Easter Sunday (or,Ta-Nehisi Coates, Miroslav Volf & NT Wright have a conversation about bodies)

We are back again. This time it’s very early, and the sun is rising. And the kindly looking bishop takes the pulpit.

“Our scripture reading for today comes from the gospel according to John: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

Bodies matter. Disembodiment is evil. But we are people who believe in resurrection. Because Christ is raised from the dead, we believe that all will be raised. Resurrected to judgement or to eternal life. What I do in my body as a white person matters. And what happens to a black body matters. There will come a reckoning. Continue reading

On the price of Pet Canaries

pet canaries

Sometimes, things are just too much. There’s enough suffering as it is, and now there’s babies washed up on beaches, too. There’s friends who are hurting, there’s children who are being abused, there’s police violence, there’s people suffering from HIV, there’s so much heaviness.

How do you cope? You, college student wondering about debt, you, mother who’s scrambling for a few moments peace, but especially you, social justice worker who’s fighting the good fight and working with the Spirit to make all things new…what do you do? When your job involves walking right into suffering instead of avoiding it, what do you do to keep your hope alive?

One thing I do is write. Sometimes I share what I write on the blog, and sometimes I don’t. But it helps. You who are writers will understand. It might be the most embarrassing drivel, but in the process of writing things all out sometimes something lifts the burden. Sometimes the writing ends up in the land of hope, and sometimes it’s still sitting in the darkness waiting.

Here’s a poem I wrote after reading Matthew 10 in the Message translation… and it’s been giving me hope lately.

On the price of pet canaries

price of pet canaries


How are you practicing hope right now? What disciplines or reminders, or hobbies, or habits do you undertake? 

Some thoughts On Suffering

Looking like hobos in a town square after a trip to the pharmacy for blister treatment. They gave us compeed (magic second skin stuff), alcohol and a syringe, because it's so good for popping blisters and sucking the liquid out. It's just, you know, disgusting.

Looking like hobos in a town square after a trip to the pharmacy for blister treatment. They gave us compeed (magic second skin stuff), alcohol and a syringe, because it’s so good for popping blisters and sucking the liquid out. It’s just, you know, disgusting.

I did not expect to learn anything about suffering when I started Camino. I mean, okay, I should have thought about it a bit more. Really, the longest I have hiked is like maybe 7 hours in the Berg, and yet it was actually my idea to do a 25km hike every day for a month all across Spain. David suggested doing just like two weeks or something, because he’s actually hiked for long distances, but I naively said we should do all or nothing.

This mix (25km per day + a person who hasn’t really hiked + hiking boots that were not completely broken in+ one foot that is 1/2 a size bigger than the other) resulted in pain for the first half of the hike. First it was bruised toes, then I threw out my knee from over-compensating and then I got blisters.

I’ve never lived with chronic physical pain before. I’ve read stories about people who live with chronic pain and shudder and wonder how they do it. Now that I’ve experienced a tiny sliver I still wonder how they do it. When you’re in pain, it’s like there’s this green fog that just covers everything in pea soup, and it’s basically impossible to say kind things, or be patient, or notice other people. David’s pain coping strategy was counting. Our friend Tom (of Secret Life of Walter Mitty fame) told me on the third day, “Yeah, I was in a lot of pain yesterday, but then it just made me angry. And so  I decided to get angry back at the pain, and then I could keep going.”  My coping strategy was singing. For some reason, I discovered if I channeled all my internal energy that wanted to scream (or swear– but David told me that the pope would make me walk backwards and redo every mile I swore) and channeled it into singing, I could keep walking.

I was once told by a music major friend that singing and crying are just a shade apart. I think I understand that now. I also think I have a new appreciation for the history of African American spirituals. Because when you’re in pain, and you can’t get rid of it but can only keep going forward, the perfect song isn’t one that’s a happy pop song (that just mocks your current pain) but if the song is too mournful, you’d just sit down and give up. Spirituals walk that tightrope of suffering and hope, and I think that’s why they’ve lasted. Because walking through this world is always a tightrope walk between suffering and hope. 

More blister doctoring on the side of the road.

More blister doctoring on the side of the road.

