Just Die Already, Part II -or- Home Is Where the Heart(ache) Is(?)

I preached the following sermon to Circle of Hope East in December 2004, just 8 days before Samuel was born four months premature and our lives were changed forever.

John 14: 1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

Home. For some of us the word evokes fond memories of a nurturing family, especially at this time of the year. For others, including me, the word is fraught with a tension we can hardly describe. We want to be part of a meaningful and nurturing home, but the one we grew up in wasn’t at all like that, and so we struggle to redefine what home means to us as we grow up and make our own dwelling places. But I wonder, and maybe you do too: just what is home, anyway? Frederick Buechner describes home this way:

The word home summons up a place…which you have rich and complex feelings about, a place where you feel, or did feel once, uniquely at home, which is to say a place where you feel you belong and which in some sense belongs to you, a place where you feel that all is somehow ultimately well even if things aren’t going all that well at any given moment. To think about home eventually leads you to think back to your childhood home, the place where your life started, the place which on and off throughout your life you keep going back to if only in dreams and memories and which is apt to determine the kind of place, perhaps a place inside yourself, that you spend the rest of your life searching for even if you are not aware that you are searching. I suspect that those who as children never had such a place in actuality had instead some kind of dream of such a home, which for them played an equally crucial part.

As I alluded to a moment ago, I would definitely fall into the latter category. I did not grow up in the kind of home that Buechner describes, though I have always longed for it. In fact, I have spent all of my adult life thus far trying to create such a home, and it has been an exceedingly difficult task.

I think the thing that is so meaningful and important about the dream of home that Buechner talks about it is this idea that it belongs to you, or maybe more importantly that you belong to it, and that somehow, no matter what is happening presently, the result is that all is well or you can rest assured that all will be. Home, for me, is an idea that evokes a sense of safety and security, even though I never knew such safety growing up, and I think that’s often how things work. Sometimes we know things by their presence, but sometimes it is only in the absence of something that we come to know and long for it. This is especially true of God, I think, and you may have heard talk of the “God-shaped hole” that many of us experience in the absence of the abiding presence of Jesus, but I’ll say more about that later. In the meantime, let me say this, and I warn you that this is a spoiler for where my talk is going, but here it is anyway: I believe that whatever kind of home you grew up in- whether you knew a loving home or knew only the absence of one and so yearn for it, like me- either way such a home is a far cry from our true home. That true home is with Jesus, the same Jesus that John says is the Word by which all things were made and in whom all things hold together. God, who is love, so overflows with that love that he made a world. He made us, and breathed into us the breath of life, literally inspiring us to be, to exist. He made us in love, and for love, for right relationship with him and all creation. Ultimately, Jesus is the home we were made for, but like the animals in Narnia we’ve fallen asleep and lost our ability to talk. We don’t remember who we are or what we were made for, but every once in a while, sometimes in the best of our earthly homes, we catch a glimpse of the mystery that lies just beyond our awareness; we see a doorway open for an instant, and we are blinded by the love that waits to make us whole again, and so we set out on a journey- we begin to make our way to our final and true home.

Of course, the hard thing that we find along the way is that this journey to wholeness and home is finally impossible. If Jesus is the home we long for, then like Thomas we do not know where he is going or how to get there. We know only that the lasting peace and rest that we so long for is just beyond our grasp, and so we conclude that we couldn’t possibly be home yet. We are broken, fractured by our freedom to choose because we so often choose that which takes us further from home, away from love. We do not love as we should and do not really know why. We are lost, unable to find our home and in some ways unable to find even our true selves, because as I said before, we’ve forgotten who- and whose- we are. We do not know that we were made in and for love, or we know it only by the absence of such love in our lives. We do not know that we belong to the King, Jesus, and so we bend the knee at any impostor king who comes along and is able to capture our imagination, or at least distract us for a time from the emptiness inside. In the end, lost and alone, yearning for a home we have only dreamed about, we realize that we cannot save ourselves, and we begin to come undone. It’s a hard thing to learn, but I think it’s an essential part of our journey, because in our weakness God’s strength is revealed.

