February 10, 2013 § Leave a comment
I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter From Birmingham City Jail
I celebrate Black History Month. Quietly, but joyfully. Each February I encourage our church members to do so as well, not only in heart, but also by taking in the culture, the food, the readings and the stories, often accompanied by a shameless plea to our African American brothers and sisters for a taste of the cuisine.
This year one of our families took this to heart and brought us to Darker Than Blue, a wonderful Soul Food restaurant in Baltimore, replete with live Jazz (pictured) and the lovely and peaceful atmosphere of a quaint dining establishment. And I was delighted when a member told me that she is reading through Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
I can tell you that we have been the beneficiaries of much more than good meals and evenings together. It is as though we have been welcomed into a trust forged out of pain and suffering.
A few years ago a friend asked why I do this, and why not other ethnicities that have experienced pain in their histories – a question worth considering. In answering, it may be worth starting with my own background.
In the early 20th Century the Ottoman Turks invaded Armenia and my grandparents (on both sides) were driven away by threat of death. One and a half million Armenians died in this attempted genocide, and the world’s relative indifference to their suffering became Hitler’s rationale for his ‘Final Solution’ (his plan for exterminating the Jews), to his skeptics.
My grandparents came to America by different routes, some via Iran and others through Egypt – all eventually came ashore at Ellis Island. America’s shores were open to them as with other people groups with dreams for living on our soil. They didn’t have to come – they chose to. And so Armenians celebrate being Armenians with Armenians!
We celebrate Black History as a nation because those who came from Africa didn’t have this luxury. They were forced to America by the slave trade. Men and women, boys and girls were treated like animals, considered property that could legally be beaten, raped, sold, even murdered. They were sold and auctioned publicly. Their ‘owners’ determined the limits of their rights as humans. The Slaves’ children were destined to the same oppressive existence.
Growing up in the sixties and seventies I remember the national and local tensions of the Civil Rights Movement, and then the Black Power Movement. The explanations from a white-leaning media. The rationalizations. The revisionist history. The images. The violence. The deplorable indifference to documented acts of injustice and cruelty. Jim Crow laws.
We’ve had the privilege of hearing stories from those who were ‘there,’ the stories behind the food and the stories of faith and resolve in the face of obvious national unrighteousness. A Vietnam Vet who, along with fellow black soldiers, constantly found themselves put on the most dangerous side of missions. A woman whose sister went to jail in Selma, and who herself rode the Freedom Buses. The stories are real, and the history is recent.
We deplore human trafficking today because we finally acknowledged the deep sin of our nation’s involvement in the slave trade, and then its nasty implications more than a century past Abolition.
But it wasn’t only a nation.
It was the Church too.
Many bought into the lie that said that one human being carried less value than another, simply based on the color of her skin – while teaching that ‘all ground is level at the foot of the Cross.’ From a Birmingham Jail Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, pleading local white pastors and churches to strong, persistent and determined action.
We celebrate courageous people like Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Dr. King and Harriet Tubman because they acted out of their conviction for justice when it was costly and they were quite alone.
But they shouldn’t have been.
So we celebrate. If we were not to celebrate then we would have no right to plead the cause of the unborn, or call the Church to care for the plight of the weak. We celebrate to not forget or grow cold and indifferent to the injustices we could otherwise so easily pretend to not notice. We celebrate because the gospel freshly informs us that there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
And this is our good news…
January 19, 2013 § Leave a comment
So here are my reflections on Lance Armstrong and his recent admission of using Performance Enhancing Drugs to enable his athletic achievements:
First, I don’t know him – Stating the obvious, I know, but important – We tend to base our feelings for public figures on athletic triumphs, cinematic moments and political feats. But we don’t know those people. The nicest ones publicly, may be monsters behind closed doors, and the harshest may be most tender. Lance Armstrong is an image on my TV screen and online newswire. He isn’t my friend nor my enemy. He is as real to me as Spider Man. The people who matter to him see him differently than I imagine him to be.