We quickly learned there are pilgrims and then there are pilgrims. Like life, your level of comfort on the Camino is greatly impacted by your amount of money. The recently retired holiday-makers could stop for a couple hours when it was raining and sip coffee and hot chocolate in bars until it stopped. We had to find a bus stop, or a tree, or an overhang, or just gut it out. We were structuring our walking days around the cheapest places to stay (the donation based or municipal hostels), but when the rich people got tired, they could afford to stay in whichever private albergue was closest.

I tried not to be bitter. But, yeah, I was bitter.

We met Arturo during the final push towards Leon. The stretch before Leon is several days of flat, tedious wheat fields. It was green, we can’t complain that much, in summer it’s brown. But we experienced our first real rainy days on the meseda, and we’d been going for almost two weeks, and David was starting to get blisters. We arrived at the small albergue and Arturo, a portly Castillian met us at the door, excited to see us. There was only one other couple in the entire albergue and they were Korean. Their English was minimal, and they didn’t know any Spanish. But Arturo was so thrilled to finally have people staying with him (he even went out and picked flowers to decorate the sparse surroundings) that we all sat down and talked for two hours. David was appointed chief translator, and had to interpret Arturo’s Spanish into English for me and English/sign-language for the Koreans. Arturo was very upset at the Koreans when we arrived, because the wife had sent her bag ahead in a taxi.

“No!” he kept saying, “No, no no! Tell them, David, tell them it’s not good for the pilgrim to send the bag ahead. The bag is part of the pilgrim. Yes, it’s difficult, but it’s good to suffer. Tell her it is good to suffer.”

David apologetically tried to mime and explain in English to the couple, with Arturo hovering over his shoulder and nodding emphatically.

“I have done many Caminos, and in my first Camino, I had injured my foot and I sent my bag ahead for one kilometer. When I picked it up again, I thought, “No, this is bad, I should not have sent my bag ahead. I should take a taxi back and re-walk that kilometer with my pack.” But I did not. I was too proud. And I regretted it the whole time.” He shook his head sadly. “You need your bag. It is part of you. When you get to the end, and you take off your bag, it’s just aaahhh!” Arturo mimed taking off his pack and the feeling of release he felt. Arturo was an artist, and he sketched a picture of Christ. “It’s like the cross that Christ carried,” Arturo said. “You need this burden for this journey.”

The note that Arturo wrote for us to give to the head nun at Leon where we were staying the next night. Rough translation, "Welcome these pilgrims with great affection" or something. Ask David.

The note that Arturo wrote for us to give to the head nun at Leon where we were staying the next night. Rough translation, “Welcome these pilgrims with great affection” or something. Ask David.

In my protestant worldview, I don’t have a concept of doing penance. I don’t think somehow I’ll earn heavenly points if I purposefully go through physical suffering. I’m working for a community development organization that’s committed to alleviating human suffering. There’s enough suffering in the world already…why willingly add to it?

But then I think of the way we numb suffering, through money, through tv series, through pain-killers, through air-conditioners, through faster cars and quicker internet.  Of course we wouldn’t dream of walking 35 minutes to the store in the heat when we can drive. We don’t have to experience loneliness, because we can log-in to Facebook on our phones. We don’t have to feel cold, or feel vulnerable, or feel hungry. But when we do that, we let comfort completely dictate our life-choices.

Who is more free? The person who is trapped by ensuring comfort, or the person who has the strength to experience a bit of suffering? The person who has to stop walking when it starts to rain, or the person who is able to just shrug and keep going? The person who has to stop at a nice albergue, or a person who can walk until sunset and is content to sleep under a tree?

IMG_20150428_090328595_HDR

And then, I think about Jesus, and how he freely suffered. He wasn’t forced into it. He willingly picked up his humanity, like we willingly picked up our backpacks, and he trudged through life with us.

He freely died an excruciating death.

Ah, but the thing that’s different about Jesus is that he suffered in order to redeem even suffering. Suffering is no longer an arbitrary part of being human, it’s redeemed into something that can be used to make us more like Jesus. It goes from something we need to fear, and craft our lives in order to avoid, and instead becomes a tool to make us better.

As a Christ follower, I don’t have to be afraid of suffering: of physical suffering or even the emotional suffering of being alone. Not because with Jesus I’ll have magic that makes my life more comfortable, but because I have the confidence that everything, even suffering, can be used by God for something good. When I’m faced with choices, I’m not forced to always choose the most comfortable. I’m free to choose anything, because I’m unafraid. 

