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…
My flight touched down in Chicago last night after almost 24 hours of traveling. I am home now, close to six weeks after I left. And while in one sense it is so good to be home – to have a hot shower for as long as I want, use a real towel, sleep in my own bed with clean sheets, walk the streets of my neighborhood in the cool morning light as I head to one of my coffee shops – in the other, it is terrifying. I had six weeks away from the day to day – six weeks of self-discovery, of newness, of walking slowly, of inhabiting silence, of learning to listen to God, to my body, to others, to the world around me. I had six weeks where I did not eat a single meal alone. It was lovely. Six weeks of talking to strangers and finding that we weren’t strangers at all, but family. Six weeks of simplicity – of sharing – of community – of delight.
It has changed me. I feel more free – more myself – less afraid – less isolated. More who I want to be, more who I was made to be. I return tired, but full to overflowing.
And the thing that gives me pause – that scares me more than anything – is that I don’t want to lose that. Now begins the process of learning to walk the Camino here in Chicago. Friends have told me this, and commented on it. I have read that the true Camino begins once you arrive in Santiago, and realize that your entire life is a pilgrimage – and that what matters is not only the destination, but the process of arrival.
I remember returning back to college after spending four months in Nepal and India with WMF, and being terrified that I would slowly forget the lessons I had learned – the relationships I had made – the people I had met – the growth that had happened. And I didn’t want that at all. So I made changes to my life.
That process begins again today. As I look back on this last year, much of it seems covered in fog. I was existing, but not really living. Isolating myself from those who loved me, seeking intimacy and relationship from books and TV and movies and fantasy and imagination… So, time for changes.
I’m not sure yet what those changes will look like. Simplicity. Relationships. Sabbath. Community. Slowness. Grace. Celebration.
But my goal for the Camino was to learn to hear God more clearly so that I might be more closely attuned to the things that really matter upon my return to “normal life.” Now begins the hard work of continuing to walk when there aren’t necessarily yellow arrows spelling out your next destination.
Or maybe I just need to learn to pay a little closer attention to what’s around me…
Tonight I was driving on the highway into storms and lightening and thunder, talking to a friend on the phone. The rain poured in sheets, and as the lightning crashed and we talked, epiphanies crashed with similar force in my head… Yet truth known is no better than truth unknown if it is not lived out. So now, in light of said epiphany, the challenge is to live in the light of that knowledge.
“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free…”
Thankful for this reminder tonight…
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.
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.
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.”
May you live today faithfully…
All too often I find it easier to read about prayer than to pray. To talk about God than to talk to God. To think about Scripture rather than consume the Bread of Life. I will sit down for hours lost in a good story, but find my mind rushing about from distraction to distraction after 15 minutes in the Bible.
I don’t want to be someone who knows about God. I want to know God, and in the knowing, be made whole.
“I have often wondered why there is such an immense resistance in us to be with God. Why do we find prayers so hard, why do we always prefer to be busy instead of praying? Why do we keep seeing movies, going to parties, reading worthless books, running from one place to another? If God really exists and loves us, if he only wants to show us his love, why then is it so hard to give ourselves to him? Well, because when we enter into communion with God we have to face our demons, too. We have to face our greed, anger, lust, our rebellious nature, and our deep resentments against God himself. As long as we are busy and distracted we never really have to deal with who we are…
Precisely because our resistance is so great we need disciplines. We need very concrete ways of living by which we can keep inner space open for God and grow into the new self. But as we struggle with the demons we will discover that we are not struggling on our own but that it is the power of Christ himself who makes us victorious and it is that power that transforms us into new people. Indeed God re-makes us.
That is paradise: the new life in God.~ Henri Nouwen – “Desert Wisdom: Sayings from the Desert Fathers“
A professor once told me that faith is “giving all that you know of yourself to all that you know of God.”So this is where it begins. Facing who we are – who we really are. Not seeing myself as I want to be, but acknowledging the reality of my brokenness. And then, in full light of that, embracing communion with the One who loves, and knows, and is.
Time to embrace the work, and dive into the boundless depths of Life.
