Too much?

 

I grew up thinking that there were some things that should be left unsaid.  The truth could be too painful, or scary, or frightening.  We were supposed to tone it down, be nice, say the right thing.

A few years ago I came across Frederick Buechner, and a slim volume he wrote called “Speak what we feel: Not what we ought to say.”

It’s funny how the straw the breaks the camel’s back can be miniscule – a sunset over the ocean, the laugh of a child, four perfect chords, a few words folded into harmony and truth.  And once that straw drops, the walls come crashing down and captives are freed to speak what they feel, to argue and rage, to complain and debate, for this is relationship.  

Thankful tonight that there are people for whom we are not too much.  Thankful tonight that God is not surprised by us, and that even the act of wrestling with God is a way to relate deeper and more truthfully.  

 

You cannot shock Him with the things you want to say.
Let it go. Erupt into glass-shattered expression.
The hurt, regret, sorrow, frustration, bitterness . . . Rage.
Send the fragments of your broken soul showering down.
To the pavement. To the end of things.
Look how it glistens. Reflects light.
Little pieces.
And when you are done, you will feel better.
Let the silence clothe your nakedness.
Feel the breeze, how it swirls into your newly opened soul.
Tender as it caresses a raw, exposed heart.
Listen to the sounds of the sweeping. Broom and dustpan.
The shards being swept away. Splintered remnants and slivers.
Quietly going about His Father’s business.
You’ll be okay. You are loved.
Fiercely.
In a shocking sort of way.

~Heather Eure
via Burnside Writer’s Collective

Problems solved or mysteries lived

I never thought I would see Lenny Kravitz cry on stage. But as the show went on, he just seemed to get more and more frustrated. I felt a little bad for the guy, to be honest. I mean, on the one hand, he’s Lenny Kravitz. But on the other, no matter how many times you repeat your song lyrics and ask the crowd to sing along, it’s not gonna change the fact that the crowd of 300,000 people on the Copacabana beach were primarily Portuguese speakers, and don’t understand what you’re saying, and even though they were super excited to be there, weren’t really able to sing along…

Of course, the five english speakers I was tagging along with didn’t really know the lyrics either – we were just there cause…  I mean, c’mon, how often do you get to go see a free Lenny Kravitz concert on the beach in Rio?

I was reminded of this ridiculous scenario the other night as I was driving home from my internship out in the suburbs, listening to a podcast of Walter Brueggeman teaching an Old Testament Survey workshop. As he closed out a portion of his talk, he said:

“For the most part, the wisdom teachers are problem solvers. But they knew that underneath the problems are mysteries to be lived with.

One of the problems with an electronic culture is that everything turns into a problem to be solved.

Creation is a mystery to be lived with, and not a problem to be solved…”

I turned it off to think about his words for a moment in silence, but right then Lenny Kravitz began blaring through the radio, and I was back on that beach in Rio.

As the two threads wove together in my mind, I smiled at the beauty and absurdity of it: Brueggemann and Kravitz combining to remind me of truth, of experience, of lived hope, of a time when I was learning to give up expecting God to solve my problems, or the problems of the people I cared about, and embrace the mystery of faith and trust and dialogue and honesty and anger and questions and relationship with God in all its wonder and complexity.

—–

The time around the concert was tumultuous. I had recently moved into the favelas, and was confronted on an almost daily basis with police brutality, gun-fights around the corner between traffickers and cops, friends dying of drug overdoses or drug-deals gone bad, systemic oppression and hopelessness and despair. I saw lots of problems that needed to be fixed.

But God wasn’t doing it. At least not the ways that I wanted it to happen. The violence continued. Bullets flew. People died. Hope died.

And yet…

Mystery. Beauty. Death was present. But even as death seemed to reign, there were signs of resurrection, of new life, of people transformed and choices made new, forgiveness opening doors and hearts, people risking love even in the darkness. This was the Kingdom at work.

