About a month ago as I was going through some of my father’s papers in an effort to get a handle on his memoir which I promised him I would finish for him, just before he died. In it I found a picture I must have made for him for father’s day. Two stick figures playing marbles.
You see my dad loved to play marbles and he tried valiantly to pass on that love to me. He gave me bags of marbles over the years, and while I could appreciate their beauty and smoothness I could never quite feel the thrill he did. Marbles were just not my thing. But they were his thing and I wanted him to know in my seven year old mind, that I appreciated his love for marbles. That he saved this picture is remarkable. This is the folder where he also saved my report cards from the school in India (high marks in English, poor marks in math), newspaper clippings of my various business endeavors, articles I had written, some of my first sermons (which were pretty rough) and this most outlandish proposal I made to him to help me raise $300,000 to build a wind farm in Iowa when I was 26. Marbles I realized were a symbol of his connection to his own childhood through me, his eldest son. And that little drawing was my way of saying; I love you, even though we are so different.
Love and justice. Life and death. Last week I preached about how we can’t begin to change the world unless we can first find the brilliance in our essential brokenness. Love is understanding this essential mystery. Love is first seeing that you are broken and then going on. I realized this as I read through what my father had saved of my life; in it were letters I had written him in love, a few in anger and one or two in deep grief as I struggled with the breakup of my first marriage and the loss of my business. In other words, his love was seeing – and holding on – to all I was. That is the meaning of love.
And for my father, as for me, there is a direct connection between that love and the work of saving the world, the work of justice. As I a young man and a new father, I remember asking my dad why he did what he did; why was it that he was out saving the world anyway? His answer surprised me: "It’s really quite selfish", he said, "I am doing this to make a better world for you and my grandchildren". His answer was honest enough despite its incongruity. Dad wasn't exactly a family man.
Isn’t that what we really want? To leave the world a better place for our children even if they don’t love marbles? George Dowdell once wrote: “Love without justice is sentimentality, Justice without love is legalism.”
Think about it. For those of you who have struggled in your relationships (that should be all of you by the way) have learned all too well, Valentine’s day cards and candy are sweet but being respectful of the ones you love, sitting by their side as they are fading, caring for those you know who need you, is what really counts. That is justice with love. And that is what marbles represent to me.
We are broken, we are imperfect, but still we try to make the world better with love. And trying counts. It really does.
With Grace and Grit, John