Monthly Archives: May 2017

Yet

IMG_2253What is the difference between offering comfort in times of grief and lobbing it at someone like an ill-aimed softball?

What is the difference between reasoned encouragement that penetrates the soul and glib phrases that skate off our skin?

What is the difference between sustained hope and clinging to a narrative that makes us feel better because it claims to answer the unanswerable?

Throughout the twists and turns of my life, I have learned that many things don’t go the way you had hoped they would— unexpected tragedies happen that forever disrupt your neatly organized categories-of-life boxes. People die, trusted friends betray you, jobs are lost, loved ones disappear,  friends get diseases, friends struggle for years with mental illness, people succumb to addiction, people lose their faith, a terrorist attack murders teenagers.

Early in my twenties, I had to learn the hard way that some tragedies will never be understood or explained in a way that satisfies your deeply grieving soul.  Many questions cannot and will not be answered.

I am writing this in Oxford, as all of stunned England mourns the terrorist attack in Manchester and braces for another since the terrorist threat level has been moved to 10.  Separate from that terrible situation, I am personally grieving the loss of someone I loved.

On Wednesday in a chapel service I attended, the vicar preached from Lamentations. Jeremiah does not hold back his agony over the fall of Jerusalem and his own misery in his role of prophet.  On a sunny day, when life seems to be blessed and joyful, Jeremiah’s raw and agonized cries can feel overdone and almost embarrassing in their vulnerability and extremism.

But in dark days, they are the perfect words that invite us to engage with God at our deepest and most guttural levels.

“He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead…Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding,he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help…”

Because of the depth of Jeremiah’s anguish, it is fairly surprising what happens next:

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall... Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

Yet.

According to Jeremiah, hope is not the thin blanket of Facebook-comment comfort or grasping after answers that will never come. It is found only in the unshakeable trust that God’s love is such that we will not be consumed—in the quagmire of despair, death, hopelessness, fear—during the terrible realities life throws our way.

But sometimes the pain is so raw that you cannot move into that part of the verse…you only feel the roaring of the bitterness and the gall. Can you, however, just move one word over to the “Yet?”

“Yet” is the pivot point connecting pain and hope.  It is the place we can sit when we are reeling from the shock, when our souls are baring themselves to God in an outpouring of anger and bitterness.  Perhaps we are not ready to wholeheartedly stand with Jeremiah in his full assertion of the hope found in God:

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

We would only need to move one word forward to get there, but we don’t feel ready for that right now.  But that is okay, because the place where we are hovering keeps us connected to that active hope, to the all-consuming so we-won’t-be-consumed love of God:

…Yet…

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Well, frankly…

Your daily manna…take it and be fed.  Well…thanks I guess,  but frankly, I had a craving for chocolate.

We in the West are groomed in materialism, shaped by the the ‘more, bigger, better, climbing up the ladder’ jello molds until it’s hard to conceive of another shape or consistency of substance.

We can approach mission and development of poor communities that way as well, our thinking of what needs to happen shaped by those same molds.

“Yes, it is tough here in Osijek, ” the  Croatian police administrator told me as she filed some paperwork for me, “and many young people are seeking a better life in Germany or Ireland. But they will lose out on something as well—our pace of life, our families and relationships.  We actually have what we need.”

What do we actually need?

I like the way Walter Brueggemann, in Sabbath as Resistance, contrasts God’s invitation to life to a market ideology that leaves us with insatiable needs and desires “that will leave us endlessly “rest-less,” inadequate, unfulfilled…” requiring that we “want more, have more, own more, use more, eat and drink more”(xii).  Brueggemann’s point is that God’s invitation to Sabbath is both a resistance since it is a “visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods” and an alternative by resting in the provision and gifts of God (xiv).

Laely, I’ve been asking some questions to some Roma pastors for an article I’m working on.  So many sources—NGO’s, churches, European Union, Roma organizations— define ‘what needs to happen’ in Roma communities.  In other words, what the ‘good life’ should be.

“My people are not focused on God’s promises,” one Roma pastor told me recently.  “They are focused on what other people are promising them. God can take care of all families, all people, like he has taken care of me and my wife.  God changed my understanding of life—before, I was just concerned with accumulating material things.  Now I realize—our safety is with God.”

This is coming from a community that is rapidly losing ground with modernity.  Jobs and ways of earning money, often on the edges and corners of the economy, will continue to get more challenging in this global economy.  Because Serbia is not yet part of the EU, many people still collect and sell metal—but this occupation has been virtually shut down for the Roma in Croatia (because of EU regulations) unless they have the money and know-with-all to open a firm.  I was shocked to find out that in this small town in Serbia, 8 hours of hard manual labor in the fields under the burning sun earn only 8 Euros a day…and according to the people, this is the same wage it was 20 years ago.

That is a zero-sum deal—exploiting others’ needs while filling your own basket. In such a context, need looks different as compared to someone who already seems to have plenty.

Trouble is, it’s hard to rest in a daily provision that shows up every dawn, yes, but not what you are actually craving.  Never have I had more sympathy for those Israelites who were just craving some meat.

“What was the big deal?” I used to wonder.  “Why did God get so angry when they were clamoring for meat?”

It’s really a clash of two different orientations toward life: I want to meet the needs in the way that I want vs. I am resting in God’s promise to provide for me in the way that He chooses. It’s a matter of either rejecting God or believing Him.

The first way breeds anxious restlessness…the second—restful expectation.

On Sunday, the pastor talked about Jesus waiting three days before coming to the place where Lazarus was sick.  “He always hears, always responds to our cries for help,” he said.  “But he comes in patience and in the right time. Do we have the faith to wait and believe He is coming?”

“God has complete confidence in the fruit-bearing, blessing-generating process of creation that have been instituted,”  Brueggemann says.  And therefore, “God rests, confident, serene, at peace.”