This tension goes back to the disciples. I think of them asking Jesus, “Lord, are you now going to restore the Kingdom of Israel?” They wanted flash. They wanted bang. They wanted power. They wanted solutions. They wanted the Kingdom to come in now – powerful and majestic and impossible to miss. They wanted torture to stop, chemical and nuclear weapons destroyed, the oppressors ousted, the vision of Isaiah brought to earth where every one could sit and eat under their own fig tree, “and no one would make them afraid,” and freedom and liberty and justice for all.

And against that stands the path of Jesus.

“Yes, that will happen, but not in the way you want it to happen.
Yes, I will make all things new, but it will be like a slowly growing tree instead of an avalanche of light.
Yes, there is hope.
Now go.
Forgive.
Serve.
Give.
Love.”

That is the mystery…

And how do we live that?

“Now if I’d seen him, really there, really alive, it’d be in me like a fever. If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, who watched ‘em like a father and cared for ‘em like a mother…well, you wouldn’t catch me sayin’ things like ‘there are two sides to every question’ and ‘we must respect other people’s beliefs.’ You wouldn’t find me just being gen’rally nice in the hope that it’d all turn out right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like an unforgiving sword. And I did say burnin’, Mister Oats, ‘cos that’s what it’d be. You say that you people don’t burn folk and sacrifice people anymore, but that’s what true faith would mena, y’see? Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declaring’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathin’ the soul of it. That’s religion. Anything else is just…is just bein’ nice. And a way of keepin’ in touch with the neighbors.”

She relaxed slightly, and went on in a quieter voice: “Anyway, that’s what I’d be, if I really believed. And I don’t think that’s fashionable right now, ‘cos it seems that if you sees evil now you have to wring your hands and say ‘oh deary me, we must debate this.’ That my two penn’orth, Mister Oats. You be happy to let things lie. Don’t chase faith, ‘cos you’ll never catch it.” She added, almost as an aside, “But, perhaps, you can live faithfully.”

~ Granny Weatherwax, in Carpe Jugulumby Terry Pratchett

May you live today faithfully…

The Healing Power of Kenny Loggins: (August and Remembering, vol. 2)

That August Sunday morning when my mom went into a coma from which she would never wake up, Seth and Jeremy drove out from Chicago to spend the day with me.  Two teenagers who saw their friend and his family was hurting, so they did something.  Nothing profound happened – I think we went out and watched a movie at the theater and talked and joked and made bad puns in the way adolescents do, grasping for honesty and connection in the midst of insecurity and uncertainty and a world that has seems to have very few shades of gray.  I loved them for coming out, and reminding me that I was not alone.

One year later, I found myself driving down to Arkansas to visit Seth and his family.  His sister Miriam had just given birth to a baby boy, and there were massive complications.  I didn’t really understand what had happened, but she was close to death, and the whole family was gathered there, reeling from the pain of having this joyful moment of hope and new life be transformed into despair, tears, mourning, death.  I didn’t know what to do, but my friend was hurting, and I just wanted to remind him that he wasn’t alone.

A few weeks later, Jeremy, Michael and I found ourselves driving from Chicago down to Charlotte, North Carolina in my little gray Honda Civic for Miriam’s funeral.  Honestly, much of that trip was a blur.  Death had once again struck close to home – this time with someone barely a few years older than we were.  There was a shell-shocked quality to our journey.  I was really starting to dislike the month of August.  We were going to another funeral.  At least we weren’t going there alone.

We drove through the night.  After all, poor college kids (much less missionary kids) wouldn’t stay at a hotel.  We were climbing over the Smokies as dawn approached, Michael and Jer asleep in the back, me at the wheel alone with my thoughts, music playing softly through the scratchy radio stations that would fade in and out, climbing, climbing on winding roads that reminded me vaguely of trips to the Peruvian highlands.  And in that moment of silence, I remember feeling the darkness around us as a tangible thing.  It obscured, threatened to swallow, and though it could be chased away by my little Honda’s headlamps for a few moments, it always lurked just in the corner of vision waiting to pounce.  It was death, and it was out there.  It would not leave me alone.