Secondly, I’m not his judge – The last thing I want to do is expose my garbage by going after someone else’s! Oh, yeah, hey, I’m as opinionated as the next person, and if you engage me in a conversation about Armstrong, I’ll offer tons of commentary. I have strong feelings about whether or not he should compete again. Not to mention that as an ex-ball player who had next-to-zero athletic abilities, I am disappointed by the whole enterprise of cheating in sports. But what I can’t do – and won’t do – is decide his fate. He is judged by his own actions and words. Just as I am. Whenever a public figure falls it is natural to fit the mitigating circumstances into the injustices and disappointments we have experienced in own lives. We have invested something into their personae, and have sort of embraced them for ourselves – this is our own idolatry, which often leads to harsher reactions – I get this. But do I know the sincerity of his admission? You know the answer.
Third, I am also not his Liberator – Those of us who preach and teach God’s grace can be prone to quickly admonish natural reactions to disgraced public figures, almost to deny honest responses for fear that rushes to judgment will obliterate the gospel. But that isn’t my job. A public admission is good for a public moment. And because I don’t know him (see above), I have no idea of the damage he has caused others. This is important. Insensitivity to one’s victims is equally insensitive to the gospel. Hey, God’s grace can’t be real for me if it isn’t real for Lance Armstrong. This is what the apostle Paul consistently weaves into his teachings. But it is God’s grace, not mine. And it would be presumptuous and damaging – to Armstrong’s victims, and to Armstrong himself, for me to make some kind of pronouncement as to his current standing. Regardless of my opinions or pronouncements, anyone in Armstrong’s position has a long journey of healing. If I am not his judge, then I can’t possibly be his liberator. But, along with every other unfinished soul, I would welcome him to our church community with the very hope I live in, that Jesus offers a path to restoration.
Here is a good question to ask yourself: After the natural revulsion (I’d be lying to say I didn’t feel disgust), what direction do your desires lead you into? The answer reveals more about your story than Armstrong’s. But like him (whom I don’t know, won’t judge and can’t liberate), we are the product of many secrets, struggles and regrets. And our comfort is that we have been set free by the only One who can liberate us, and whose desires were found in the direction of the Cross.
Friends, why would we not wish this good news on all?
December 22, 2012 § 2 Comments
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound… Isaiah 61:1
I nearly subtitled this, ‘the post I hoped to offer before Christmas.’ Yesterday, a young man – a Marine – who was unjustly imprisoned since August of this year, Jonny Hammar, was released from a Mexican jail. Words fail to express the relief and joy that fills our hearts, and the hearts of many who are counted among the Hammars’ family and friends. With Jon, Olivia, Katie, and of course, Jonny, we rejoice.
As we celebrated yesterday, following an early-morning text of the good news, and since, I have been taken afresh to that stable where Jesus was born. Amazing. God was born. Divinity wrapped in humanity.
Jesus came and laid aside His divine prerogative, subjecting Himself to human limitation. Restrained in flesh. The Eternal One bound in time and space. Confined and imprisoned by geography, seconds, minutes, hours, years – a human lifespan. Omnipotence reduced to complete dependence.
Who would have thought this – that a little newborn would be mankind’s Liberator? Who could have guessed that a vulnerable and needy baby would one day ‘deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery’ (Hebrews 2:15)?
With our joy over Jonny’s release comes a continuing sorrow over those parents in Newtown, CT, whose sons and daughters will not be home for Christmas, and with others who continue to suffer the effects of violence and natural disaster. This sobering reality will never leave us, and our joy is always tempered by the harsh realities of life in a fallen world.
But with Jesus tragedy isn’t the last word. Don’t let the vulnerability of this baby be confused with timidity. That tender one is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. He came to wreck the broken order of a fallen world. Be comforted by a reality that transcends tragedy, lifespans and sorrow.
