January 11, 2013

The Walking Dead

Zombie apocalypse scenarios are all the rage.  I'm not disposed to put The Walking Dead in my Netflix queue or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on my library hold list, but I'm not above thinking about the living dead.  They are all around us, are us.

I live in the suburbs.  I can't go anywhere without seeing people.  My community is small enough that I'm acquainted with the checkers at the grocery store, the parents at school pick-up, and lifeguards at the pool. It's small enough that I run into the same people at church, at the mall, and at the library.  We recognize each other by sight, if not by name, but few of us know each other.

We pretend to.  You know how many kids I have, and I know what you do for a living.  I know what car you drive, and you know when I walk my dog.  Maybe we know more:  I've had dinner at your home, or you at mine.  Our kids played together at the park and are now in the same math class.  Our husbands trade tools.  We keep each other's spare key.  We know all kinds of things, but not necessarily the things that keep us alive.  Or dead.

We don't wear those stories the way we wear Bronco colors or slap bumper-stickers on our cars; they're not the part of our identity that we want to advertise.  We may think of those parts as the dirty laundry our mothers and grandmothers warned us not to air.  Instead, truly, they are the prize inside our box of Cracker Jacks.

I mean it.  In my ministry work, I meet a lot of women.  Rarely in the beginning do I know the first thing about their every day lives.  I don't know where they live or if they are married.  I don't know their income, their level of education or whether they have children or grandchildren.  I don't know their lines of work or their hobbies.

Instead, I hear their stories of living and dying.  I hear about the things they have dreamed of and hoped for, and I hear a great deal about dreams dashed and hopes disappointed.

I have heard more stories than I could formerly imagine about harm done.  There are stories of abuse and neglect.  In some stories, the woman before me is the victim.  Occasionally, she is the perpetrator.  

These often begin as stories of the walking dead.  These women -- and the men I don't meet, but whom others do -- believe that these are stories of their ugliness, which need to be kept hidden.  They sometimes say, sometimes in these precise words, "If anyone knew, they could never love me."

But it's not true.

It's hard to love the people who shop beside me at the supermarket and sit across from me in the doctor's waiting room.  What I see when I see them is not real.  It is like looking at their reflection in a pool; it's easy to imagine that if I tried to touch it, it would disappear before my eyes.  There is nothing to hold onto, to embrace.

"For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known," says Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12.  

If I desire to know fully, I must allow myself to be fully known.  I can't do that every time I go out in public.  The risk is too great.  There's no sense in expecting that kind of knowing to happen as we go about our day to day business.  But we need to be aware that what we see when we pass on the street, we see only dimly, as in a mirror.   

Seeing face to face is different.  What we see in our mirrors may strike us as ugly or shameful.  When that same something is reflected in my face looking back at yours or yours at mine, it can be revealed for what it is -- the real beauty of our authentic souls.

It is no accident that Paul's words are nestled within his great hymn to love.  Love requires that we risk being seen, so that we may be permitted to see the faces of our sisters and brothers and at last to see the face of God. 

Then we become another kind of futuristic army -- those who are raised not to walking death, but to resurrection life.

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