But…

Just as the darkness threatened to swallow us completely, I realized that this was not the end.  The sky started to lighten, slowly, incrementally, almost imperceptibly.  It wasn’t light – not yet.  It was just “not-as-dark.”  But that was enough.

I probably prayed.  I probably was silent.  I do remember straining my eyes, trying to catch one more glimpse of the sky as the darkness dissipated and was slowly, every so slowly, replaced with shining, shimmering, resplendent light.  I was in awe.  I was full of joy.  I felt that death had tried once more to snuff out hope, but light and life were not done.  They would have the last word.  Life.

There was this moment of convergence where we reached the high point in the pass and began our descent just as the sun broke over the horizon in pinks and golds and hues that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Thomas Kinkade painting.  The winding road lay out before us, cutting over and through golden valleys drenched with clouds that towered above and below us, parts of the mountainside shimmering in and out of visibility as the clouds refracted the sun into rainbows and scintillating light shows.  It felt like I was flying, piloting my little car through banks of clouds and the oceans of light all around.  I had a hard time keeping my foot from crashing to the floor, coaxing every last bit of speed out of my little Honda – after all, we were trying to arrive in one piece…  But the glorious reminders of beauty and life and not being alone were almost overwhelming.

At that moment, I realized that I had only turned down the radio – it wasn’t completely off.  Faintly, almost too quiet to be heard, there was an epic guitar riff building…  So I did what any child of the 80’s would do when confronted with Kenny Loggins’ masterpiece “Highway to the Danger Zone.”  I cried out (waking up Jer and Michael) “I feel the NEED, the NEED for SPEED!”, turned it up to 11, and let the music carry us home.

I carried that moment for a long time as a talisman.  When things got too dark, too heavy, too hard, I could remember that beauty, that joy, that life that flowed through me and creation and Kenny Loggins, and be thankful to be alive, and be thankful that even in the midst of the dark and winding roads, nothing is beyond redemption…  Even Kenny Loggins and the “Danger Zone.”

Thanks Kenny.

Aftershocks: (August and Remembering, vol. 1)

August approaches.  It’s funny – the month of August is usually my cue for reflection.  I’ll stop, try and take some 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 slow down and remember.  I love this habit, but the reason that it happens during August is because of the great (almost seismic?) shifts that have happened in this month over the course of my life.

10 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 necessarily have a happy ending.]  If he were alive today, we’d be getting ready to celebrate his 26th 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 slums, 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’s a story that continue 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, Jerusalem, Port-au-Prince, Chicago – and I am thankful.  For their life.  For their example.  For their courage.

—–

My only response that can hope to make sense of this is trust.  Not a trust 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 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.

—–

This spring I finished reading Aftershock by Kent Annan – a slim book written shortly after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, processing what it means to hold honestly to faith while engaging the reality of our world in a clear-eyed & hope-filled way.

In it, I came across this:

An Annotated Wish List
For Changes In/By God

(Kent Annan – AfterShock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World is Shaken)

  1. Rather than a God of occasional disaster-rescue miracles, I want a God whose miracles prevent the disasters in the first place.
  2. Rather than a God who needed to retreat in order to leave room for human freedom and love, I want a God who finds a
    less painful way to make freedom and love work.
  3. Rather than a system set up so that those who suffer most are also the most vulnerable (usually those who are poor), I want the wealthy to be the most vulnerable.  An increase in money beyond one’s necessity could inhibit the body’s production of antibodies.
  4. Rather than children being at the mercy of nature and of other people, I want no one to die or be physically or emotionally traumatized before turning twelve years old.  Nobody.  And the only ones who die between thirteen and eighteen should be those whose decisions represent a clear and present danger to others.
  5. For every unethical action, there should be an equal and opposite reaction – immediately.  If you inflict suffering, you should immediately suffer accordingly.
  6. I want a small indicator button, like a low-battery light, on the prominent C7 vertebrae that protrudes slightly on the cervical spine at the base of the neck between the shoulders.  A gentle red light would glow forty-eight hours before death is irreversible, when the downward spiral toward unconsciousness or pain has won.  It would indicate time for final goodbyes with loved ones and that a final welcome from God is imminent: “You’re released from this life.  Welcome into the next one.”