Friends, in Jesus God has come to liberate unfinished and desperately bound-up prisoners from their enslavement to sin, fear and death. His resurrection insures that even the ugliest expressions of the fall are no match for Him. And He has done this in the most personal of ways – not as a distant, indifferent deity, nor as an imposing and terrifying brute, but as a newborn who was destined to willingly shed His own blood in the violent sacrifice of His life, to bring Redemption, even for our tears.
Such good news.
Welcome home, young man.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
December 14, 2012 § 1 Comment
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel!
This morning Katherine and I left for Pensacola, Florida to attend our daughter Emily’s college graduation, to be held tomorrow. Within hours we will be reunited with all of our children, including our daughter-in-law, and Katherine’s sister and brother-in-law, so you can imagine the joy that filled our hearts in anticipation of the weekend together when our jet took off. However by the time it touched down, 27 people, including 20 children under the age of 10, had been senselessly and violently murdered by a gunman who then took his own life, in Newtown, Connecticut.
I have no answers, only anguish and devastation. My heart is heavy. Before I am a pastor I am a husband and dad, as well as an often-confused Christ-follower. This shouldn’t happen – but in a fallen world it does, and will again. Even as I write, our dear friends in Miami await their unjustly imprisoned son’s release from a Mexican jail. And this on the heels of a mall shooting in Happy Valley, Oregon that left two victims dead and one critically wounded, along with the shooter, earlier this week.
After the initial sense of horror, we were filled with profound thankfulness for our children’s wellbeing, but also an even deeper sorrow, realizing that we will celebrate something with our daughter that these parents never will with their babies. Throughout their entire lives we have prayed for our children and their safety. We prayed when they would fall asleep in their cribs, when they began to walk and put everything in their mouths, while baby sitters were watching them, when they first learned to drive, and every time they were on the road after and since. We prayed for them when working late, walking in parking lots, in classrooms, on flights, and while in college. All along knowing that ultimately we are not in control and have absolutely no way of protecting them – that their world is just as fallen as ours – that their lives are just as fragile.
And now young dads and moms will have to identify their precious ones who will not be able to respond to their expressions of love and tenderness, nor dry their tears. Somehow these dear folks will have to figure out how to make sense out of the rest of their lives.
It is Advent. We long. We wait for violence and death and rage and illness and sadness to be gone forever, when Jesus comes to heal our damaged world and make all things new, where everything that is wrong is transformed into what it was created to be.
Our consolation is Jesus. We don’t hold on to something – we cling to someone, and only a Father, whose Son died so violently and publicly – for us – can both comprehend our deep longing, and understand our profound sadness.
And while we wait, the One who entered into our brokenness, has given us one another – to celebrate, to love, and yes, to weep, comfort and be devastated – together. He has also put us in this world, and permits and desires for us to mourn with those we don’t know – To love those we haven’t met – And embrace those we can’t touch.
So today, and every day, no answers. Tomorrow, with great joy we will celebrate our precious Emily. When she walks across the stage and receives her diploma, we will look at her in the context of what transpired today. We will weep with a deep joy for every memory and this mixed with a profound sadness for others who may never know such gladness.
Until Jesus comes, I think this is the way it is supposed to be…
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
November 30, 2012 § 4 Comments
Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of him again… there is no place where we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from his power to break in two and recreate the human heart because it is just where he seems most helpless that he is most strong, and just where we least expect him that he comes most fully.
Frederick Buechner – The Hungering Dark
Inertia is defined as ‘a tendency to do nothing, or to remain unchanged.’ In physics it is descriptive of something that exists in a perpetual vacuum of progress in spite of continual motion. But when applied to people, it can simply mean to merely exist.
This past week I was in Miami for three days. My Mom is in the hospital and on a healing path from a fall. While she was in PT, or resting, I met with old friends and drove down familiar streets, freshly reminded that nothing remains the same. If you are anything like me, in spite of the fact that I know this to be true, it is surprising each time it freshly hits home.
