April 24, 2013

I Want to Live Like That

I'm so good at capturing sad moments, moments of pain.  Those seem so thick, heavy, laden with meaning.  I'm so much less adept at marking the happy times,  maybe because they seem airy, insubstantial.  They're like soap bubbles, shimmering, rainbow-beautiful -- until a sharp word pierces them and they evaporate as if they never were.

We laughed together, danced the mom dance, ate homemade pizza with red wine for me.  Richness of life.  A text to him reminding him, and reminding me, that I love him and miss him when he's gone.

For this fleeting moment, the world is charged -- fire fall, Spirit-filled, shining, glorified.

I want to live like that.

Forgiving the Unforgivable

I have a pastor friend who has written a thoughtful blog post on forgiveness in the wake of the Boston bombings.  His initial take is different than mine.  He’s got me thinking about forgiving the unforgivable.

Maybe it’s too easy for me to look at the accused bombing suspect, Dzokhar Tsarnaev, and see a broken and hurting kid.  He is, after all, half a continent away, safely in the hospital, and he didn’t hurt anyone I love.  He’s not really my enemy, so if I can love him and forgive him from this safe distance, it doesn’t reflect any particular virtue in me.

In a way, Tsarnaev, or any public bad guy we could think of, is a sort of straw man.  We set him up as a case-in-point, a generic enemy.  We test on him our resolve to be forgiving, if we have such resolve.  What would I do if…?  Even if I don’t ask the question out loud, or even internally, specifically, intentionally, I’m sounding the depths – or shallows – of my own capacity to say, with Jesus, “Father, forgive them…”

There’s something so comfortingly clear about someone who hurts innocent bystanders.  We know who’s right, who’s been wronged.  It’s why we like old-time westerns or action movies where there’s no moral ambiguity and the man in the white hat will always stand against and overcome the man in the black hat.  In real life, in my commonplace, quotidian encounters, it’s not so clear.

I hurt other people.  They hurt me.  It’s not a bullet or a bomb, but a careless word or look or tone.  Sometimes it’s not so careless, but stealthily planned to hurt, to wreak a little bit of vengeance in the name of self-defense.  I’ve been hurt; I want to hurt someone, to release my pain by inflicting it on you.  At first, it feels good not to forgive, to give like for like, like scratching an itch.  But it doesn’t really help, because the itch is a symptom, not the disease.  I will scratch and scratch until I’m the one who’s bleeding.

As long as I keep looking outside, at some enemy who is set against me, I will want to strike back, and my wound will never heal.  In a way, it doesn’t matter whether I harbor the unwillingness to forgive against my neighbor or against the Osama bin Ladens or Adam Lanzas of the world.  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” reminds me to count the cost to my own soul when I bind that which I’m called to loose.  If I hold a grudge against the most distant enemy, my grudge will maintain a hold on me.
I agree with Pastor Rob, that forgiving doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting.  I have known enough people who have been harmed – physically, emotionally, spiritually – by people close to them to know that forgetting can mean inviting further abuse.  That’s not what forgiveness is about.  I have seen those same people, though, genuinely forgive acts of violence, lack of love, cruelty, neglect, and abandonment – and experience healing transformation in their own souls in the process.

We are called to forgive the unforgivable, but it’s a mistake to assume that it’s simply an act of charity toward the offender.  Forgiveness is finally a choice to allow my own soul to heal.

April 23, 2013

Why I'm Praying for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

This young man, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev allegedly committed an act of inexplicable evil.  We have to start there. I was as fixated as anyone as I listened to the radio last Friday, marveling that a whole city could be locked down, praying that they would catch the bad guy before anyone else got hurt.

They found him, bleeding, half-dead, half a mile from where he'd abandoned the car-jacked SUV so many hours earlier.  Suddenly I saw in my mind's eye not a terror suspect, but a nineteen year old kid.  What was he thinking during all those hours?  I don't imagine he knew that Boston had been effectively closed on his account.  Did he know his brother was dead?  I expect he was terrified, maybe hoping to die.

Somewhere, once, in a town very far from here, this man was a boy and before that a baby.  Someone cradled him in her arms, nursed him, patted him, kissed his soft head, caressed him.  He was innocent.

How does such a thing happen?  How does innocence turn to hatred and violence and cruelty?  If he is guilty, this man, barely past his own childhood, has ravaged the innocence of so many others who believed that the world was safe, only to come face to face with chaos reminiscent of a war zone.

It's easier, so much easier, if we can label Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as some sort of monster, sub-human.  It's easier to blame his religion or country-of-origin -- anything to distance ourselves from him.  He's not like us.

But of course, he is just like us.  He has a family and friends.  He went to school and to parties.  And, in all likelihood, he helped to make and plant bombs that killed three people and maimed so many others.  How are we to reconcile it all?