Kent Annan works in Haiti.  He is the author of a couple of books.  They are all highly recommended.  As is the way he continues to kick at the darkness…

 

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

falling in love

“…beauty is not a need but an ecstasy. It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth, But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted. It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear, But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears. …beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

…A heart enflamed – a soul enchanted… I wonder what it would take for us to see the Beautiful One in our daily life – the one whose name we so blithely invoke – to recognize the presence of the Author of Beauty and Fountain of Life in our waking, in our sleeping, in our anger and in our shame, in our joys and in our heartache…  To see the God who shaped us and shapes us, and to notice his fingerprints in every facet of our lives…  To recognize the immensity of God – more than we can comprehend, or control, or manipulate…  To feel the terrible transcendence like cumulonimbus towers enshrouding the mountain while lightning crashes all around, and to bask in the smooth immanence of a baby’s contented sigh, of the warmth of sunlight after a gentle spring rain, of a still small voice in our heart of hearts that asks us to trust, to risk, to LIVE, because this is our God, and our God is good…

When will we recognize that in our search for God, we are like the fisherman complaining bitterly of the absence of fish, while standing on the back of a whale? It is a frightening thing to be captivated by beauty.

It is a terrifying thing to lose control – to surrender the qualifiers that pretend to keep us safe and offer us the illusion of mastery. Yet ultimately, this is what will free us. We will be captivated by something, or someone…

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” ~Fr. Pedro Arrupe

Love that will not let me go

cropped-img_0037.jpg
I’ve been working at a short-term residential facility for young children for the past year or so.  One of the things they don’t prepare you for is how much you will come to know and love these kids – spending 30-40 hours a week with them, teaching, preparing meals, playing games, resolving conflicts, teaching them to share, helping them learn to deal with disappointment and frustration, doing laundry, reading bedtime stories, playing cars, taking field trips to the museum, the park, the dentist, the lake, or the movies, soothing hurts and putting on band-aids, getting punched and bitten, getting hugs and hearing them scream your name with joy when you arrive at the movie theater, or walk into the home, and being smothered as they run across the room to leap into you…  I didn’t quite expect to lose my heart like this.  Not here.  Not doing this.

I don’t have any kids of my own, so I don’t fully understand the depths of this formless, irrational, crazy love that parents have for their children.  But I do know what it means to love another – to love them so much that you would do whatever is needed for their good.  And everyday, I am taught more and more about what it means to love in that way – not in the way that is easy for me, but in the way that calls me to sacrifice, to service, to death to self, to doing what is hard, and what I would rather not do so that another can grow and thrive and step into all that they can be – all that they were made to be – all that God has in store for them.

There are two brothers who have been living at our facility for the better part of half a year.  Due to the many complications in their case – in their family life – our site has been their home.  And it has been one of the joys of the past year to walk alongside them as they slowly heal from the deep wounds in their past.  It is a slow process.  Brutally slow.  Behavior that they have learned over the years to cope with continuous violence and abuse does not just go away once they are in a safe place.  The learning curve is tremendous.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been punched, bitten, kicked, cursed at, threatened, and yelled at by these two boys.  This is how they’ve learned to express their anger and their fear, and this is how they’ve learned to interact when limits are put in their path.

“Why did you punch him?”

“Because I wanted to ride the trike, and he wouldn’t let me.  I WANT to!!!”

One lashes out in anger and rage at being hurt time and time again by someone who should have cared for him.  The other runs and hides and cowers in fear.  This is what they’ve learned.  This is the hand they’ve been dealt.  This is the reality of their life, and the work to overcome that will be hard.  Their wounds have been deep, and while they may heal, the scars will remain.