It occurred to me twice in Miami, the first when walking through Dadeland Mall, the highest per-capita spending mall in the country, and well-positioned in the southern ‘hemisphere’ of Miami. One evening I noticed construction of a huge new parking garage, and remembered the last time it was redesigned, and the time before that, and before that. Oh, and the time before that too. In fact, I remember the grand opening, and when the big shop to us kids was Cozzoli’s Pizza (also gone), as well as the famous dragon fountain across from Ferris Groves, the Venetian ice stand Jeff Jones, a high school classmate, and I worked at (both gone – actually Jeff and I are too).
But then, while at an intersection of US-1 I noticed a closed-down stand-alone store (pictured above). For those of us who grew up in South Florida few quick-stops were more endearing and convenient, than Farm Stores, those drive-through dairy markets with fresh bread, milk, butter, donuts and ice cream. Gone. Okay, I can understand the 7-Eleven moving across the street. But our Farm Stores? No!
Everything changes. Rowan Williams says that, we must be surprised, ambushed, and carried off by God if we are to be kept from idols. I think he is right, because until I am ambushed, my ‘idols’ tend to maintain a superficial splendor in my mind and heart.
If nothing else, the Christmas story demonstrates that Jesus breaks through the mundane. In His birth, and frankly throughout His entire ministry, once He comes, nothing remains as it was. Everything changes. In fact, it would be fair to say that no one can ever again be the same once they have had a real encounter with Jesus – for the first time, or for the one-millionth time. He constantly challenges the status quo while exposing our idolatries.
Which brings me back to Inertia.
My problems usually aren’t due to mistakes I make moving forward (which are manifold!). More often they are the result of my resistance to the chaos Jesus brings with His constant reentry into my life.
Deep down I want to be a stand-alone store that is never threatened by extinction – It must be part of living in rebellion of my unfinished nature. Even deeper, it is a refusal to acknowledge and let go of my idols. But in this resolve, subtly and unwittingly I become incrementally distanced from Jesus, and my fresh faith is transformed into spiritual inertia.
The cool thing is that He just comes. He is born. He enters. And with each fresh realization of this reality, in spite of my resistance (translation: fear) to His beautifully disturbing presence, along with a simple admission of that fear, comes the reminder that it was worth trusting Him again, for the one-millionth-plus-one time, because Jesus never comes to make my life less – but more.
And this is Good News of Great Joy…
November 10, 2012 § 2 Comments
Last night Katherine and I saw the latest 007 movie, Skyfall. It lived up to expectations and was one of, if not the finest James Bond movie we have seen (of course I’ve seen them all). The action was over-the-top, the story was riveting and it was perfectly cast. And it didn’t end too soon, which was nice – it was longer than most – you know, one of those movies that you wish could keep going – well it did, and we were glad.
Part of what made the experience ‘work’ was that Katherine pre-purchased the tickets and I got there early enough to get us the best seats in the house. For us, the best seats are the ones in the second row of the second tier of the theater. The front tier has those seats that are right under the screen and undoubtedly are the cause of most of America’s neck problems. But in the second row of the second tier, there are rails that you can rest your legs on during the show. They are perfect – and I got them (yes, those are my shoes in the pic).
It got me to thinking, even as I sat waiting for Katherine (I won’t tell you how early I got there because it would provide evidence as to how desperately I need a life). But I got to thinking that this is who we are. We want an edge. We will come early and stand in line for the best seats in all of life. Already the ads are out, and will only intensify – Black Friday is coming and the name of the game is to get to the stores early enough to be close enough to the front of the line to get the best deals before anyone else.
This used to be our tradition. I would waken our son and daughters, and whichever of them could come out of their slumbers would stand in line with me at our Best Buy some time around 4 AM on Black Friday. A few years ago, when we visited our son and his wife in Florida for Thanksgiving, he repaid the favor and dragged me into sitting in line all night!