Not only that, but I know that there’s a weight of glory coming that will make the backpack I carry now feel like nothing.

David’s 3-part blog series where he talks a little bit about Camino and his experience of it can be found here. 

World Aids Day, (Monday, first week in Advent)

Ok folks, I won’t post all the Advent reflections on here. But it’s World AIDS day. I had to say something. 🙂 Then I promise I won’t spam you with any more unless you ask. 🙂 

The boots of all those invading troops,

    along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood,

Will be piled in a heap and burned,

    a fire that will burn for days!

Isaiah 9:5 (MSG)

We all live in the shadow of death. He doesn’t leave any of us alone, of course, but his shadow is very deep and dark right here. If I was a 24-year-old female living in Sweetwaters, I would be HIV+, since 60% of women in my age group are positive. It’s not as bad as it used to be—you don’t see a bulldozer sitting at the cemetery on a Saturday, ready to cover over graves quickly and move people along for the next funeral like you did maybe ten years ago. We’re not dying as fast as we used to. But we’re still dying.

There are those that have already been swallowed up by the Death, and those who are left behind, the long shadow falling back over us. The orphans. The widows. The Grandmothers. The brothers and sisters.

It’s war, but even if we get transmission rates to drop, even if we get prevalence down to the single digits, we’re all going to die of something. If it’s not AIDS, it’s cancer, or TB, or a gunshot, or a car. It’s a war, and so far Death has won every battle.

Well… almost every battle. There was that one time, in Jerusalem, with that one guy, named Jesus. And they say that wasn’t just a once off thing. They say that his coming to life again was the start of putting death to death, and that one day all the sad things will come untrue, and all the broken things will be made new, and death will be no more, because death himself will die.

So I’m striking another match today. This one is lighting the fire that will burn all of death’s bloodstained boots, and broken weapons. Because a Son has been born that is going to put death to death.

Today is World AIDS Day. Light a match with me. Consider donating to an organization that is working to help end the AIDS Crisis—not just by dropping transmission rates, but helping young people know how to find true life that lasts forever.

IThemba Projects is a great one: http://www.ithembaprojects.org.za

But there are others: http://www.reachforlifenoregrets.co.za

Unknown

How Did Jesus Laugh?

The stoic Jesus is preferred.

The stoic Jesus is preferred.

When David and I were “just friends” but liked each other, we would have interesting email conversations about articles we were reading. One of the links David wanted my opinion on was a review of “The Shack”. The reviewer’s main distaste for the book was that Jesus was too full of chuckles. He “laughed, chortled and chuckled” his way through the book, to the point that the reviewer felt the author of The Shack equated holiness with laughter, and that was not okay. Apparently the early church fathers saw laughter as demonic and exhibiting a lack of sobriety, and not as evidence of a loving God (as Young does) and maybe that was better. The reviewer pointed out

“We learn about God’s love for the world and are able to love him in return by grasping the fact that the incarnation of His Son had serious consequences for Jesus as well as for us. He assumed our flesh so we could be restored to our own good selves, but in taking into his divine person our human nature and sharing it with his own, he became a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. For us, restoration entailed reconciliation with God; but for Jesus it entailed death on a Roman gibbet.”

What compels us towards Jesus his his ability to share our suffering. We read of Jesus weeping in the Bible, but we never read of him laughing. If Jesus the Son of God could feel the full depth of the pain of all of the people he came into contact with, if his heart was torn by Mary and Martha’s mourning, and if he suffered through the full weight of sin, if Jesus knew how good the world could be and came face to face with how horrible it was, if even his closest friends, his disciples, didn’t seem to get it– the picture of a laughing Jesus seems not only irreverent, but frankly highly unlikely.

Or maybe I think that because that’s how I feel sometimes. If I get overwhelmed and heart broken at the world falling to bits around me all the time: empty people caring about themselves and not others, people stuck in their own narrow little world, children suffering abuse right down the road, friends walking through family conflict and struggles, not to mention the way people are just so set on killing each other all over the world… and I am just one small person with a finite ability to feel the pain of others… what would it have been like to be Jesus?