But I also can’t remember all the times that they’ve run up to me, smiles, hugs, proudly showing me how they’ve learned to write their name, or the art project they’ve finished, or the fact that they went to the dentist and didn’t have a meltdown EVEN WHEN they had to get shots!

This is the fruit of love – of sacrifice – of presence – of not giving up and leaving and letting them wallow in their brokenness.  Love seeks out the other.  Love steps into that reality and does not let go, does not give up, does not wash its hands of us and just let us go our own way, further and further from life, from joy, from beauty, from goodness.  Love fights for us.  Love shows up.  Love gives.  Love doesn’t give up.  Love never fails.

It would be easier sometimes to walk away.  I get tired of being bitten, of being yelled at, of being told that they wish I was dead and would just leave them alone.  I hope – I LONG – for the day when they are healed.  But until they are, I won’t leave them there.

This past Monday afternoon I found myself with a few close friends, heads bowed in prayer, thinking of these two brothers – and my heart broke.  I wept.  Thinking of their future – hoping good things for them – knowing that as much as I love them now, soon they will be going on to a different place – and praying, praying, praying desperately for a home that is loving, that will show them the love and the limits and the grace and the consistency and the hope that they need.

And I know that as much as I love them, the God who created them, who formed them and shaped them and breathed life into their fragile yet resilient selves – this God loves them more.  If I will not step away when it is hard, how much more will God stay – work – move – draw them to the source of all good?

Because this love of mine is a shadow of the reality.  It is a picture, a dim reflection, a small appetizer of the great banquet that awaits us all one day.  I choose to believe in that.  I choose to place my hope in the goodness and love of a God who gives all and more for us, the children of his hands and the apple of his eye, who opens possibilities and Easters both our joyous days and our dark, lonely nights.

God has come.  God is love.  God gives.  God is with us.  God has risen.  God will not give up.

This is very good news.

Flat tires and looking good

081

A number of years ago I spent about four months living and working in Nepal with WMF.  I arrived in Kathmandu a few months after my 20th birthday, idealistic, full of big dreams about the difference I would make, and certain that my time would be an adventure in every way, serving the poor, learning to be like Jesus, and basically having everyone admire me for how amazing I was.  It only took me a few weeks to find out that I was not all that.

I had arrived with visions of being the next Mother Theresa or Gandhi, with a touch of Oscar Romero thrown in, and my expectations were dashed when I discovered that the “working with street kids” (which I envisioned as cute little boys and girls who were hungry for affection and just needed someone to come play soccer with them for a few hours each week to point them on a path towards wholeness, health, and the restoration of all that was broken in their lives) that I had hoped to be involved in wasn’t going to happen.

Instead, we would be spending our time volunteering at one of the local Missionaries of Charity homes, doing distinctly unglamorous tasks such as pulling up water from the well, washing dishes, cleaning, doing laundry by hand, cleaning out septic tanks one bucket at a time, and generally doing the best we could to not get in the way too much, or get talked to sternly by a nun for being too slow, incompetent, or inefficient.  It was not fun.  It was not sexy.  It was not even “missionary cool,” like working at the home for the dying, or with photogenic kids, or with crowds of needy people that you could tell others about and bask in their glow about how holy you were.  Instead, we were at a home called Shanti Bhivan (House of Peace) for mentally and physically disabled Nepalis.  It was simple, quiet, unassuming, and hidden.  It was hard.

I toughed it out for a few weeks.  After all, I was with a team of people, and to simply stop going would look bad.  I didn’t want others to think poorly of me.  I didn’t want them to see how unspiritual and shallow I truly was.  I didn’t want them to see me as I really was, so I pretended.  I pretended to be a servant, all the while grumbling inwardly about how I didn’t really want to be here, and how I really wanted to be somewhere else – somewhere more exciting, more dramatic, more more…  But inside, I was stuck.