Realizing that I cannot save myself- that I can not create out of my own force of will the kind of home I never had- has been terribly hard for me, but ever so slowly, I am learning. You see, as I’ve alluded to, my home growing up was a pretty messed up place, and those of you who know me or have heard me talk before may know that all too well. My father was very loving, but that love was drowned in the sea of my mother’s abuse, and that abuse marks me deeply and has gone a long way toward making me the man I am today. In fact, I’ve recently begun to imagine the abusive home of my youth as an image. In this image I see my mother, a vital, raving lunatic, trapped in a dungeon deep in my psyche. This is a deep, dark place inside me where no one ever goes, but there she is, locked in a cage, railing at the bars, cursing at anything that moves. And there I am, as a child, about five years old, sitting just outside my mother’s cage, curled up in a ball, sobbing and rocking back and forth. I think that image is the emotional center that I live out of most of the time, though I’m hardly aware of it. I know it’s true, though, because when Jesus actually gets to me- when I see him for who he really is and remember who I really am, that’s the immediate place I go to. I begin to cry, overcome with the experience of his love and care for me even though I’m just a small, broken, weeping child.

So I’ve sort of been living a double life. As an adult I’m even-keeled and intellectual, and though I have moments of passion I’m mostly disconnected from my emotions. I’m fractured that way because I had to be in order to survive my mother’s abuse. I couldn’t keep feeling the way she made me feel at five years old, or I would simply have died. So I became very skilled at hiding and suppressing those emotions and living as if I didn’t have them, and the result is that today, standing before you, I am only half a person, at best. I’m out in the world, looking for home, and I haven’t even brought all of myself along. I don’t know how to be whole, because the part I’ve left behind is a small, weak five year old, who is scared and crying in front of a cage.

But I recently had what I can only describe as a vison, and I think this vision holds the key to my journey to wholeness and home. In it I see myself kneeling before Jesus- as he might be pictured in Revelation, in full warrior garb, eyes blazing, with sword at the ready. I kneel there before him, and he keeps pressing me, asking me over and over again: “Will you yield?!” Each time I am unable to comply; though I want to- I want to say “yes” and acknowledge his lordship over all creation, especially over me. I want to submit to him and trust that he loves me and can keep me safe, but I can’t. I remain stuck, frozen in indecision, trapped in a halting reply. Finally, exasperated, Jesus simply cuts me in two (think Darth =ader and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode IV of Star Wars). He cuts me in two and I ‘m gone- obliterated….and then, I ‘m there again. Somehow changed. Whole. Complete. No longer kneeling, I see Jesus, and he is different too. With his warrior garb gone, he says to me, “Behold, I make all things new!”

I think that in this vision Jesus offers me a way out- through death, and into new life, but in order to receive that life, I must tread the path that we all must journey down in order to be made whole. If I am to find my life, I must lose it. If I am to be born again, I must die, and God must endure labor to give life to me anew. Jesus offers me a chance to put an end to this identity I have made for myself as the dispassionate intellectual, an identity rooted in my experience of abuse, an identity which consequently is all about self-protection, and so is all about self. Jesus is giving me an opportunity to be that five year old again and live his life over. This time, however, instead of being overwhelmed by the lack of love and abuse that he suffered, I am carried along, as that child, in the loving arms of Jesus. His enduring love is the home I never knew, and that love abides with me day by day as I learn again what it means to live and love and trust and make a family.

This is the task that Mary and Joseph were faced with, I think, as they learned what it meant to carry the baby Jesus, give birth to him, and raise him. Somehow they knew, of course, that their child was different. An angel had come to each of them independently to describe what was to be and reassure them that it was God’s doing, and there were some pretty big moments along the way: like when Mary magnified the Lord after John the Baptist, still in Elizabeth’s womb, leaped for joy at the presence of Jesus, still in Mary’s womb, and later the Magi came, and the heavens opened to announce the birth of Jesus to some unsuspecting shepherds in a field. Likewise, after Jesus was born, they took him to the Temple and an old man named Simeon proclaimed that seeing the infant Jesus was the very thing that made his life finally complete, as he had been promised that he would not die without seeing the Lord’s Anointed One.

