goes away, you never really do stop missing them…

——

(Thinking about this even more recently as I remember friends who have lost parents, siblings, and children…)

Thoughts go out to you friends…

Sending much love.

August

It’s funny – the month of August is usually my cue for reflection.  I find myself slowing down, trying to make space to look back into the past, remember where I’ve come from, the people who have touched my life, reevaluate where I’m headed, and generally try to take it easy and remember.  I love this habit, but the reason that it happens during August is because of the great (seismic?) shifts that have happened in this month over the course of my life.

Many years ago I stepped off a plane in Rio de Janeiro, a little confused, home-sick, lost, and overwhelmed, as well as excited, full of anticipation and eager expectation that good things would happen.  One of the things that I didn’t expect was Jeferson.  I’ve shared about him before – snippets of his life and death.  [I think it’s important to remember (and sometimes impossible to forget) that this story doesn’t have a happy ending.]  If he were alive today, we’d be celebrating his 29th birthday.  He’d probably have kids.  

(It’s the might-have-beens that will eat away at your soul…)

Some of you don’t know about Jeferson.  I’m sorry.  He was one of my first friends in Brazil.  A small word-picture of him:  picture a 14-year old kid from one of the rougher favelas with a smile and laugh that drew you in and made you feel as if you were sharing a joke that was on the whole world, a zest for life, a deep curiosity about other ways of life, a sense of humor that loved the absurd and was always looking for something to laugh about (or at), a softness and compassion that years on the street hadn’t managed to deaden, and so much potential for leadership that it made your teeth hurt.  He was by no means unreal – he had a bit of a temper, and made too many poor decisions, and would all too often be high out of his mind – whether out of boredom, or addiction, or just a way to deal with the immense amounts of pain and brokenness and heaviness that was his life day in and day out, or some combination of the three.  But he was deeply, authentically alive, and he was my friend, and he was someone whom God loved, and I loved, and who loved us in return.

There was his voice yelling across the praça when we would arrive, yelling out our names and running to meet us – echoes of the Father running to greet the prodigal son.  He would sing loud and hard, loved to eat spaghetti and pizza, and spent a couple of weeks living with us as we attempted to provide a safe place for him get his life together and off the streets.  He began to teach me what it meant to parent a child – the mix of love and anxiety, the desire to control and force them to make good decisions balancing out the necessity for freedom, autonomy, and the reality that those you love will make their own decisions for good or for ill, leavened with a healthy dollop of hope and apprehension.

That time didn’t stick – he left our home and was back on the streets shortly thereafter.  And the time after that when he went home to live with an older sister who was in over her head in the drug trade didn’t stick either.  And then he was in prison for theft, was gone for a few months, and came back a little wiser, a little more guarded, a little harder…  Yet in the midst of this, flashes of hope would glimmer.  A request for prayer – a tear and a whispered confession and a sincere effort to change and make good decisions – caring for younger kids on the cold wet sidewalks of Rio – a sense of hope – murmured prayers in the dark on the sidewalks and under streetlights.

This went on for two years – two years of shared meals, of spontaneous encounters on the streets and in the favelas, on the beaches and in the churches, sandwiches and hot chocolate while huddled under an overhang from the winter rains, singing songs of hope and life and joy and a reality that must have seemed unimaginable at times.  Two years of growth, of failure, of prayers, of heartache, of dancing and beauty and life, of pouring myself into him, and being poured into in return.  Two years of slow movement, of incremental changes, of three steps forward and two steps back.

Two years…

—–

I remember sitting in my apartment doing something stupid and pointless on the internet when I heard someone knocking on my door.  It was Rich, and he had bad news.  “Jeferson’s dead.”  And things came crumbling down…

Details were fuzzy, yet as they slowly crystallized became more and more horrific – betrayal, ambush, humiliation, torture, murder…  par for the course in our broken world, so full of death, yet real to me in a new and powerful way.  It’s a story that has taken place too many times.  It’s a story that happens daily, sometimes on a much bigger scale – Syria, Egypt, DRC, Colombia, Haiti, Brazil…  It happens here in the US – in Ferguson, in Cincinnati, in Baton Rouge, in Falcon Heights, in Englewood. It’s a story that continues to play itself out here in Chicago today in my very own backyard.  It’s a reality that I find all too easy to forget.

—–

I don’t want to forget.  I can’t really.  I can pretend, I can distract myself with shiny toys and fun games, but YouTube videos and books won’t bring resolution and a sense of closure.  There is work to be done.  Reconciliation.  Justice.  Forgiveness.  Hope.  Safety.  All things new…

I think of friends who are still involved – still kicking at the darkness until it bleeds daylight – in Kolkata, Katmandu, El Alto, Bangkok, LA, Jacksonville, Antakya, Port-au-Prince, Chicago – and I am thankful.  For their life.  For their example.  For their courage.

