Tag Archives: hope

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

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Lightning flashes

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…

 

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Only Love

The last time I was at the Music Box theater was over a year ago, with Ryan.  It’s a fun theater which shows quirky fare.  Tonight they were screening several of this year’s Oscar-nominated documentaries.  The second one we watched was titled “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall.”

Over the forty-minute long film, we come to know Jack Hall, an 83-year-old World War 2 veteran who is serving a life sentence for murder. He has congestive heart failure, has been in the hospital wing for the past 10 years after multiple heart attacks, and is not doing well. We follow him around as he is wheeled out into the yard to visit with his friends, we follow him to worship services and doctor’s visits and eventually follow him into one of the two hospice rooms of the Iowa State Penitentiary.

It is a startling, intimate, humanizing look into the lives of several men who are incarcerated – and what it means to die with dignity in prison.

The most arresting moments we were invited into were the moments that Jack shared with his hospice care-givers – volunteers who spent 10-12 hours a day with him 5 days a week, in shifts so that he was never alone: bathing him, holding his hand, praying with him and for him, rubbing his back, shaving him, laughing and joking and simply being with him so that he would not die alone.

One of the volunteers was named Love – serving a life sentence for kidnapping. Love was with Jack as he faded into a coma, and became unresponsive. Love was with Jack as he stopped breathing.

And for someone who all too often tears up while listening to “This American Life,” I was gone.

Such a beautiful picture of what reconciliation can look like – life transformed and made new…  Even the murderers and kidnappers and the embezzlers and the gossips and the liars and the racists and the selfish and the greedy and the prideful – Jack, and Love, and you, and me…

—–

(for more on “Prison Terminal,” check out this piece on “Fresh Air.”)

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The little things are the big things…

I hunger for big things: the grand romantic gesture, the one time blazing act of martyrdom, the finished marathon, the diploma in hand, the wedding vows stated in front of all.  I wanted to save the world.  (And if I’m being honest, I still do.)

I read of the violence in the Central African Republic, the discplaced in refugee camps all around Syria, the trafficked, the poor, the outcast, the vulnerable.  I hear the stories of the immigrants who have come to this country in search of a better life, and the children of those immigrants who have braved deserts and rivers and violence and death in search of their families.

I see the brokenness, and I want to fix it – to be the hero – to solve the problem – to make it better, in one grand gesture – in one quick fix.

But I know my smallness – and also have come to know that, if I’m honest, I’m not that special.  I’m not the smartest, or the hardest working, or the most creative.  I’m not the most loving, or the most disciplined, or the most faithful.  I’m above average in some ways, below average in others – mediocre in more ways than I care to admit.

And that is OK.  (At least they say it is…  sometimes I believe it.  But more often than not, I don’t.)

—–

I’ve heard this before.  I’ve known this at times.  But I forget.  I learn, and forget.  I remember, then forget.  I see the stories, feel the need, taste the darkness, and all too easily become overwhelmed.  It hurts too much to care about this beautiful, broken, frozen frozen world.  It disappoints you.  People let you down.  They are broken, but it can feel like a betrayal.  I let myself down.  I am broken too, but it can feel like a betrayal.

To open ones heart to the world is to let it thaw – to open oneself to pain.  And all too often this past semester I have chosen the easy way – the lazy way – of sitting, of withdrawing, of sleeping.  Of shutting out, of building walls, of numbing.

I noticed, but waited for something to change – for some epiphany to strike, for something to happen that would result in change and redemption and newness and hope.

These last weeks, I’ve been thinking though…

I’ve been thinking about decisions, and hope.

I’ve been thinking about faithfulness, and about small steps.

I’ve been pondering what it would look like to be living a life that is abundant.

I’ve been pondering what it looks like to live fully, richly, in ways that open myself up to the present – to possibility – to the risk of rejection – the risk of failure…

To remind myself that living courageously is sometimes not a matter of standing in front of the tanks or lying to the SS, but sometimes it is to step into possibility knowing it may not work out.  Sometimes, it is to risk that rejection one again, even if you don’t think you could survive.  Sometimes, it is to risk failure, even if you have failed time and time again, and you think that one more failure will destroy you.

Sometimes, that is courage.  Sometimes, that is what living faithfully looks like.