I think this reviewer (and a lot of self-absorbed hipster-types that I ran into in college who were trying to get away from Mr. Happy-clappy Jesus who gives trite answers and is full of cheesy *joy*, and wanted to bring more “authenticity” to the picture of Jesus we carry in our minds…which despite my mocking tone I do think is very good) like to hold up this picture of Jesus weeping in the garden as the picture of Jesus. They say “How could Jesus laugh?” but it’s a rhetorical question. It’s a challenge. “If I’m in so much suffering, if the world is in so much suffering, how could Jesus have ever laughed?”

The Bible doesn’t tell us if Jesus laughed. And maybe God knew for a lot of people, it would be more important for them to know Jesus cried. But I think Jesus laughed. And my question isn’t rhetorical. I want to know– How did Jesus laugh? How did he? If he was walking through the pain of the world, if he was lonely, if he was misunderstood even by those closest to him- how did he laugh? What was his secret? 

No, I don’t want to fiddle while Rome burns, I don’t want to build up walls and block myself from the real world, stay safe in my bubble where I don’t have to think about things, or enjoy shallow diversions so I can block out the sounds of the world’s pain. We do that too often.

My question is, Jesus, how can you walk through the broken world showing genuine generous kindness? How can you find anything funny when thousands of people are dying every second? How can you enjoy Peter’s bumbling antics rather than beating your head against a wall and giving up? How do you walk in a world of misery filled with good humor, noticing the points of light, the funny quirks? How do you enjoy things while knowing that there is horrible suffering, too?

And maybe there’s a reason we know that Jesus wept. Maybe in this life, before the King comes back, there will be more tears than there will be laughter. And we can take a wide-angle view and say one day this will all be put right. One day all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well. Maybe we say “We’re pressed on every side by troubles… but these momentary light afflictions are producing in us an eternal weight of glory that far outlasts this all.” And maybe that’s enough for some–that one day it will all be put right.

But I want to know what about today?

(I’m still pondering it. I’m curious to know what you think. But here’s what I think, what I’m hanging on to):

This is my Father’s world. We are not abandoned. We’re not just here fighting the good fight on our own, waiting for the day when Jesus will swoop in and sort it all out. God is here right now. It’s still his world. He is still present. And he is good. And we need to choose to celebrate the good. In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis describes all the evil things as insubstantial shadows, and the good as heavy, solid, and more substantial, more real than the evil. It’s the good that will last. That’s the eternal weight of glory. Maybe that’s why it sometimes feels flippant or insubstantial now, and maybe in comparison with the loud wails of sin and darkness it seems small, and flickering, and transient. But it’s really the thing that will last. And so it’s okay to hold on to it. And to celebrate it, and cherish it, and let it’s incandescent sparkle light up our view of the world.

imagesI think Jesus had eyes to see it. I think when the beggars leaped up with straightened legs, babbling with incoherent joy, I think Jesus chuckled with delight. Because that was a real thing that would last. I think Jesus went to that wedding at Cana and laughed at the groom’s awkward dancing and wanted to keep the party going so he made more wine. Because that was a real thing that would last. I think when Peter caught a fish and pulled out a coin to pay the temple tax, and his eyes almost popped out of his head, Jesus tried to hold it in, but couldn’t suppress his laughter for very long. That was something that would last.

Jesus saw how God took care of the birds and the flowers, and he knew God would take care of us. If we enjoy a good sunset, or beautiful mountains, or a seeing a baby take their first steps, how much more delight and joy must constantly be filling God, who can see those moments happening all over the world? (Divine Conspiracy, people, just read it).

Maybe we’re overly familiar and want to make God over in our own image. Maybe there are more of us who need a God who cries than a God who laughs. But maybe we think it’s cool to cling to cynicism, maybe we just like self-pity, and maybe it’s not the holy ones who are filled with a seriousness and sobriety.

Maybe the holiest ones among us are the ones that know how to have a good laugh. 

Stories and Social Justice (a sandwich)

cropped-childs-face.jpg

The short answer, for why I write on this blog is because it satisfies an itch.  I get tired of ugly things. Not to say that my blog is the most beautiful piece of writing ever to grace the interwebs. It’s more that the things I care about: social justice, reconciliation, power dynamics, privilege, sociology, Jesus, holistic ministry… are usually written about in text books, or journal articles, or long, detailed articles. Which are good. We need those. Facts are good. I like facts. I don’t like all this Invisible Children “let’s just cry our eyes out over some sad thing that happened in Africa but we don’t really know what we’re talking about” stuff. 