Our regular schedule included getting up at 5am for an hour of silent, contemplative prayer.  The first month or so involved lots of falling asleep in the midst of it – only to be woken by a jab in the ribs from Julie, or a throat clearing from Ben or Kipp.  I’d return the favor when I noticed their breathing turn too deep or regular for being awake.  But as we stuck it out, I began to recognize something beautiful and holy about those quiet, dark, cold mornings we spent on the floor, wrapped in our woolen blankets, learning to quiet our hearts and inhabit the silence that was a doorway to God’s heart.

After prayers, it was time to go to work.  There were two bikes that we could use, and for the first few months that was my favorite part of the day: the 30 minute bike ride to work.  It felt like a video game as I dodged tuk-tuks and cows, taxis and pedestrians, buses and trucks, dogs and street vendors, weaving in and out of the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu’s morning rush hour.  I felt alive – the adrenaline flowed – and it was exciting in a way that the rest of my days were not.

One morning as I was riding to work, I was feeling tired, grumpy, and just plain fed up.  We had been there for a couple of months, and whatever appeal had been present at the beginning was gone.  I didn’t want to go.  I didn’t want to serve.  I didn’t want to go to the stupid Missionaries of Charity home, run by the stupid nuns who would just make me feel bad for not giving more, doing more, being more…  I felt like I wasn’t enough.  And I wanted to do something more fun.  I wanted to stop and go to a cafe and get breakfast and coffee and spend time reading my novel.  I wanted to do what I wanted to do.  Who cared if I was on something called a “Servant Team.”  I was tired of serving.  I wanted out.

But…

At the same time, I was intensely self-conscious and worried about what others would think of me.  If I just didn’t go to work that morning, the nuns would ask about me.  Kipp would know that I didn’t show up.  I couldn’t lie about it.  They would catch me.  They would know the depths of my self-centeredness, my shallowness, my laziness and general lack of spirituality.  They would know that I wasn’t really like Jesus.  Not in any ways that mattered, anyway.  After all, I couldn’t even spend a measly five hours volunteering and working with the poor – the poor that I claimed to love, and had come to Nepal to serve.  However, I had found that loving “the poor” in reality was often difficult, challenging, and hard (just like anyone that you truly enter into relationship with.)

I didn’t want people to know who I really was, and how I really felt.  But I also didn’t want to go.  At that moment, I had a brilliant idea…  What if I got a flat tire?  If my bike tire went out, I’d have a ready made excuse.  I COULDN’T go in to work if my bike tire was flat.  I’d have to stop and get it fixed, and who KNOWS how long that would take.  It might take all day, if I could find someone slow enough…  and my problem would be solved.  It just might work…

I could explain to anyone who asked how I intended, nay, deeply WANTED to go to volunteer today.  I was trying to, but my cursed bike let me down by getting a flat tire, and what was I supposed to do?  …  Yes.  I would have the rewards of people looking to me and still admiring me for what I WOULD have done if only the mechanical bike hadn’t gotten in the way.  AND, I would be able to do what I really wanted to do, which was read my book over a pot of coffee and a set breakfast (with little delicious pastries) from the German place down the road.  It was a win-win.

However, there was only one slight problem with this plan.  My bike didn’t have a flat tire.

I didn’t let this stop me.  I still had a few miles to go before I got to work.  There was still time.  There was still hope that I COULD get a flat tire.  And if it needed a little help from me, then that could be arranged…

So, I started hitting potholes.  Every pothole, crack, piece of glass, sharp object, bump, or nail in the road…  If it was there, I hit it.  I started pushing hard on the front tire, trying to put more weight on it and get it to pop (or at least go flat) before I arrived.  As I drew closer and closer to Shanti Bhivan, I grew more and more nervous, and more and more frantic.  The tire wouldn’t pop.  No matter what I hit, no matter what I ran over, it wouldn’t go flat.