Here is the thing: Everything about following Jesus is the polar opposite of this – It is about taking the back seat and offering up the front of the line to someone else. It is about serving those one desires to lead and becoming great by making oneself the least.
I know it’s crazy and utterly counterintuitive, but when you think about it, there is no other way for change to occur, in marriages, in friendships, in love, in work and at play. The one who serves sets the agenda for putting the things into motion that we most desire – in life and with one another. The one who says, ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong,’ is the agent through which reconciliation breaks through where there had been cold hostility. The one that steps aside so others may shine counteracts the law of the jungle with law of love.
Yes, it is counterintuitive, but there is no other alternative, because our native instinct is to put self first. And in that scenario there is no room for anyone else.
It is also impossible, and only God can enable us to do what we so naturally resist. But I have come to realize that in every relationship, every conflict and every seeming impasse in love and friendship, there comes a moment when someone can change the physics of hostility simply by taking the path of humility rather than power.
God has to give grace for this, but He does, and He has. In Jesus we have One who demonstrated such selflessness from the time of His birth all the way to the Cross. His was a life of reserving the best seat in the house for someone other than Himself.
Friends, this is good news.
October 20, 2012 § 4 Comments
Early this morning I was struck by the magnificent contrast of darkness and light as I drove into the mall where my sermon-writing Starbucks resides. It seemed as though east and west converged and dark and light clashed in the parking lot just above my head. In the sky I could see both last night and this morning at the same time – it was a magnificent display.
Without fail this happens every morning.
Today our church enjoyed a magnificent Fall Festival. The temperatures were in the 60’s and low 70’s. The sun shined on our property to beautiful live music as hundreds ate, rode horses, got their faces painted and enjoyed a hayride, to name a few of many fun activities. Just yesterday it poured in our area. But that was yesterday. Then today came, and everything was different. Who could predict?
Even as I type my hometown college football team is playing on TV. And there is no way to predict how the game will turn out. And if the two teams were to play again tomorrow the outcome would be equally unpredictable.
Yet in roughly nine hours, just as with when I turned into that mall lot, the sun will rise, and somewhere in the sky darkness will once again give way to the light of day.
It is our reminder – One of those subtle prompts God has given us to look to when we are freshly revisited with the disappointments and heartaches of our broken world that leave us feeling alone and depleted. With each new day the morning announces that God isn’t going anywhere, and with Him comes fresh mercy and unfailing love.
He has given us each new morning to remind us that while everything we look to in this life will eventually fail us, He won’t.
He just won’t.
I will. But He won’t. You will. He doesn’t.
In a time when his nation was slipping into captivity, and he had every reason to despair, the prophet Jeremiah connected the dots and remembered God’s unending love and fresh mercy (Lamentations 3:21-24). How did he do it (with the help of God’s Spirit)?
He woke up.
Hey, our world is a fallen one, so life will always be sprinkled with sorrow, disappointment and pain. But as the sun rises with each new morning we have the assurance of a God who refuses to allow His goodness to be darkened by a hopelessness His Son Jesus has already overcome.
Like you and me, Jeremiah was unfinished, and he needed something bigger than himself and his sorrows to get his feet back on the ground, because his own circumstances had outdistanced his ability to cope.
So God gave him a new morning.
And in a few hours, He will give you one as well.
Friends, this is good news…
October 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
As you may know, I frequent a particular Starbucks to do most of my weekly writing. This particular Starbucks is located at the edge of a beautiful mall in Columbia, Maryland. It is at the entrance closest to a large L.L. Bean and as a result, it is a thoroughfare for tremendous traffic – People entering and exiting in crowds, couples and individuals.