And sometimes, it is putting on layers and going down to the lake and running through the ice and snow.  Sometimes, it is building a fire and connecting with your roommate and picking up the guitar that you haven’t touched in months and playing until your fingers ache.  Sometimes, it is making that phone call, writing that email, praying the examen and really listening to your heart.  Sometimes, it is a posture of gratitude, and doing what needs to be done today, even if you did it yesterday, and even if you’ll have to do it again tomorrow.

And sometimes, that one small act really is the grand gesture – the simple act of beauty that will save the world.

 

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Gratitude

It’s time to watch this again:

It seemed appropriate – not just because it is Thanksgiving – but because the last few weeks of school, papers and projects are piling up for me, work and internship are reminding me both how broken people are and how broken this world is, and I find myself losing sight of the beauty and wonder around me as I am drowning in books and journal articles and case notes and reports. So much in this culture and society is pulling us towards wanting more – desire – consumption. “If you just had this, you’d be happy. If only you weren’t so ____, people would love you more. If you could just own that new toy, that new pretty thing… All you need is just a little bit more – more stuff, more status, more accomplishment, more happiness… And you deserve it.”  And on Black Friday, the high holy days of capitalism, we see this message over and over again.

This is the message we hear every day. And it is a lie. It will never be enough.

I know what is true. I see the things that push me towards life, towards abundance, towards joy: and among those things, three of the primary ones are contentment, gratitude, and wonder. So much in life is outside of our control. You can’t will yourself towards health when you’re sick. You can’t make someone love you. We all have limitations, barriers, and things that hinder us from accomplishing what we desire. And the tension that I wrestle with is how to balance that acceptance of my limitations and finiteness with the reality that there is much that I dream will come true – there are deep desires within me for beauty, for community, for redemption, for companionship, for love, for faithfulness, and those desires are there for a purpose. This battle between contentment and desire wages in my heart, but it is only be holding them in that tension that balance can be lived. Contentment reminds me that my desires are just that – desires. And while they point to something deeper, they should be held loosely. Yet those deep desires of my heart remind me that I was made for more, it keeps me moving God-ward, it guards me from complacency and passivity and laziness. Both are needed, in their appropriate place.

Gratitude and wonder work together to stop and remind me of how truly blessed I am – everything I have been given, and everything that gives color and laughter to my life. From the sun crawling up off the lake on my morning run, to the lights of the city as I drive home at night – the play of clouds, the sound of the breeze, the crisp cool air that burns and awakens and refreshes – these are gifts. The laughter of a friend’s daughter, the tears that spring from some unknown place when confronted by the beauty of friendship, of love, and of sacrifice – all are gifts. A glass of wine and a loaf of bread to welcome the Sabbath as an old friend, forgiveness growing slowly like a blade of grass in the sand, a heart that is melting, thawing, warming before the light of the son – this is gift and grace. When we truly stop and see, how can we not be grateful? When we truly stop and feel, how can our hearts not threaten to explode with wonder?

“Gratefulness can change our world in immensely important ways. If you’re grateful, you’re not fearful. If you’re not fearful, you’re not violent. The grateful act out of a sense of enough, not scarcity, so they are willing to share.  Being grateful does no less than change the power balance of life.  It’s a nonviolent revolution that even revolutionizes the concept of revolution.  Grateful people are joyful people; the more joyful people are, the more we’ll have a joyful world.” ~ Brother David Steindl-Rast

And in the midst of the tragedy, the brokenness, the unmet desires and unfulfilled dreams, and all that we don’t understand, we see glimmers of hope – catch the faintest whiff of grace – hear the whisper of peace and presence: it’s enough to make anyone thankful, if just for a moment… And sometimes, that moment is all we need to keep on.

“Either life is holy with meaning, or life doesn’t mean a damn thing.  You pay your money and you take your choice.  Only never take your choice too easily, of course.  Never assume that because you have taken it one way today, you may not take it another way tomorrow.  One choice is this.  It is to choose to believe that the truth of our story is contained in Jesus’s story, which is a love story.  Jesus’s story is the truth about who we are and who the God is who Jesus says loves us.  It is the truth about where we are going and how we are going to get there, if we get there at all, and what we are going to find if we finally do.  Only for once let us not betray the richness and depth and mystery of that truth by trying to explain it…” ~ Frederick Buechner

(Reposted, because I needed to be reminded of this today…)

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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

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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…

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