Perhaps it is natural to react with a wish for vengeance.  We look at this man and desire nothing more than to punish him for his crimes.  But, as Jim Wallis tweeted earlier today, the Biblical meaning of justice is "making things right."  What would it take to make what happened in Boston, in any imaginable sense, "right"?

The state will seek to prosecute Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  They will, I imagine, ask not only that he be found guilty, but that he be put to death on account of his guilt.  Some people will say that only his death will make things right.

I do not see how the death of a 19 year old boy, however vicious his crime, balances the scales of justice.  It does not restore to life the five people, including the other alleged perpetrator, who are dead as a result of this episode of senseless violence.  Only Jesus can restore to life Martin Richard, Lu Lingzi, Krystle Campbell, and Sean Collier.  Only in resurrection life will the dozens of people who lost limbs be made whole.  Killing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will not accomplish any sort of restoration.

What's more, and here's the piece that may be hard to swallow, Jesus can also restore Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  Jesus can redeem whatever it is in this young man that is so broken, whatever allowed him to cooperate with evil.

Do we believe that?  Do we believe in a God who offers redemption to the same souls that call for and abet his crucifixion?  Who bleeds and dies to save the lives of the ones who nailed him to the cross?  Do we believe that as much as Jesus died with those innocents who died, he died too with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a bomb strapped to his chest?  Do we believe that as Jesus weeps and suffers with the dismembered in their hospital beds, he suffered too with the bleeding boy in the boat?

I hope if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is guilty that he goes to jail.  But I hope too that he lives long enough to experience the love that frees us from evil.  I hope that he is transformed from sinner to repentant sinner.  I believe in a God who can do that.  I believe in a God who can use this mayhem, which God in no way wills, for some final good.  That is why I am praying for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

April 11, 2013

Six Hours

For a little over a year now, my kids have all been in school.  I'm not talking about my baby starting kindergarten.  My baby is in 4th grade, but until last January, he was home schooled.  My two elder children -- nearly 15 and 17 -- started school a year ago last fall.  For twelve months, I gave myself permission to do nothing.  For sixteen years I had been a full-time parent, a child under my primary supervision 24/7.  Suddenly, overnight, I was free for six hours a day.  I didn't have the first notion of what to do.

I was, in equal measure, surprised and unsurprised to discover that six hours wasn't as long as it looked from the outside.  The time flew...and it dragged.  I was inexplicably busy with the tasks of daily living -- cooking, dish washing, cleaning, laundry.  The mystery is that these were all occupations in which I'd been engaged forever, along with overseeing math and history and spelling.  How in the world did they now fill all my time?

Maybe the answer was in the radical difference in the rhythm of my days.  Home schooling, our days started early, and our work moved at an even, one might say leisurely, pace.  By mid-afternoon we'd completed all of our lessons and everyone had moved on to his and her own pursuits, including me.  Not so the school day.  The mornings, especially in the beginning, were intense with activity until the door closed behind me when I walked in after having driven the youngest to school.  Then, quiet, until 2:45, when the middle schooler walked through the door.  The rest of the day was a further flurry of activity -- homework and school lunches and arguments over piano practice -- until we all collapsed into bed.

Things have improved.  We've grown more accustomed to the new family routine.

But there are still those six hours of quiet.  I expected, when I anticipated them, just before my baby left home for the third grade, that they would be sad and lonely.  I simultaneously expect a wave of relief.  I got some of both, and more besides -- restlessness, puzzlement, curiosity, anxiety, ennui.

What to do?  I have tried scrubbing toilets, lunch with friends, writing, laundry, prayer, reading, walking, listening, talking, volunteering, yoga, therapy, cooking, shopping.  None of it has relieved me of loneliness, restlessness, or boredom.

That is not to say that there aren't moments of respite.  I sometimes find myself so engrossed in writing, conversation, prayer, or manual labor that I forget myself, and forgetting myself is a blessed relief.

I imagine that that's what sainthood is, utter self-forgetfulness.  In a moment of perfect conversion, might it not be the case that I disappear into Christ entirely?  Not that I cease to be me, but that my self-consciousness is subsumed into something that is more than I.  I, a drop of water, experience myself as ocean, without ceasing to be a drop; the ocean is ocean even without tiny me, but even in its great vastness it is diminished without me.  As Christ increases, I decrease; as I decrease, I become complete.

For eighteen hours a day I still sleep and manage my family relationships, but those six hours call out to me a challenge.  I have sought to discern what it is I'm to do with them.  I shout or whisper the question to heaven, consumed with furious urgency or blissful in patient surrender.  Sainthood remains beyond my grasp.