But I was an English major. And sometimes I get this longing for something beautiful. I hear sermons on theological abstract principles that don’t inspire me, so I go home and write what would have inspired me. I read things about the need for adult father-figures in low-income communities, but it’s the stories about the iThemba mentors that I write, and then read again, and think, “Wow. These guys are changing the world.” 

But there’s also the opposite side. So, I was an English major in college, and that’s what we did- read stories, played with language, analyzed words. As I was writing, I would get hung up not on the words  and images, but on what they meant. I was interested in the point, on the social dynamics the literature portrayed, on the injustices the piece was debating. I liked pieces that some critics would call propaganda. (George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Warren’s Profession anyone?) It was kind of to the point where I would get irritated. This isn’t just a story, people, this is real!  So I wrote my English thesis using sociological frameworks of interpretation, and now I’m doing a Sociology thesis looking at narrative. Oh well. 

I think the hard work of restoring all things involves all aspects of creation. We need both beauty and justice. Reflection, contemplation and action. But there’s still a tension. So, here’s a stories-social justice- stories sandwich to embrace that tension. Because, you know, I’ve written 100 posts now. I’ve got to start stealing from other people because I can’t think up anything new. 🙂 

Sarah Groves: Why it Matters. Perhaps my favorite song, about how creating something beautiful can itself be “a protest of the darkness and chaos all around”.

“A materialistic world will not be won to Christ by a materialistic church.” ― David Platt

“People die of hunger because we prefer to spend money on … A very disturbing question: For what are we willing to let other people die?”– Miroslav Volf

“Philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point, however is to change it.” — Karl Marx.

“Theology is not only about understanding the world; it is about mending the world.” — Miroslav Volf. 

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. — Desmond Tutu

“Christianity does not exclude any of the normal human activities… There is no essential quarrel between the spiritual life and the human activities as such… The work of Beethoven and the work of a charwoman become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly ‘as to the Lord’… We can therefore pursue knowledge as such, and beauty as such, in the sure confidence that by so doing we are either advancing to the vision of God ourselves or indirectly helping others to do so.” — C.S. Lewis

“Stories are light.

Light is precious in a world so dark.

Begin at the beginning. Tell… a story.

Make some light.” ― Kate DiCamilloThe Tale of Despereaux

glowing-festive-lights-christmas-tree-white-small-bulb-bokeh-free-stock-photo

 

Subverting the empire with prayer and other whispers of hope

http://www.dirtyandthirty.com/hot-mama/hope-floats/

These past few months, I’ve been spending less time in Sweetwaters/Mpumuza and more time in the comfy suburb of Hilton… and it’s been making me quite bitter. For some reason, it’s easier for me to hang on to hope in Sweetwaters. There’s poverty, there’s suffering, there are things that make me want to cry, but you can see the Kingdom pushing through. The fieldworkers are there every day loving those kids, there are stories of changes, and even when it’s two steps forward one step back, there’s this feeling that you’re going somewhere. A feeling that God is here and things will change.

But I’ve been hanging out more in the world of Hilton (due to scaling back my hours at iThemba to work on my masters), which is just as sick and just as in need of redemption, but here it’s been hard to hang on to hope. It wasn’t bad at first. I was all fired up, ready to be a part of building bridges, ready to intercede, ready to see God change… well… everything.

And then it was the lead up to the elections, and whitefear was choking people’s conversations, and everyone was still thinking about how to protect their own interests, moaning about the government and longing for the good-old-days, and tightening the bubble closer around themselves.

And the stuff I was reading for my masters showed story after story of how verbally white South Africa has said yes to democracy and unity and reconciliation, but actually is still trapped by fear and prejudice and is even passing that along to their children. I went on holiday to the coast and the very kind Christian people who were letting us stay in their self-catering accommodation made racist comments. Then I read a report that proved that over 1/3rd of the time, black South Africans will be refused holiday accommodation on the KZN  coast, simply because they are black. And then all my readings were full of people throwing around big words like ‘transformation’ and ‘hegemony’ but after a while, they started to sound like they were just that—words—being used to publish papers, not to actually change anything.

