Friday, February 8, 2013

Better Loving Through Marbles

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

Friday, February 1, 2013

Broken and Called

I met David just two weeks ago in Hawaii where Frances and I were guests of her sister and family.  We had signed up for an All-Terrain Vehicle trip through the rain forest in exchange for listening to a sales pitch to buy a time share.  We had no intention of buying a time share mind you, but this was the dance of comedy we had to make.  The ATVs started off and we were bouncing along merrily in the jungle until we came to a waterfall which was down a steep embankment.  The ATVs were all parked and it was then that I noticed David swing his legs by his hands over the side and pull out two canes from the back. He was barely able to walk. He hobbled down the embankment with the rest of us and some of us (well only two of us, myself and my brother in law Jim) jumped into the ice cold water under the waterfall.  We then dried off and headed back up the hill.  We waited a long time, because David could not climb back up the hill, and was pulling himself up backward on his fanny with his hands.  I had never seen such determination.  When he got to the top we all cheered.

Later over lunch, I introduced myself and asked him what had happened.  “I used to teach Sky Diving” he said, “but my chute opened too late and I broke my back.  I was pronounced a paralyzed from the waist down, a pronouncement I refused to accept.  For the next five years I willed myself to walk again, not like I did of course, but I manage.”  I realized then that the ATV trip was perfect since he only controlled the vehicle with his hands.  “This is my son Garrett” he said, and I introduced myself to a young man of 17.  They were on an adventure together.

He asked me what I did for a living, a loaded question to be certain.  “I am a minister” I said.  “Oh” David replied with a frown, “I don’t believe in God. I am an atheist” he said almost defiantly. “That’s fine” I said “Many members of my church are atheists, for all I know I may be one too. I probably don’t believe in the God you are thinking of either” I replied.  This really threw him for a loop.  He hadn’t expected that kind of answer.

He asked me about my religion and I told him that for most of us, God is not a chess master who causes tragedies like his, but rather a force we work with to make the world a better place.  “Well, I could never believe in a God that what do this to me or in some plan that makes me climb back from the edge like I had to do.  It wasn’t fair or right.  I suppose I am still pretty angry.”

“Perhaps you are God” I said, “perhaps you are own force of will and change is divine” He thought about that for a long time.  “Perhaps” he said, “but why did this happen? It was a freak accident. God is supposed to know these things, isn’t he?” “I don’t know what God knows David.” I said, “But I know you have some fierce power to overcome this injustice to your life.  And that, for me, is God.  And, you are showing the world, your son, most of all yourself that you have the power to go on even when your life has been broken.”

As we said good bye, he gave me his card.  “If you ever want to go Sky diving” he said, “this is my company”.  “You still sky dive?” I asked with amazement, “Only with a partner. But I teach people to sky dive every day.”

Here was a man broken, even angry but sure in his resolve to undo the injustice that life had dealt him.  I don’t know if he feeds the homeless or stands for immigrant rights but I do know that his faith in the power of his own humanity has stood in the face of justice and fought back, despite being broken.  All of us are broken and all of us have the power to reclaim our brilliance as an act of justice making.  All of us live within the paradox of being both broken and called.

With Grace and Grit,  John