All of these things had to have been pretty significant to Mary and Joseph, but these were the high points, the big moments that capture the headlines of the Bible, and we actually know very little about their every day life, about what happened between the lines of the Bible’s pages. And so we wonder about those times when no one was looking, when Mary and Joseph looked into each other’s eyes and wondered what the future held, and what they held in Mary’s belly. The Bible doesn’t capture the secret things they said at night when no one was looking. We do know that Joseph nearly called the whole thing off, but the angel took care of that, and so, like us, Mary and Joseph spent their days watching, waiting, and wondering. They watched Mary’s belly grow, and they waited for Jesus to come as they wondered what it all really meant.

What a magical and mysterious time that must have been. I especially appreciate this Advent season because I get to enter into the story in a new way, as Kirsten and I are expecting a son in the Spring. Even with the very real experience of watching Kirsten’s belly grow, I still can’t imagine what Joseph must have felt, but like him, I hope, I struggle to put it all in perspective and find rest in the midst of it. You see, I think, for a numer of different reasons, that Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said that you have to be like a child to enter his kingdom. One of the ways that I think this works has to do with belief. Many children, even in our jaded culture, haven’t yet learned to disbelieve. When watching a movie they don’t have to be convinced to suspend their disbelief because their belief hasn’t been suspended yet. Children who have been loved and nurtured well see wonder and magic everywhere- they have “eyes to see” the kingdom. That’s what’s so great about Christmastime, even the commercialized version of it. For six weeks or so, or longer- depending on who can make a buck off it- as a culture we give ourselves permission to be children again. We wait, expectantly, for something magical to happen. We hope, even if we can’t quite believe it, that families will gather and try to love one another. It’s a time when, if only we would stop and be still and listen quietly, we can catch a glimpse of the impossible. You might step through a wardrobe and be in Narnia. The creator and King of the Universe might come to be with us as a helpless baby.

I think Kirsten and I had an experience like this when we decided to move back to Philadelphia and be a part of you all again. We had sojourned in Minnesota for five long years. It was a hard time for both of us, but especially so for me. As you know, I grew up abused and was terribly marked by that experience. While in school I did Kingdomworks, which brought me to Philly to serve in the inner-city, and I was marked by that too, and so I got married and left school and moved here, where we found Circle shortly after it started. We were here for two years and then moved to MN to be with Kirsten’s dying father. My mother died the day after he did, and that weekend of funerals was, for me, a study in contrasts between the consequences of a life lived attempting to love and serve others, like Kirsten’s dad did, and one lived in the absence of such love and service, like my mother. I went to seminary while we were out there, which was a wonderful but terribly hard time for me that wound up looking a lot like the desert that Joshua described last week. It was out of that deserted, desert place that I began to hear that still, small voice calling us back to Philadelphia, and when Kirsten and I decided to go for it, I told her that it was time for us to believe again.

It was time for us to believe, at a most basic level, in Jesus again, and don’t be alarmed- it’s not like somehow we stopped believing along the way; it’s quite the contrary, in fact. I am firmly convinced that, despite the rhetoric of some Christians, doubt is not the enemy of faith, but its partner. As Buechner says:

There are times when all of our explanations ring false even as we make them. There are times when it is hard to see how any honest, intelligent person can look at the world without conluding, like Macbeth, that the whole show is a tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. Many of us have faith in God and yet have doubts too, and in the long run perhaps it is just as well that we have them. At least doubts prove that we are in touch with reality, with the things that threaten faith as well as with the things that nourish it. If we are not in touch with reality, then our faith is apt to be blind, fragile, and irrelevant.