To what degree am I called to do, to be?  To introspect or act?  Which is grasping and which surrender?  Is the answer the same today as it was yesterday or will be tomorrow?

It's a lot to ask from six hours.


What does judgment say?  What mercy?  Will He look on me with compassion or declare that I knew what I knew, knew what was wanted, needed, expected and failed to deliver it -- failed in spite of being given advantage after advantage -- intelligence, support, examples?

I almost don't know which to hope for.  Compassion seems too weak, forgiving that which merits condemnation.  It's not how I would, do, rule me.  The heart searches out justice, right for right until the balance is made level and there rests, irrespective of the fear.  And the fear is muted because the heart cannot really conceive of the judgment merited by sin.  Not really.  If it could, it would eschew the balance and beg for mercy.  It would plead with the judge to look with compassion and mete out not what is deserved, but something lesser -- and greater.  Which the Judge will do.

But wait.  Is it only for those who seek it, this mercy?  For those who render it.  Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.  To whom am I more in debt than to myself?  Fifty pounds, fifty years.  It cannot be repaid, can only be forgive, relinquished, if at all.  Nothing can be repaid, because time does run in one direction only.  But can what was lost or what should have been nevertheless be restored?  Can it be?  Not patched, or the patch will tear.

Maybe it's patching that I do, can do.  And then I pour in and watch again and again as the wine I want to ripen expands and splits the seams and spills and stains and is lost but for the memory of the harvest and the crushing and the straining and the pouring, never drunk.  And what splits and spills is a feint compared with what might have been, too thick, too sweet, too immature to serve at the feast.

It is I who need to mature, and will I ever?  For ages I thought I had, long before I'd even begun.  And still, the chief impediment to aging well seems to be the idea that I already have.  Hastening leads only to some false idea of having arrived.  Tents pitched not in the promised land but on the side of a side road.

The journey is not yet over.  We must pack up and continue on.  But sick as we may be of quail and manna, they are reliable and the sun is hot and we can still sit in the shade of the tent and dream of the Egypt we left behind when we set out into the desert.  And we have not turned to salt for looking back, not entirely, not yet.

Milk and honey -- who can imagine them who has not tasted them?  And even if we have, the memory fades, being more subtle than the memory of fleshpots.  Even with pillars, not to mark the immovable place of sacrifice, but leading, guiding, by day and by night.  It should have been enough.  Can it be still?

Close your eyes.  See the cloud and the fire.  But only ahead.  You may die in the desert, but die following, your tent on your back, packed and prepared to journey one more day, even if that day never comes.  Your children, they at least, may yet enter into the promised land.

April 3, 2013

Living the Truth in Love

I'm involved in a women's ministry in which we support each other in allowing God to heal our emotional and spiritual wounds so that we can live the mission to which God has called each of us.  It took me months to discern my mission -- and I have refined its expression over time:
As a woman walking with Christ I co-create a world of deep connection where we can discover and live the truth in love by opening myself to the Holy Spirit and by communicating with clarity and compassion.
That's it.  That's why God has me alive today, to do that.  Sometimes being able to name it helps me to do it.  But not always.

I'm in a stage of radical transition in my life right now.  It's not the forced kind that might come with tragedy.  It's the natural sort that comes with time.  In short, my children are growing up.  For going on seventeen years, I have been first a mother and then everything else that I may be.  Now my children don't need me like they once did.  It seems like it happened overnight.  Of course it didn't.

Still, I find myself wildly unprepared.  In a devotion I read this morning, Richard Rohr said, "We are told that St. Francis used to spend whole nights praying the same prayer:  'Who are you, O God?  And who am I?'"  I wonder if he received an answer, because those are my questions:  Who are you, O God?  Who am I?

I get stuck on the second question.  Who am I?  I thrash around with a sort of helpless desperation as I struggle to answer it.  I approach it by way of sub-questions:  What should I do?  Where do I belong?  How do other people see me?  It's no wonder I never get to an answer or any sort of peace.  Those are surely not the right questions.

If I really want to know who I am, I need to begin with asking Who is God?  Not that I will arrive at an answer, but it is only in abiding in that question that I have any hope of approaching the question of who I am.

Who I am only makes sense in terms of who I am in God.  And who I am in God only makes sense if I have some notion of who God is.

I may not have a complete answer, but I do have a partial one, and that might just be enough.

I know that God is love (1 John 4:8).  I know that God so loved the world that He gave his beloved Son to die so that we might live (John 3:16).  And I know that the way to God passes through Truth (John 8:32 and 14:6).

So, love and truth it is.  Thus, my personal life mission.  I will never fully uncover the mystery of who God is or who I am.  I don't know where this journey is leading.  I know only that the path is paved with truth and with love.