And even the Christian community was stifling me with how dedicated it was to same-ness. How dedicated it was to being stuck in a rut, and being okay with that. How blind it is to how someone from another income bracket, another culture, another race, another family type, another sexual orientation might feel in their group. And I realized how entrenched all these things are, how stubborn, how deeply, deeply rooted. In Sweetwaters, I don’t have to have awkward conversations where someone assumes I agree with their view about how badly the blacks are running the country (usually veiled in nicer language than that, of course). What do you do in that moment? Sometimes I say nothing because I’m scared to rock the boat and I don’t want to offend them. But sometimes I say nothing because I literally do not know what to say—how can you let comments like that slide, but how can you address it when this poor person clearly just wanted to make small talk, and deconstructing the racism actually embedded in their comment will probably get nowhere. (And then sometimes I do say something, but come off holier-than-thou and alienate people even more, which is just completely the wrong way to engage people and I just make everything worse).

And so slowly paralysis set in. And prayers trickled off.

It wasn’t prayers for revival anymore. It wasn’t prayers that this insulated, inward-looking community would become a radical out-ward focusing light to their neighbours. It was just the occasional, “Oh Lord, help!” (And often in the form of  a sarcastic muttering under the breath after something I heard or experienced). I was Elijah saying, “Enough of this, God. Just take my life and get it over with. That would be much easier than this. I’ve been working my heart out for you, and your people don’t give a rip and now they’re even trying to kill me.” (Okay, okay, it wasn’t that bad. But it feels like it sometimes).

But God quietly whispers to Elijah in the midst of his anger and bitterness, he whispers gently that he’s not alone (in fact, there are 7000 others who love God, too), and there is still work to do.

And I’ve heard God’s whispers lately (when I’ve stopped ranting enough to hear them).

http://www.raisinggenerationstoday.com/reach-out-for-hope-by-stacey-thacker/

I heard him whisper in the all-Hilton church prayer meeting before the elections, where the body of Christ came together and prayed not for ourselves, and for our lives to be comfortable, but for justice, and widows and orphans, and hungry people, and servant-leadership.

I heard him whisper in our church small group, as we’ve been discussing Generous Justice, by Tim Keller, and how our small group and church and our individual lives can express the generous grace and justice of God.

I heard him in a woman who came up to me after church one day and said, “When you sing, I can see that you really are worshipping. Thank you. It moves me to worship him, too.”

I heard him when our small group pitched in to sponsor a child for iThemba kids camp.

I heard him in the burn ward of the hospital.

I heard him most loudly in this statement, made by the leader at the all church prayer meeting:

Prayer is a subversive activity. By gathering to pray, we’re making a statement. We’re saying we believe we have a God who can change things. We’re not okay with the way things are, and we’re subverting the empire by coming before the true King and saying, “Your will be done.”

And the Holy Spirit slapped me upside the head and said,

You don’t believe this anymore. You whiney Elijah, thinking you’re the only one left. You think this all depends on you. You think I’m sitting back and doing nothing. You think I don’t have power to change anything. You’re wrong. Join me, Steph. Get praying real prayers again, prayers that believe you’re talking to the one with ultimate power. Stop whining and subvert the empire with me.

This is MY people,

this is MY church,

and the gates of Hell

(and materialism, and self-centeredness, and prejudice and fear)

will NOT prevail against it. 

_____________________________________

So, what do you all do to rekindle your hope? What encourages you when hope runs dry?

 

 

What do you say when it’s Friday all around?

Sometimes I wonder what to say and what to be silent about. I don’t often tell the sad stories. Not because there is not sadness, but because a sad story is a real story, about a real person. And I don’t want to make light of someone’s suffering by sharing it to make a sensation. I don’t want someone’s real pain to be something we can just sit back and consume along with our morning coffee. But there’s sadness in the world, and sometimes the sad stories need telling, too. 

Sometime’s it’s Friday all around.

There’s a teen on crutches, struggling to walk to school because he was stabbed at his high school. And there’s a boy who did the stabbing, and social workers say his home is not a safe place. And there’s a big brother breaking up a fight on his way to work, who’s now lying dead from a stab-wound. And there’s a little brother running up to a fieldworker, arms outstretched, tears streaming down his face,

“Uncle, Uncle, did they tell you? Do you know they stabbed my brother?” 

And the world spins back to that other one with arms outstretched crying out,“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

There’s sadness and darkness and the world rings with the hollow emptiness of death, and the question hangs in the air: Why? Why have you forsaken me? 