Even so, coming back here, to you, was a step taken in faith, in the belief that ultimately hope is something that happens, and love is something you do. Coming back here, was, for us, another step forward in the long journey home. We keep taking those steps, however halting they may be, because we know in some sense just beyond our perception or understanding that we are of course home already, because Jesus is the home we yearn for, and he has come to live among us. This is the promise of Immanuel, of God with us. Through his birth, life, death, resurrection, and the ongoing life of his spirit in you and me, God has made a “big space of grace” in which we can live, and move, and have our being. Our home is wherever Jesus is, and Jesus is with us always. Like Thomas, we wonder how to see the Father, to see God and by doing so find the home that we long for, and so to us, too, Jesus says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” But Jesus will not coerce us into acknowledging this. He will not force us to receive his love. God hides in the weak and powerless, in babies and AIDS patients, so that when we find him there we can begin to understand his love- and his judgment. Jesus stands at the margins, with the least of these, wooing us to follow him through death and into new life. I leave you, then, with another quote from Frederick Buechner that has been so meaningful to me because I think it sums up what it means to find a home with Jesus in everyday life. He says:

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, and smell you way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

Just Die Already, Part I

I’m not even sure where to begin. The day began with a colleague at work quitting, and in the process of doing so, telling one of my superiors that part of the reason she did so is because I’m an “a**hole who never helped her…”. It’s true that part of my many responsibilities at work involve being charged to do so, and by my recollection I tried, but obviously it wasn’t enough, apparently. I keep hearing that you can’t please everybody; yet hope springs eternal, and is eternally dashed. Later, I got word that for the second time in a year (about a year apart), I have been denied what in theory would have been a promotion. In this case it would have been a “promotion” with a pay cut; so there is that. However, I’ll admit I’m disappointed, for sure, very much so even, and maybe a little angry. In both cases the few folks who know best what I do and what my place of employment likely needs felt strongly that I was the best candidate, and in both cases they were overriden by folks who maybe set foot in the building where I work once a year, if that. It’s simply mind boggling.

It’s also ego crushing, of course, especially given the hours I put in and level of dedication I’ve displayed. What’s worse, though, is that all this comes on the heels of so much other heartache, so many other hopes seemingly perpetually dashed. I told Kirsten before all of this happened that I already felt really, really beat up of late. I don’t dare allow myself to feel at all now. The violent imagery I just employed somehow seems apt, because to take it a step further it all just feels like a perpetual assault. When constantly under attack, eventually your defenses wear down, your strength gives out, and then what?

I suppose I’ve just answered my own question, then. If this is an assault, if I am being beaten up, once your defenses give out- if the attacks continue- eventually, well, you die. As a Christ-follower, I know that is what I am called to do- die, die to self, die to my own ambition, pride, even (especially) my own needs- my need to be loved and accepted, to be validated for who I am, to be recognized and treated at least as well as those that are very close to me, by those that are very close to me, at least in proximate terms. I must die to my desire to strike out at those that have hurt me. I must die to my expectation to get something in return for what I’ve given and for what I continue to give. I must die to my desire to be thanked for my efforts, if not rewarded for them. All of this I must do, if I am to more fully take on the image of Christ, of he who died for us “while we were yet sinners.” I guess this is what God has in mind for me right now, for daily I am confronted with opportunities to do so (to die) to a degree that I couldn’t have imagined just a short time ago.

This all reminds of a sermon I preached just eight days before Samuel’s 4 month premature birth. I’ll share that in a separate post.

IRL

You’re social media savvy, right? So you probably know that “IRL” stands for “In Real Life,” as if there were any other kind. It’s strange though how our screens both free us and ensnare us into believing that we can have another self, a digital one, one that we can manage and contrive. The pretense alone is enough to make some of us flee. I’m ready to do so again. So I’ve tried this once before, and obviously it didn’t stick. However, everything I said in that post is absolutely 100% true still, if not more so. Moreover, I was very challenged by this post from Rod White, in which he lays out a host of other (better) reasons for ditching false “community” online in favor of the real thing. As usual, I think Rod’s right, and I for one would do well to follow his lead in this. Of course though, there’s more to it even than all that. I guess I allude to this possibility in my original “quitting Facebook” post linked above, but I’ve been reminded especially over the past week of the potential that FB and of course all online interaction hold for destroying the very thing they purport to be powerful tools to help us build- community. Whenever we surrender face to face interaction (or as close to it as we can get) for interaction mediated by a screen, we invite such interaction to become not just contrived but controlled. We subject ourselves and our relationships to the influence (and in many cases, outright control) of a variety of third parties, be they Mark Zuckerberg or the NSA.