I think of all those who keep kicking at the darkness – in Aleppo, Athens, Ferguson, Baltimore, Brownsville, the deserts of the southwest, the container ships full of human lives, those who keep giving and serving and loving and healing, day in, and day out – and I am thankful.

—–

My only response that keeps me moving is hope. Not a hope that ignores the brokenness and ugliness in the world, but that moves forward in spite of it. Not a faith that pretends there is no doubt.  Trust in the midst of doubt.  Not a faith that is blind to uncertainty.  Faith working through uncertainty.  Asking questions, pushing, not settling for the status quo, but in the midst of that holding on to the vision of all things new that gives us hope.  I recognize that this is a choice, but it is a choice that I choose to make.  And maybe that’s where grace comes in – that I choose to hope, that I choose to look for the good, and look for God, that I choose to try and find beauty, that I choose to act and not despair, that I choose to love and not wall myself off from others, from life, from the pain and the joy.

—–

Keep kicking at the darkness friends…  until it bleeds daylight…

A prayer for MLK day

 

Martin Luther King Jr. 



Some of us are old enough to remember

      the balcony in Memphis,

      the sanitation workers’ strike,

      the shot that broke flesh,

      the loss of Martin,

            and then the mule-drawn wagon,

                          and the funeral,

            and the riots, the violence, the fear,

                          and the failure.

All of us know the crowd in D.C.

     and “I Have a Dream,”

     the Birmingham jail,

     the broad stream of violence, 

       and his steadfast nonviolence

                      in Albany and 

                      in Skokie and 

                      in Selma.

All of know his awesome, daring speech, 

     his bravery, his hope, and his generative word.

And we know the relentlessness of our government

     in pursuit of him

    and the endless surveillance and harassment 

                           of this drum major for justice.

At this distance, we have little access

     to how it was then concerning ambiguity

              and fear

              and reluctance

              and violence

              and injustice.

We do not doubt that you have persisted

     even beyond Martin’s passion,

     even beyond Martin’s brilliance,

     even beyond Martin’s fidelity, and

                         his loss.

We do not doubt that through him and beyond him,

     you, holy God of the prophets,

          are still pledged to justice and

                                      peace and 

                                      liberty for all.

We remember Martin in gratitude…

                      and chagrin.

And we pledge, amid our stressed ambiguities,

              to dream as he did,

              to walk the walk

              and to talk the talk of your coming kingdom.

We pledge, so sure that your truth

    will not stop its march

        until your will is done on earth as it is in heaven. 

From Prayers for a Privileged People ~ Walter Brueggemann

The high price of crossing

“Pati has never told her daughter what happened to her…”

‘-Which, you know, I get. I mean, that is a hell of a conversation to have with your 14-year-old daughter.’

“Yeah. It’s also a hell of a conversation not to have…”

Three Easter Word Pictures

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—–

Easter…

“It is the theme of the divine party again, the party that lurks beneath the surface of history and calls only for a recognition by faith.  It is the fatted calf served up for a prodigal who did nothing but come home in faith.  It is the free champagne and caviar for wedding guest who did nothing but trust the king’s insistence on providing fancy costumes and party hats.  It is the full pay for next-to-no-work-at-all given to grape pickers who just said yes to a last-minute promise.  The only reason that judgment comes into it at all is the sad fact that there will always be dummies who refuse to trust a good thing when it’s handed to them on a platter.  That is indeed a grim prospect.  And it is grim because if we have any knowledge of our own intractable stupidity, we know that those dummies could just as well be ourselves.  But for all that, it is still about joy rather than fear…  The history of salvation is slapstick all the way, right up to and including the end…”

Robert Capon ~ Kingdom, Grace, and Judgement

—–

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry

 Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry 

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—–

An Easter Sermon
St. John Chrysostom

…First and last alike, receive your reward.
Rich and poor, rejoice together!

Conscientious and lazy, celebrate the day!
You who have kept the fast, and you who have not,
rejoice, this day, for the table is bountifully spread!

Feast royally, for the calf is fatted.
Let no one go away hungry.

Partake, all, of the banquet of faith.
Enjoy the bounty of the Lord’s goodness!

Let no one grieve being poor,
for the universal reign has been revealed.

Let no one lament persistent failings,
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death,
for the death of our Savior has set us free…


The Easter sermon of John Chrysostom (circa 400 AD)

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One side of the coin

Some days I leave work, and my only response to humanity as a whole (or, more specifically, that subset who take advantage of their power and privilege to do violence with impunity) is in line with what Roy here says below:

As I was driving home tonight, I remembered the corollary to the above statement made by the southern theologian Will Campbell when he was asked to define what Christianity meant to him, and he responded, “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway…”

It doesn’t make the anger go away, or make everything all better…  The problem is still there.  But I’m no longer alone in it.  And neither are the girls…

People are bastards.  Men are bastards.  But God loves us anyway