What do you say when it’s Friday all around? 

dancing

picture: Jabulani Kids Club Christmas Party 2012

When our eyes are still cloudy with tears, we cling to the fact that he is risen. When we feel alone we listen. We listen hard. He’s standing right next to us, saying our name. They haven’t taken him away. He’s here. He’s alive.

We grab on to this truth and don’t let go. We squeeze it until our knuckles are white and cramped. He IS alive. Death IS overthrown. And he IS here. And he IS making all things new. He is.

Quietly, bit by bit. All the dark bits will be rooted out. He hasn’t gone away to some cloudy place we must follow—he’s alive. The plan is not to scrap this world but to redeem it.  He’s risen, he’s risen indeed, that’s why we’re working,  joining him in the restoration of all things.

Until that final day when all the sad things will come untrue, and every tear is wiped, and his glory covers the world as the water covers the sea, we work and work and cry at the pain, and battle against the darkness, and stake out little corners where the light can shine brighter. We bandage the wounded and stand our ground, swearing our allegiance to the risen king who is coming back one day to reclaim his own. Even if we’re raggedy looking. Even if we don’t always know what to say. Even if our light flickers, it doesn’t go out.

This is a battle. On Fridays it looks like everything is over. But we cling to the hope that Sunday comes. 

And sometimes you’ve just got to say “Shut up devil, we’re going to dance anyway.”

 

Death

Death is the last weapon of the tyrant, and the point of the resurrection, despite much misunderstanding, is that death has been defeated. Resurrection is not the re-description of death; it is its overthrow and, with that, the overthrow of those whose power depends on it.

-NT Wright, Surprised by Hope.

ISHIBOBO Holiday Club

DSCF3258

Fun with parachutes!

“What are some hopes and goals you’re setting for yourself as you go into this week?” Sizwe asked all the volunteers from Hilton and Pietermaritzburg gathered for Holiday Club Training this past Monday. As I’m now a “one-day-a-weeker” at the moment with iThemba, David and I were thrilled with the chance to get to help out with the 3-day ISHIBOBO Holiday Club in Sweetwaters. YAY! Playing with kids, my favorite! (*Ishibobo- a Zulu word for the soccer move when you kick a ball between someone else’s legs).

A few people shared really good things. Then there was that awkward pause and, because I can’t stand those, I tried to think of something quickly. “Um, I’d like to notice the kids on the edge who are shy or not really involved in the games and try and include them.” Woah. I impress myself sometimes with how fast I can think. That’s why I did so well in school. 🙂

I know I said that was my goal, but it’s sometimes fun to see how God holds you to what you say, even when you say it flippantly. When we got to our venue (iThemba ran the club simultaneously at two different venues this year), there were over 350 kids. Crazy. Fun. Exhausting. Did I say crazy?

The soccer-themed games worked really well, though and while it’s a challenge to get 350+ kids to sit and listen, they were pretty well-behaved for the messages about “being chosen for God’s team” and “following Jesus as our coach” and “using your gifts for God’s team.”

 

Kids sitting in their four groups to play a ball game

Kids sitting in their four groups to play a ball game

 

But God kept reminding me to “look out” for those on the edges. I guess I thought I would be like Jesus or something, noticing those being left out… you know, be a blessing and all that. But of course, the person sitting on the edge was more of a Jesus to me than I was to him.

I’ll call him “Sam”– he has cerebral palsy, so he can’t do the active games like all the other children can. He would come and sit next to me and help hold the camera, or give hi-fives to the kids who finished their relays. He attends a school down in Pietermaritzburg, so we only ever see him at Holiday Club events. I knew who he was, but I had never spent that much time with him. I’d heard from other volunteers and staff members about what a light he was to them, and now I’ve experienced it myself! His huge smile, and the way he brought out the best in the other kids was so inspiring. Kids would slow down to help him, or pause to give him a high-five, or wave hello as they ran past. Everyone knows him. Everyone smiles when they see him. And I got to spend 3 days hanging out with him.

I don’t know if Sam knows Jesus. I hope he does. But he really showed Jesus to me.

DSCF3312

Pray for the new Saturday Kids Club that is starting up at this Holiday Club Venue, where kids can come every week to hear about Jesus and have fun together!