More importantly, relationships brought to you courtesy of your screen invite much potential for missing the mark in your effort to communicate with and love your neighbor. Such “relationships” invite misunderstanding and miscommunication in ways that simply were unthinkable before the advent of such screens. Did the childhood schoolmate I otherwise would have no contact with mean to be so vile in his response to my latest blog post? Should I worry that the new friend I just met is suddenly interacting online with all of my “friends” and seems to comment on their posts more than mine? Should I be hurt when someone close to me receives online “love,” praise, and attention from mutual “friends” to a degree that is way out of proportion to what I receive in a situation in which we might otherwise be due similar attention? Less selfishly, what does it mean for my worldview when I ever increase the number of voices that I agree with, that tell me what I want to hear with every “like” and “share?” Am I missing the confounding opinion that challenges me to grow? What am I constantly teaching my children when they have to compete for my attention with a screen? How can I set boundaries around their screentime when I clearly am beholden to no such strictures for myself?

Most importantly, what does Jesus ask of me? How can I love my neighbor when I scarcely have time for him, when even in the rare instance when our paths might cross and we might interact, we do not because each of us are staring down at something shiny as we walk, as we eat, as we live far too many moments of our lives?

Of course, like most things, this technology is just a thing after all. I would not argue that all things are neutral, that they can be used for good or evil depending on the intent of the user. I probably used to think this, but no longer. Some things have (evil) purposes so clear that they should not be used at all. Weapons come to mind in this regard. Yes, they can be redeemed, but Scripture doesn’t promise we’ll find better uses for swords as swords; it promises we’ll beat them into ploughshares. Anyway, sure, social media can be used for good, and certainly has. I’m not saying everyone should do what I’m doing (though some probably should). I’m simply saying that on balance, I don’t think my use of FB is ultimately good for me. Much of the good that I get from it I can get in other ways. I’m not giving up Twitter, for example, and I’ll still blog. I hope that the positive, genuine relationship building that might have occurred for me via FB can still happen. I hope my true “friends” will seek me out in other ways, via this blog and Twitter as I just mentioned if you’re far away, or better still, via a phone call or the occasional visit. If you’re close by, I hope shutting down this method of interaction via FB will push us both in the direction of making real time for one another, of grabbing coffee or stopping by for a real conversation. If not, at least it may open up some space in my life for me to pause, to breathe, to be present to those around me, to just be. Here’s hoping, anyway. In the meantime, if you want to keep up with me via cyberspace, point your browser to this blog from time to time, or hit me up via twitter (@robfredbuck). If you need my email address, let me know.

Grow(ing) Up Already

So, I’ll be honest. My Father’s Day did not go according to plan. In the past, especially early on as a new father, the day was marked by lots of effort to make me feel appreciated and recognized in my role as a dad. Circumstances conspired to make that impossible yesterday. Kirsten was coming off two back-to-back overnight shifts and those shifts were particularly challenging to boot, emotionally and physically exhausting. She was just spent, and rightly needed to rest. Even so, she got up much earlier than she should have to make a celebratory meal. She’s a saint, and I simply don’t deserve her. Nonetheless, the day was mostly marked by the usual challenges of parenting our two unique and uniquely challenging kids. Between the fatigue that comes from the simple routines of raising children- including meals; play and the obligatory clean-up; baths and bedtimes and waking up throughout the night; the emotional drain of enforcing boundaries and teaching, always teaching and training, etc;- and the busyness that marks most Sundays including travel to Canton and back and various church responsibilities, the day just didn’t allow for time to pause and celebrate being a dad. Add in overwhelming work responsibilities and a handful of relational dramas being played out in various ways, and the day just didn’t feel right.