MATTHEW THE TAX-COLLECTOR and Thomas the doubter. Peter the Rock and Judas the traitor. Mary Magdalene and Lazarus’s sister Martha. And the popcorn-eating old woman. And the fat man in the pick-up. They are all our family, and you and I are their family and each other’s family, because that is what Jesus has called us as the Church to be. Our happiness is all mixed up with each other’s happiness and our peace with each other’s peace. Our own happiness, our own peace, can never be complete until we find some way of sharing it with people who the way things are now have no happiness and know no peace. Jesus calls us to show this truth forth, live this truth forth. Be the light of the world, he says. Where there are dark places, be the light especially there. Be the salt of the earth. Bring out the true flavor of what it is to be alive truly. Be truly alive. Be life-givers to others. That is what Jesus tells the disciples to be. That is what Jesus tells his Church, tells us, to be and do. Love each other. Heal the sick, he says. Raise the dead. Cleanse lepers. Cast out demons. That is what loving each other means. If the Church is doing things like that, then it is being what Jesus told it to be. If it is not doing things like that—no matter how many other good and useful things it may be doing instead— then it is not being what Jesus told it to be. It is as simple as that.
~ Frederick Buechner, Listening to your Life
Thinking about salt and light as they pertain to a life of faith… Jesus told his followers that they were “the salt of the earth”, “the light of the world.”
But the point of salt isn’t to eat it by the heaping spoonful. (“Mmm. This salt is delicious. Could I have another spoonful please?”) It is to enhance the flavor, bring taste to food, and allow us to appreciate and delight in what we eat (even if it’s brussel sprouts.)
The point of light isn’t to dazzle and blind. (“Gosh it’s dark out here. Can you shine that spotlight in my eyes? Thank you! I’m so glad you brought a light on this camping trip…”) It is to show us the world around us – to allow other’s eyes to see the world as it is.
You are the salt of the earth.
Gather it together in heaps lest it be polluted;
keep it in the jar.
Let society rot in its sin and be redolent in its putrefaction
the saints pristine in their whiteness shall be gathered together as a memorial pillar to me.
You are the light of the world.
Guard it carefully lest the darkness put it out.
Build a beautiful shrine for the lamp of God
where it may be kept safe for you to admire.
Do not take it out into the storm to look for the lost:
the wind might blow it out.
Let the lost look out for themselves
– if they are lucky they will see the chinks of light through the shutters and try to come in.
You shall be my witnesses,
so witness faithfully, on Sundays, come what may, and at as many meetings as you can
give money, make long prayers, sing hymns, and listen to sound sermons.
Teach my lambs, in particular, to get their priorities right
and keep the fold nice and tidy:
then it will be easy to find you when I come back, already gathered
from the rest
and glorifying God in your holiness.
You are my body.
Treat it gently, keep it warm,
make sure it gets enough to eat and lives respectably.
Keep it out of politics of course and the crush of the common people.
Avoid confrontation with the realities of evil.
One crucifixion was enough.
~ Muriel McNair (via ~ Prayers and Creeds)
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.
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.”
Early morning waffle breakfasts with my sister Carly and dear friends…
Bike rides and motorcycle rides in the early morning light…
Lazy mornings drinking coffee and laughing…
Beach picnics, friends, stand-up paddleboarding, frisbee, sand, naps, sunshine…
Connecting with family over the phone…
Afternoon run through the park and serindipitous encounters with school friends…
Concocting delicious treats…
Cookouts, laughter, fireworks, games, play, joy, community…
I walked along the lakeshore, small waves tugging and pulling at my feet as I headed out to launch the stand-up paddle-board into Lake Michigan. I was just excited to get out in the water, to be on a board again (it’s been four years since I sold my surfboard and left Rio and the Atlantic behind, and have just missed it desperately at times).
But there was that laughter…
I turned and saw a young boy, maybe 8 or 9 years old, seated in a wheelchair. The front two wheels were completely submerged, and he laughed and giggled as the waves lapped around his feet, and his dad splashed water on him, and over him.
It reminded me of blessing, of holiness, of baptism…
It was beautiful to see the love of a father for his son, the love of a son for the world around him, and the love of God refracted so beautifully…
The shattering weight of summer-light pressed down and through shadowed tree covered lanes as we walked home from the cafe. Turning a corner, we saw the girl in front of us dancing through, and around, and between rainbow streams of shimmering water, spraying and spinning and spiraling. There was beauty in the interplay of light and shadow, of sprinklers and water and scintillating rainbows that scattered shards of light profligately, without regard for whom might see, or appreciate this holy symphony of movement and color.
“…it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash…”
~ Marilynne Robinson – Gilead
This was one of those moments.
Leaving Neil’s house, biking down to the lake, I was struck once more by the extravagance on display – water in blues and greens, as far as the eye could see, shimmering and sparkling, evidence of grace.
Water is not only for the deserving.
Water does not only quench the thirst of the pure.
Water gives life to all, evenhandedly, without condition, without restraint.
I stopped my bike on the shore, captivated by the joyous call of the water.
Finally, unable to resist, I gave in to its siren song, leaping into the blue-green womb with abandon and laughter, over and over and over again…
“…water was made primarily for blessing…”