Monday, August 16, 2010
This past April my friend Sam and I traveled to D.C. for an IJM conference. We spent time in and around the capitol, stood where MLK gave his "I have a dream" speech, walked the solemn, heart rending halls of the Holocaust Memorial, and criss-crossed the city on subways and shuttle buses. On the walls of the public transit vehicles were PSAs and other messages on every subject from littering to child abuse. One campaign had quotes from school children and one particular quote from a fifth grader named Carolyn Keshap broke my heart as well as blowing my mind. She said:
"I stare at the fire. It is dimming. Now it is nothing. I light it again. I wish it were that easy for me to restart my life. Considering how many people I have hurt."
I do not know what "hurt" this little girl thinks she has perpetrated on others, only that the perfect poetry and the emotional immensity of her words left me breathless.
Today as I sat far from D.C, far removed from the fifth grade, and on the other side of the gender divide, I conjured Miss Keshap's words, tried to wrap my clumsy mind around the colossal significance of them. And I was reminded that children often blame themselves for the crimes of others. That abused children will many times assume that they are being repaid for their own disobedience or failures or even that they should expect the abuse because of their lack of worth. I know these syndromes have been documented in enough books to fill a small library, but those words, on a bus, written by a fifth grader, said more in that small space, then a thousand libraries full of textbooks written by PhDs. And not just that, but her words articulated the cry of so many devastated hearts of people of every age, the need for approval, acceptance and love.
Not sure what to say but that I hope Carolyn has somebody to tell her she's beautiful and full of worth and wonder. And I hope she has gotten over her self-loathing and will believe them when they tell her. But more than anything I hope she does get to start again, born anew, into the family of God by the sacrifice of the Son, adopted by the Spirit and sealed for all time.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Faith is a much maligned concept. For the Marxist it's the delivery system of the opiate of the masses. For the Scientist it is that bothersome admittance "we don't know" or at very best the ongoing challenge to prove everything. For the Theist it is in some form or another, that way in which a soul touches god. Many a Christian sermon (and certainly many non-christian ones) have been preached on the subject, for better or worse, trying to capture that element of knowing that transcends belief, for without faith the scripture tells us, it is impossible to please God.
We live in a modern world, full of miracles of medicine and marvels of technology. It has caused a certain level of "sophistication" that makes modern man much less susceptible to un-skeptical belief. Think of a prophet four thousand years ago seeing his predecessor taken up into the air in a chariot of fire and then put that in the modern context of the many types of aircraft that actually to do just that. With a little imagination most of the miracles of the bible can, at least on the surface be somewhat explained away by rational if not modern conventions. And on the converse, many of the mechanizations of modern society would seem like miracles to even the great fathers of our faith.
India has been so much in my thoughts this month. Last night as I was driving home from work a little before midnight, I thought about a young boy I met one night at a believer's meeting. After the service many of the youth came forward for prayer, most wanting some measure of supernatural ability to pass their exams or for divine favor with instructors or school administrators. (One cannot overstate the borderline obsession in Indian society with excelling in school. It is the one road out of poverty, that one chance to escape the wheel of fate. And as I so painfully learned, the suicide rate among teenagers is spiraling upward as those pressures increase in light of emergent Indian middle class.) But other prayer requests were for healing, some for themselves or for a family member. After the long line dwindled to a few stragglers a woman approached me with her son. They had not been at the meeting but had been told someone was praying for the sick.
The young boy, barely a teen, had a look of pain mingled with apprehension on his feverish face. He was holding a bandaged hand upward in his other hand. He grimaced with every step. The "bandage" looked more like he was holding a fistful of trash in his little hand. The dirty, yellowed tatters taped together in a most distressing fashion. I carefully removed the bandage exposing a festering cut on his thumb. The original gash probably a quarter of an inch had blossomed into a infected gouge almost four times that size. The boy was worried sick and hot all over. I went to my room and grabbed an anti-bacterial wipe, a bandage and some triple anti-biotic cream. I gently wiped his hand clean and then put the cream on with a clean bandage and told them to come back the next day. I said a prayer for the boy as I returned the items to my room.
The next night the boy was back and we repeated the careful process of unwrapping his damaged thumb. There, after 24 hours, was a tiny cut, mostly healed. The boys fever was gone and the look of wild wonder and incredulous awe on his face was only eclipsed by his relief and thankfulness. I reapplied more cream and a fresh bandage and never saw him again. Until last night that is, when his little face popped into my tired brain and the Holy Spirit showed me what I had missed from the whole incident.
Jesus said unless you become like a child you won't enter the Kingdom, that the Kingdom belongs to such as these. In our modern "sophistication" we lack the ability to be amazed by God. We lack that wonder and awe that transposes the mundane into the sacred. I have long since ceased to be impressed by the internal combustion engine, I take for granted the impossibility of space travel, I can call or email anyone in the world instantaneously and I don't give it a second thought. But that young Indian boy, who was suffering needlessly, experienced a tiny bit of modern nicety and was blown straight away.
I have heard many a Christian lament the lack of miracles in the modern church, heard them blame the "ye of little faiths" that populate the pews in the 21st century. And I share their frustration. But it may just be that our faith has become so "sophisticated", so grown up, that we can't see the many miracles all around us. The perpetual miracles of sunrises and sunsets, the incredible and infinitely practical force of gravity, the all surpassing miracle of salvation. I believe we are so bored by our ease and excess, so inoculated by advancement, we can't see the wonderment of the infinite in our midst. And when we are not thankful for the little miracles, when we hold a sense of entitlement to them, it hardens our hearts, steals our awe.
We must become like little children again if we ever hope to see both the miraculous we long for and the very face of God. For it is the innocent of heart that see God. The scripture tells us that it is the Holy Spirit in side of believers that cries out Abba, literally, Daddy. It is the indwelling Spirit then, in this sense, that allows us to see everything through the filter of this impossibly intimate paternal relationship. Everything, from sunsets to space travel becomes a function of that intimacy, the lens of our perpetual understanding is focused by it. We are given back our awe, restored of our innocence by the Spirit of adoption, literally, born again.