Of course, there’s even more to it, though. Let’s face it- dads get slighted in our culture. There are lots of reasons for this, to be sure, but it’s true. Take this post, for example, which says that “Americans are expected to spend about $7.4 billion less on gifts and goodies for dads this Father’s Day than they spent on moms for Mother’s Day last month, according to the National Retail Federation,” and “about 64 percent of consumers plan to get Dad a card. That compares to 81 percent who were planning to make sure Mom got a card.” As a dad I can speak of this disparity in treatment too, both on Father’s Day weekend and simply in general. Dads are perceived as less capable, less responsible parents. For example, on Saturday we were at a picnic for cerebral palsy patients at Akron Children’s Hospital. This is a great event they do every year that usually includes Akron Rubber Ducks (minor league baseball) tickets. Sam has a mild CP diagnosis, and we usually try to go. So I took the boys and fed them there, and Kirsten met us later just before going into work. When we came to greet her after she arrived, the boys had just finished eating finger (more accurately, “junk”) food and it was evident on Nathan’s very messy face. Of course, he’s two and honestly my nine year old Autistic child still eats that way too, but I hadn’t had a chance to clean them up yet when we saw Kirsten. She was standing there with a co-worker, who casually remarked, looking at their messy faces, “Oh, must be a day out with dad, huh?” as if dads don’t bother to clean up their kids or are oblivious that there’s food on their face, etc. A mom walking up with their kids in identical circumstances would not have gotten the same kind of comment, I’m almost sure.

Do dads deserve a bad rap? Maybe. The statistics could be used to argue that yes, we do. Some of us abandon our families. Some of us are criminals and are rightly incarcerated and therefore unavailable to parent our kids. Dads are out of the picture in many families for many different reasons. To make matters worse, culture tells us that parenting calls for more stereotypically feminine gifts, like “kissing boo-boos,” changing diapers, and teaching. Of course, that’s only one part of the equation. Parenting, when done well, also calls for more stereotypically male gifts like setting boundaries and the like, and truth be told the best parents, I would argue, do all these things all at once. Dads can and should change diapers, and I know Kirsten would be glad to say that I do. Dads nurture their kids; they “kiss boo-boos;” they teach them too. One parent may be more inclined and gifted in a certain way than the other and certainly parenting labor can be divided in ways that are most efficient, but there can and should be a sense that “we’re all in this together.” Mom shouldn’t be- and shouldn’t be considered- more of a parent than dad is, hopefully, and vice versa.

But naturally it’s more complex than all that. Some dads are incarcerated unjustly due to racial/socioeconomic factors largely beyond their control. Cultural factors come into play in this regard as well, as parenting can become denigrated in a culture still very much mired in the legacy of systemic injustice against a people group perpetrated over the course of centuries. Gender stereotypes should be called into question too. Men and women are different, to be sure, but as I’ve alluded to above, moms and dads should be a team that challenge each other, learn from each other, serve each other and their kids, and accentuate the strengths of each while minimizing and overcoming their weaknesses. Kirsten and I still hope for and are working toward this kind of a marriage, though we are no doubt very far away from it still.

All that said, Mother’s and Father’s Day have different historical roots. On the face of it in popular culture today, they’re the same, but Mother’s Day arose as call to end war and work for justice. It was quickly commercialized, however and perverted into the holiday most of us know and celebrate today. Father’s Day arose because it was (rightly?) recognized that there was a disparity in setting aside time to remember mothers- in whatever way for whatever reason- while not doing so also for fathers. So Father’s Day came about as a perversion of the perversion of Mother’s Day, with both holidays now being overt celebrations of consumer capitalism more than anything else these days. Kirsten rightly wanted to opt out of this perverse consumption this year; so I honored her with a Kiva gift card, for which she was very grateful.