Inevitably, over the course of time, people, faces and the rhythms of the mall become increasingly familiar. Though I have few names, it isn’t uncommon to see the same folks throughout a month, some on a weekly basis. There’s the guy from England who sits and reads the paper, and sings Beatles tunes when they come on in Starbucks (I sing with him). There’s the former Arkansas State running back that I wrote of in another post (we saw one another this morning). There’s the woman behind the Starbucks register, whose name means ‘flower’ in Spanish, and her always delightful and smiling co-worker who wears a bandana on her head. There is the guy who wears University of Miami garb while he works beside me at the bar (his daughter graduated from there and we have hit it off). I could go on.
And then there are those who work right outside the Starbucks window. Among these folks is a woman who sells popcorn and cotton candy at the entrance of the mall (she is in the photo in this post, and her face is intentionally obscured). She is always there, always working and moving, pouring powdered butter into the popcorn machine and twirling clear plastic bags of cotton candy. Because of her activity and her wardrobe I rarely see her face, to the extent that until last week I would never have been able to identify her in another context.
But now I would. Last week I sat at the ‘bar’ against the window in a spot that was close enough to see her, and I discovered that both her arm and face bear the scars of having been severely burned. And I couldn’t help but wonder what her story is, and I had to work hard not to imagine the worst.
Though I’ll probably never know, in reflecting on that moment I thought of one of my all-time favorite bible verses, where in Exodus 33:11 I read that God spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. I’ve always loved that verse because incredibly it reveals that God is willing to enter into friendship with us, in spite of the fact that we are damaged by the fall.
It means something else too, and I don’t think I’ve ever really considered this. It means that when God speaks with us, He sees us – as we are. There is no hiding or pretending. Intimacy demands no less, and God wouldn’t want it any other way.
Yet we so readily hide. And normally we’re fairly successful – until God gets in our faces.
We hide because we know He sees, only to find that when He comes, rather than express repulsion, He offers friendship.
Because He has already accepted and overcome whatever ugly realities define us. Through His Son. Amazingly, the Father recognizes Jesus in our most broken places. And He loves us all the more.
And this blows my mind.
What good news…
September 29, 2012 § 1 Comment
This past week I had the privilege of being guided through Gettysburg by a friend who is passionate about Civil War history. As you may know, Gettysburg was the site of the greatest loss of human life on American soil in US military history. There were roughly 50,000 casualties in that little Pennsylvania Township in the heat of the summer between July 1 and 3, 1863. Every available building was turned into a hospital, including churches. Homes were destroyed, the landscape was bombarded by cannon fire, blood flowed like a river, and thousands of bodies and dead cattle were strewn throughout.
Amazingly, the nation healed.
Throughout Gettysburg there are trees, including the one posted above, called Witness Trees, because they stood during that epic battle. Historians have identified these particular trees from pictures taken at the time. All the while, as the battle raged and men fought and died, they were there. And they stand today.
I have been involved in a bible study with friends over the past few weeks, and together we are going through the book of Ecclesiastes. The whole subject of healing from past hurts came up in a circuitous way on Wednesday as we considered chapter three, that famous chapter put to music by Pete Seeger and made famous by the Byrds. The writer’s point was that everything has a season, but that God is eternal, and He has set eternity in the heart of man (verse 3). In other words, God is eternal and He has embedded this mysterious reality within us.
In some way each of us is like a vast landscape on which much occurs. We experience battles, seasons of loss and gain, and if you are anything like me, some of these experiences are more difficult to get over than others. Some of my most tortured moments come when I wonder why certain things occurred, and why I couldn’t prevent them, or didn’t. In other words, I can get lost in something that was intended to be a season, because I treat it as though it is eternal.
A broken relationship.
A lost opportunity.
A painful experience.
You get the picture. Hey, when we’ve been wounded, or if we have failed in some way, the hurt is real and our memories are sharp. But here is where we sometimes miss the storyline: None of this is meant to be eternal – only God is.
