I was thinking this morning at how historical and sociological insights urge us to look hard at situations where church praxis is worked out. Ideas in isolation are not enough. Theology needs to be seen in relation to the events that will eventually shape it. It is wisely taught at Alcoholics Anonymous that the only person you change is you – it is a good place to start. The kind of unity expressed in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew has to do with people living together in freedom and love. These are simple words, but they are not simple actions. Genuine Christ-like love requires some very hard decisions and unity neither comes naturally nor is it purchased cheaply. This will involve dropping our ‘them’ and ‘us’ categories, and greeting people as equals. When we do we continue to learn what God is doing in a changing world.
Unity surely has to be a two-way street. As Mike Riddell says, ‘to go with the expectation of having all the answers for other people’s questions is a form of arrogance. It is among ‘them’ that we learn who God is, and why they remain part of ‘us’. Let me tell you a story. A while ago now, a friend of mine was walking through her hometown and was numbed by a piece of graffiti on a wall facing her. It simply read, “What can I do to feel?” Tragically this is the cry of many a spiritual refugee.
Some things, for reasons most of the time, we can’t put into words, disturb every fibre of our being. This particular cry for help has, for me, been one such moment. Within my work I receive many letters and speak with many people who just don’t fit, who are looking for a place to belong. Most have sad and tough stories to tell. Their struggles so difficult and numerous it’s hard not to feel it all, almost to the point where their struggles consume you. In fact it would be wrong not to feel it all, and I do.
Deep within us all is the capacity to love beyond what we dare to dream or imagine. Life though steals this treasure from us while we are still so very young. Innocence, vulnerability and compassion are taken from us, and once gone, these graces become extremely difficult to re-locate. Part of the problem is that when we suffer loss it leaves a void of great magnitude – a void that can, at times, feel deep and wide. These days I am tired of being told by the religious right what the party line, or should I say party formula, of how one should deal with such a void. Permit me to explain.
Just recently a friend of mine lost his father. The trouble was that his father wasn’t just a father; he was a friend, and a close and treasured one at that. The day after his father died he described it as so. ‘Last night I felt the sky fall, and it just kept on falling, relentlessly out of my control.’ His father was gone, he was gone to a place I’ve heard of, a place I’ve even allowed myself to dream of, even journey toward, yet in my dreams I always return, my friends father cannot. I talked with close friends concerning how we might best deal with this kind of loss. We concluded that just maybe we need to look into the void that remains, be still, and sit with that emptiness for a while.
This life we lead is not the kind that gives us any peace of mind. I’m not sure it was ever meant to. There are times when I find myself enveloped in circumstances which beg me to ask of God the question, ‘Why?’ Less cynical people might counter the question by asking ‘why not?’ I think, from a place that is not often visited, I know what they mean; but I am not in a place where I can neither say it with any conviction nor own it. I’ve heard it said that there are three sides to every story. There’s yours, mine, and then there is the cold hard truth. Sometimes though truth can feel a long way from home, and yet both truth and home continue to draw me to their heart.
These things can’t be explained; why it happens, the providence of God and the mysteries of life and death are the very fibre of our faith. They were gifts of love and life, and so are we, let us not turn our backs on them. A friend penned the words that, ‘love is as strong as death, and many waters cannot quench it when it’s true.’ The bible talks of love being set as a seal on our hearts. These are beautiful and affirming words, until that love somehow seems to be erased in some fashion. There are those who now stand before the abyss, not knowing how to put one foot forward for fear of falling. I suppose the fear is that you just keep on falling, and that you’ll never make it back. Some journeys though are harder to make than others, and for the broken hearted who mourn, the journey may seem impossible.
Philip Yancey suggests that, ‘sometimes the only meaning we can offer suffering people is the assurance that their suffering, which has no apparent meaning for them, has meaning for us.’ Our real power lies in our brokenness and pain, and it’s a power that even the angels in heaven do not have. There is no rhyme or reason to it, but Jesus ruins our lives, yet out of those ruins he does make something more beautiful than we can imagine – it’s just a different kind of beauty than this world is ruled by.
Bebo Norman sang, ‘It was not your time, that’s a stupid line. A fallen world took your life.’ This is a hard truth to face though when the void you stand before is as wide as the Grand Canyon. Maybe that’s what living for a cause greater than ourselves enables us to do – to face eternity with the strength that comes from faith. For those left behind, somewhere deep inside, I believe there is an assurance, even today, in our culture of isolation and death, of hope in a Nazarene who embodies a bigger picture and a bigger love. My prayer is that we all have the courage to find it, regardless of what the journey holds. Jesus always had a very special place in his heart for the broken…and I do not believe for a moment that anything has changed.