I, on the other hand, am exposed for the selfish, poorly motivated, and deeply wounded person that I am in all this, for I find myself wanting to be recognized for my efforts as a dad, as if I need some sort of external acclamation simply to fulfill the privilege and responsibility that go along with my role. It doesn’t stop at fatherhood either. The trauma I endured as a child and the repeated traumas we’ve experienced even into adulthood have left me with a very real felt need for affirmation, praise, and recognition for what I do, up to and including simply getting out of bed every day and trying to do it- to live and love and serve and grow- all over again- and again and again and again. I think I’m special, that I’m a survivor, that I’m resilient and that it’s some great feat that I keep trying again to give what in so many cases I simply have not received. How can I be a good dad when the best my dad could do was to tell me he loved me while daily leaving me exposed to the abuse of my mother, the worst of which he tried to absorb himself? How can I affirm and instill confidence and capability in my boys when my own father never had the time or emotional resources to do much of the above for me? These questions could go on.

Perhaps to my credit, I certainly try. I try to give what I feel like I don’t have. Both Kirsten and I are uniquely and specially bonded to Samuel due to his traumatic birth. For my part, when he was young especially (and our only child, meaning he got my undivided attention) I would literally spend hours and hours and hours holding him, singing to him, reading to him and spending time with him. I pressed my lips against his ears and told him over and over and over again, “I love you; I love you; I love you; I love you,” on and on and on. I delight in that kid, our gift from God, and am glad to do so. Much has happened since then and there’s seldom opportunity to express myself to him in that way now, but it’s no less true.

Nathan is uniquely a gift from God too, the son we dared to hope for despite the odds, the one who survived a high risk pregnancy and was born without the trauma Samuel endured. He’s ferocious, uniquely vibrant and alive with a special energy that we often struggle to keep up with. It’s as if Samuel expended so much energy just trying to survive his premature birth and the aftermath, while Nathan kept it all pent up inside (as he was pent up inside Kirsten for those several blessed months longer than Sam was) and then burst from the womb rarin’ to go, ready for a fight. He’s a wonder to behold, and I delight in him no less.

Father’s Day is hard for Kirsten and I anyway, each with our own dads now gone. Dad Pearson left us much too early, now nearly 16 years ago. I was glad to know and love and be loved by him for a couple of years. His absence leaves a hole, though, that Kirsten especially struggles to fill with love for our own boys and fierce determination. My dad, gone now three years, has also left a hole, one that we all (except Nathan, who was born just after he died, like ships passing in the night) struggle with. He had many faults, some that were horribly devastating to his family, including and especially me, but he was loving toward and was loved by all. Sam really enjoyed Grandpa’s company when he was around, and I wonder how much of Sam’s oft-repeated yearning to return to TX has to do with the experience of Grandpa there. Kirsten I know was glad to know and love him, and his death still has me reeling in ways I can scarcely articulate. This particular father’s day I also experienced some relational disparities that it’s not really appropriate to go into, but they stung and they still do, even as I work to overcome whatever hurt I feel and extend grace, love, and forgiveness even when it’s not even realized that it’s needed.

In all this I’m challenged to grow up already and keep giving what I feel like I don’t have. In all this my own selfish motives are laid bare and I’m given the opportunity to set them aside and put the other’s needs ahead of my own. Perhaps the best a father can do for their kids is teach them how to do this, how to keep growing and loving and serving and growing up, struggling daily to conform to the image of Christ, who knows a thing or two about giving it all for all of us. After all, when it comes down to it though I don’t feel like I’ve been given what I’m being asked to give, the fact is I’ve been given it all, all that I need and more, for all I truly need is the “never stopping, never giving up, unending, always and forever love” of God. So I need to stop all my trying, I’m sure, and let that unconditional love wash over me. I need to fill up on it so that it can pass through me. I once resolved that I could do no better in the Christian life than to spend it plumbing the depths of God’s great love for me, and that remains true today. God, (please) help me to do so. Kirsten and my boys need it. Your world needs it, and you know I sure do.

