This black-and-white photograph, taken in the l890’s, perfectly captures in a single image what it means to flourish as a human being in an imperfect world. We may not be challenged by any physical disability, but all of us are lacking in one way or another. And our impairments are the very reason God pairs us with others. In those pairings, in those dependent relationships, we learn that we not only need others, but are in fact created to need others.
We don’t need a psychologist to inform us that people who are charitable, caring, and compassionate generally rank higher on the happiness scale. We know people like this. And we’ve experienced it ourselves. We go out of our way to lend someone a hand or donate a little extra to charity, and what happens? We feel a rush of pleasure. We feel better about ourselves.
While wombs become killing fields,
and a holocaust smokes out of our nation’s heart,
where are You, O God of life?
There are some elements of disgust that are more universal. One of these is that, once something has been deemed unclean, polluted, toxic, or contaminated, it not only remains that way, but it also passes on its disgusting quality to whatever it touches.
If we had eyes to see what really happens in a baptism, we’d treat them as R-rated acts of violence. Not only is a person about to be killed. Not only are we about to witness a drowning. Horrific monsters writhe in the water. Dragons of the sea lurk therein. And a bloody battle, with crushed heads and butchered bodies is about to go down. To treat baptism as cute or sentimental or symbolic is a lie. Abandon all such foolish notions. Every baptism is war.
We will all be failures in 2019. We don’t need prophets or crystal balls to reveal this to us. Just stand in front of a mirror. Is the image staring back the same image that’s always been there? Well, there’s the evidence. New year, same you. The same you that’s failed, in ways big and small, your entire life.
We do plenty of counting this time of year. Moms and Dads count how many days they have left to swipe their Visa for gift purchases. Children count how many of those presents lie colorfully wrapped beneath the evergreen tree. Stores count profits. And surveying the hams, pecan pies, and oceans of eggnog lavished before us, we all try not to count calories.
In these weeks leading up to December 25, our ears ring with the same worn-out words: presents and trees; decorations and Santa; and, of course, Visa and Amazon Prime. They’re all part of our common cultural vocabulary. We know the definitions and connotations. There’s no need to unwrap them.
Consider yourself warned: if you plan a party for God—tidy up the house, frost the cake, and send out RSVPs—you’re in for a rude awakening. He won’t show up. Or rather, he will, but it’ll be a week or a month or even a year after the scheduled date. The leftover cake will be molding in the trash, the balloons wrinkled like old skin, and the guests gone about their business, long before the Almighty raps his knuckles on your front door.
Of all the questions God might ask me, one in particular fills me with dread. It’s important. It’s crucial. In fact, it might be the most penetrating, vital question of all. But because my potential answer reveals so much about me, because it makes me feel naked emotionally and psychologically and spiritually, I’m afraid to respond. And, I suspect, you are too.
He was 30 years old. A good head on his shoulders. A fine education under his belt. He was what we today might call a millennial with a Master’s degree and upward mobility. He paid the bills as a highly gifted public speaker who kept his audience on the edge of their seats.
In the Halloween dusk, our front porch began to swarm with heroes and heroines. Captain America stood proud, resplendent in red, white, and blue. Spiderman dropped by. And an adorable little Wonder Woman graced us, too.
In churches that celebrate the Reformation, we usually hear this verse thrown about at the annual religious shindig: “The righteous shall live by faith.” It’s a compact little creed. A good word.
If our prayers were hooked up to a polygraph during certain seasons of our lives, we’d be revealed as liars.
We cannot rush through sorrow. Walking through pain and loss and grief is like walking through water—slow, hard, and exhausting. It takes time. And it takes a toll on us. We feel trapped in confusion, surrounded by chaos.
At twenty minutes till nine, on the day she was to be married, Miss Havisham received a letter from her fiancé that hijacked the rest of her life. He was standing her up at the altar. And, in that moment, she chained herself to the past.
If we make a list of the moments in our lives that have shaped us as individuals, our list will comprise good and bad things we’ve done. On the “Good List” might be getting married, having children, earning a degree. On the “Bad List” might be going through a divorce, betraying a friend, getting a DWI. Things we do, actions we take, alter the course of our lives. They shape us (and sometimes warp us) into the people we’ve become.
We tend to forget that man’s very first action was not to build a house, plant a garden, or even worship God. His first responsibility was to interact with animals. God formed ravens and eagles, elephants and dogs, every living creature, paraded them before Adam, and gave him the authority to name them.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of my children sat down next to Matthew McConaughey on a flight from San Antonio to L.A. There they were, a regular gal and the Hollywood heartthrob, inches away.