I’m tempted to say that you don’t have to hold yourself in those broken patterns of guilt, shame, remorse and regret – and it is true, you don’t. But I want to put it this way: You are allowed to be free of them. You see I don’t think it is only about feeling as though we can’t break free, but that we don’t believe we are allowed to. But we are. We have permission to move on, even in the reality of things we will never be able to change, relationships we will never be able to fix and mistakes we will never be able to undo. There is such a thing as accepting responsibility, making whatever amends we can, living with consequences, and then moving on, because seasons weren’t intended to be mistaken for eternity.
Because of Jesus.
Deep down I think most of us tap back into the very human, but diabolical notion of thinking that if we have done something wrong, something bad should happen to us in return. It is really an arrogant expression of resentment over the reality of our imperfectness. But this just isn’t how the gospel works. The gospel reveals that the fall has happened to all of us – and we willfully act consistently with it.
But Jesus has come. And He gives us permission, the power, and even the responsibility to rest in His work, and then thrive in His healing. By ‘finishing’ our redemption in His death and resurrection, The Eternal One who has entered into our time and space, has ensured that no unfinished reality that defines our past ever has to have the power to enslave us.
This is the witness of Jesus, and it is our good news.
September 15, 2012 § 1 Comment
Last week was one of reflection and remembrance of that horrible day, September 11, 2001 – so many memories. This past Thanksgiving Day our family, along with friends, took the train to NYC for the Macy’s Parade, and part of our day involved going to the 9/11 Memorial. It would be impossible to put into words what I felt because the memory of that visit just after the attacks remains so fresh and real.
The picture in this post is from the yet-to-be-completed museum that is situated on a corner of the Memorial property. If you could actually stand in that spot you would see twisted metal from the original structure on the other side of the glass. It remains as it was from the moment of the collapse on that horrific day.
Because we are unfinished, in some way, each of us is like a monument of twisted steel. We bear the reminders of our painful experiences. Some of that pain is self-inflicted, but some, the result of what has been inflicted upon us.
While going through pictures from the Monument, I realized that this picture was not only of the twisted steel from the attack it memorializes, but also my own reflection as well. Yes, that’s me in the picture. I’ll get back to the picture in a moment.
At the end of the day, when it comes to being free from the chains of the memories of past hurts, the gospel clearly teaches that the only path to such freedom is that we forgive. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true.
The best way to understand this is to consider when you have ever been hurt. I mean really hurt. Damaged. Wounded. Stolen from. Humiliated. Disgraced. Devastated. Crushed. Cheated.
You know what I mean when I say that such things bring unspeakable pain.
What did you want when this happened?
Revenge? Probably. If you’re human. I get that. We want someone to suffer as we did. But in his profound book, Free of Charge, Miroslav Volf says that when we say we want justice, we really want revenge, and we always want to cause more pain than we experienced. That is our nature. We say we want justice, but we would never settle for that.
No, the answer is to forgive, and the way to forgive is to do more than make a pronouncement – such pronouncements usually come from a misguided sense of Christian duty, but lead to even more bitterness and mounting resentment.
No, Volf says that to forgive is actually to condemn, and then to leave it to God for vindication.
But this is no cakewalk, and in fact it is impossible to forgive, unless, as in that picture, we see ourselves in the wreckage caused by others. Because the truth is that behind every evil act is an evil intention, and I am full of evil intentions, even if I don’t commit those particular acts. Only God’s grace restrains my wicked imagination.
And my only hope for more than surviving, but also for being truly free, from the evil that has been committed against me, and from the tyrannical prison of daily bitterness, is to see myself in it, and to believe that while I never have to excuse sin or bear the blame for someone else’s sins against me, I also don’t have to live in the daily misery of reliving what may never be reconciled on this side of heaven. Frankly, that’s their problem!
Essentially this is Jesus’ point in His story of the Unforgiving Servant: Forgiveness always begins by seeing that we too have been forgiven much (Matthew 18).
Because we have. Jesus affirmed this when He prayed, ‘Father forgive them…’
And this is our good news…