Hosanna

 

So some of my readers (assuming I have a few) may find the video above too “Christiany” and for some Christians it may be too “CCMy;” I know I certainly struggle with it in that way too. Still, this song has been playing on repeat in my head and, when I’m near a device, in my ears basically since I first came across it a few days ago. So press play and read on. I’ll listen to it as I write, and you can listen as you read. Maybe what I say below will make a little more sense to you that way. Circle of Hope taught me years ago that “without worship, we shrink,” and I’m convinced that’s true. It certainly is for me. Worship doesn’t come easy to me, though. My song, my own voice raised in such worship, has been hard to come by now for a long, long time. I think “real” worship, the kind in which your own heart is brave and raw and reaches out in response to the offer of God’s own brave, raw heart is by definition an act of intense vulnerability. It requires being present in your own skin enough to offer your own true self, minus all the pretense and perception managing we’re so busy with all the time. To be vulnerable like this obviously means taking a risk, and risk-taking for we walking wounded requires bravery, indeed. More than that, though, it requires faith, and I don’t mean the kind that answers questions like “Is the Bible true?” or “Do I believe what it says?” I mean more the kind that dares not to answer questions but to ask them, questions like:

  • “Are you true, Jesus?”
  • “Do you really love me, and if so, why?”
  • “Is your love enough, Jesus- is it big enough, bigger than my pain, and will it really win in the end?”

I know my problems are First World/white people’s problems. I am the 1%, after all, among the richest people to ever walk the face of the earth, regardless of how low my credit score is and how much debt I carry. Still, they’re my problems, and my pain is real pain, inflicted by an inadvertently cruel mother and a sometimes all too cruel (First) world. As well documented on this blog, I had been through so much before Kirsten and I ever met, and together we’ve been through so much more still. Sadly, some of my pain is self-inflicted as I struggle to escape the sins of my parents and my own anxious, depressed, and aspie (-like?) nature. All that said, though, for me to truly worship not just with my life but specifically in song requires me to acknowledge that I am not the center of my own universe, that God is God and I am not, that love and hope and joy and justice and peace and indeed all things are truly possible. It requires me to not just hope for those things but to live into them, even if just for a moment. So if you hear my voice raised in worship, you should know that it’s no joke- a curtain is being pulled back; God’s kingdom is upon us; I’m entering the future.

That’s so very hard to do, though- to live as a person from the future, for whom God’s kingdom of peace, justice, and love has come. It requires “eyes to see”  healing in the midst of pain, justice and peace in the middle of conflict and strife, and love in the midst of hate- or worse- indifference. Harder still, it requires eyes to see myself as I can only trust that God does- as a broken but healed and beloved child of God. I want to be beloved; don’t we all? But I rarely know myself in this way, and I think I know why. You see, Circle of Hope also taught me that the Church exists for those yet to become a part of it, or as God told Abraham, to whatever extent we are blessed, we are blessed to be a blessing. God’s love is so great that even a trinity couldn’t contain it, and it spilled over into God’s good earth and all of us. So surely it’s so great that I couldn’t contain it; which means that if I want to keep experiencing it, deep in my gut, I have to be a conduit of it. The more I give, the more I get. “Break my heart for what breaks yours” from the song above, indeed.

All of this brings me to tonight. Tonight, the Resistance gathered for worship, and Ben started a sermon series on Revelation. As I hoped, he reminded us that prophecy was less about telling the future than it is about telling the truth. He said that it rarely prescribes a fixed outcome that cannot be changed, but rather like Scrooge’s entreaty to the ghost of Christmas future, it describes only what may be (to the extent that it describes the future at all). It offers a choice. It pulls back the veil on the false empires of this world and reminds that we’re called to be citizens of God’s kingdom instead. It reminds us that God’s kingdom will come, in the end, but we’re offered a chance to experience that coming kingdom right here and now. “We all gotta serve somebody,” Dylan sang. Why not serve the One who served and loved us first, and is doing so even now? Why not serve each other? Why not break the cycle of violence and pain in the world with unexpected and undeserved grace? Why not forgive our worst enemy and destroy him by making him our friend? That’s the story we’re invited to be a part of. It’s the only one I want told about me, and it’s one I may yet be able to sing about.