As I pulled up to the front gate, I was disgusted.  “Fine,” I remember saying to God.  “I’m here.  I’m not happy about it.  I don’t want to be here.  But since I’m here, whatever…  I’ll serve.  But don’t expect me to be happy about it…”

I grudgingly walked through the gates…  and as I fell into the rhythm of work, or buckets pulled and clothing washed, of meals served and wounds tended, something happened…  My anger – my bitterness – my frustration – it melted away.  I couldn’t hold on to it.  I tried.  But somehow, someone reached through and softened my heart.  Through the practice of obedience, I was transformed and made obedient.  Through the discipline of service – by simply showing up – my heart was renewed.  I left that afternoon rested, thankful, and blessed.  Joyful.  At peace.  All because the tire I had been hoping and praying would go flat held up.  All because my attempts at sabotage had failed.  All because God would not give up on me.  All because of grace…

A prayer for MLK day

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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

It's time…

tree

Like the evening summer sun,
my bronzed hands and forearms
gently fade and pale.

We both sense it, the sun and I.
It’s fine. It’s time.
We could rage against the dying,
as some are prone to do,
but why?

Old John Donne believed it’s always autumn in heaven,
no buds or flowers, only fruit fully ripe.
I believe that’s crazy.
A seasoned Elysium holds my hope,
not some never ending summer.

The Good Book speaks of all things new,
not all new things.
Donne’s mercy-filled Fall will be covered
by Winters whiter than snow.
Then Spring will thrust up blackred roses
e.e. cumming’s mother couldn’t dream of.
As for Summer, we’ll saunter along
streets of gold with bronzed hands and forearms
until we sense it’s time.
Then we’ll roll down our sleeves once more
to harvest the mercies of God.

~ John Blaze, via Burnside Writer’s Collective

Ryan

My friend Ryan is dying.

If you want to get technical about it, we’re all dying, slowly, one day at a time – moving closer towards the day we eventually, inevitably, some day die.

But he is much closer to death than I.

He has cancer, and it’s been aggressive, and virulent, and over the past year it has been slowly killing him.

He’s done chemo. He’s received treatments. He’s tried it all.

We’ve prayed. We’ve fasted. We’ve wept.

And the cancer is still winning.

We got an email from his mother a few nights ago, telling us that he’s not doing well – in pain, on hospice care, and fading fast.

And my heart breaks. It breaks for Ryan, who is dying so young. It breaks for his family – for his mother and father who are watching their son fade away, for his siblings who are losing their brother, for his “family” here in Chicago that has come to love him and walk alongside him and meld their lives with his, and will miss him more than we know.

I’m tired of death.

I’m just so tired of it.

A few of us are driving up to visit him tomorrow – to move some of his things home – to show him again that he is loved – to spend time praying and pleading once more for his life, for healing, for restoration and resurrection, knowing full well that it is possible, and hoping against hope that the answer is “YES!”

But, in case the answer is “no,” we go up to say good-bye.

Good-bye…

And we mourn. We weep.

…but not without hope…

 

Hope

 

Hope for the day when all things are made new.

 

“The City becomes the Bride adorned for her husband and comes in fine linen to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

…The Signs and the Promises detonate each other, and the freight of imagery, accumulated over a thousand years, bursts out in one blinding flash: For the Temple has become Jerusalem, and Jerusalem has become the Bride, and the Bride has become the Mystical Body, and the Lamb and his Wife are one. And everything is Christ, and everything is the Bride, and everything is the City where there is no temple, sun or moon, but only the Lamb who is its light. And the River flows back from the dawn of creation, and the Tree of Life returns from Eden, and the Gates of Jerusalem are not shut at all by day, and there is no night there. The tears, the sorrow, the crying and the pain are gone. It is all gardens, gallant walks and silver sounds:

There they live in such delight,
Such pleasure and such play,
As that to them a thousand years
Doth seem as yesterday.

By the drawing of the Mystery, the world has passed from its lostness and found him whom her soul loves. The Beloved comes leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. The time of the singing perpetually begins.”

~ Robert Farrar Capon, Hunting the Divine Fox

And so we will mourn, but believing, hoping, trusting that Ryan will know peace, rest, delight, embrace, and perpetual song.

This is not the end…

 

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For those of you who pray, pray with us…

Thank you.