The Radiant Hope of Weeping

I watched It’s a Wonderful Life last weekend with some amazing friends in a theatre. Writing that sentence feels like I am confessing to a crime based on the state of the world right now. But I’m merely giving context to my most recent relationship with tears. I would say the amount I cried was just under the inappropriate amount for a movie. What that exact amount is, who’s to say? If I was judging, I would say I snuck in just enough tears to be considered a stable, regulated, adult male who is in touch with his feelings. Maybe I’m idealizing, but this is my blog and you’re just reading it. 

I think the film was a good exercise in hope. When you have received the subject of your hope, you cease to be in need of hope to have it. You may however need some measure of hope to keep it. Yet, when we have attained something, we quickly move into the assumption that we will retain it. In other words, hope floats above the surface expectant that it will catch something underneath the surface. Once the thing hoped for comes to the surface, we no longer have need of hope. We, instead, need the unction to receive it.

Which is why I believe hope is anticipatory joy. I’ve heard hope described as the joyful expectation of something good, which I kind of buy into. I’m almost fully bought into that definition as long as what we don’t imagine is a child waiting on a shortish line to ride a rollercoaster, or kids on Christmas morning, or a bride and groom on their wedding day. In other words I don’t think hope can be defined by surface joy. For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross. I don’t think Jesus was giddy in anticipation of His betrayal, arrest or crucifixion. I do think he was eager/anxious to share a meal with his disciples beforehand in anticipation of sharing that meal again and anew in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Which brings me to the illustration in Scripture of hope as an anchor. Anchors go deep, to keep you steady on the surface. To keep you steady amidst the swirling uncertain movement around you, despite the inability to entirely protect what is within you. Hope in its depths might reveal itself through tears, through trembling.

Jesus' Feet – God's Grace ~ God's Glory!

Luke 7:36-50, A woman who is a sinner walks into someone else’s household to anoint Jesus’ feet, weeping on them, kissing them, wiping them off with her hair, and anointing them with ointment. Imagine if today you were throwing a party and a woman uninvited comes in whose only descriptor is that she is of disreputable character. This is an opinion shared by most of the people there except your other guest who is the most kind, gentle and intriguing person at the party, who also has a secret. He is God, unbeknownst to the guests, unbeknownst to you the host. Would you not also be curious what this woman could possibly want instead of what your other guest know about the woman?

And what she wants is what I want to write about and to think about:

  1. At base line, she might have just wanted to show honor and gratitude to Jesus. I believe the base of Christian hope is we want to honor who we believe God to be freely in the face of a world that can be cruel and judgmental while ignoring their own darkness. She recognized Jesus’ light and beauty and hoped to be able to honor it.
  2. Maybe she was able to foresee forgiveness and was hoping to be offered that at all costs. If by an act of grace she was able to see and expect that, it would seem her faith in fact has saved her. She was forgiven; she got what she hoped for. But wave of the hand forgiveness as much as it may lift the weight of guilt what I think humans are after is actually a bit more than forgiveness which leads me to what I think she was hoping for.
  3. Friendship. Context is important. Luke 7:34-35 is actually where this story should start. Jesus states that his reputation among the crowds and religious leaders is that “he is a drunkard and a glutton, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. But wisdom is justified by her children (or by what she bears, produces).” Ironically the story that follows is Jesus in the house of Pharisee who is approached by a woman who is a sinner, a woman who perhaps has heard a rumor that Jesus might also want to be her friend.

The Purpose of Our Collective Tears

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

I don’t know how prepared you are to give of your tears or how familiar you might be with what that entails. I’m going to write a bit about mourning this morning. Grief, loss, and death, I know are not necessarily fun topics to read about. I don’t know a lot about pandemics, the spread of viruses or the long term effects of these things, but I am  fairly confident that if political leaders and people are willing to show any hint of prioritizing stimulating the economy and bailing out large financially irresponsible big businesses at the risk of spreading a deadly virus, it’s safe to say that some compassionate folks may have to take up the business of empathy and grieving.

*Scroll to the bottom if you just like practicals*

And that person might be you or me. So here’s how:

Tears are beautiful. One day, in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be no more use for them. But here, now, tears of the emotional variety are a visual display of our pain and our stress and our empathy. As they are released chemicals are typically released in our body that calm our mind and relieve us of physical pain. In this way they are chemically associated with doing good for the inside.

It is important to keep in mind that the capacity for tears or crying is more important than volume. So like anything crying too much or persistent crying amidst a depressive episode could yield little to no benefit. It’s important to discern and distinguish between the two.

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For instance:

Yesterday, my mom put her cat Tabitha down who was 19 years old and had kidney failure. I cried a bit on my drive to her house thinking about my mom during this season of quarantine, thinking a little about Tabitha and how interesting of a cat she was. Those tears were in some ways helpful because I was prepared to empathize with my mom and imagined what it was like to lose a pet but also adjust in a season when being home a lot and perhaps for a extended season is necessary.

Later on that evening, I cried again while being exceedingly frustrated and uncertain even scared about what decisions to make, feeling like life is still out of my control and being frustrated and double-minded about how to live out what I feel called to in the midst of my current vocation after a season where I already felt isolated for the previous 5 months. These tears were less helpful, but still helpful. In part because these tears were more a response to an unclear uncertain emotional framework that had me stuck on myself. If I was still crying those same tears now they would not be helpful and perhaps self-indulgent.

Let’s return to loss and grief and death though for a moment. Some of you may have experienced the loss of a loved one. It was a deep loss that you may have not been prepared for and suffered or may suffer still as you learn to adapt to a new rhythm without that individual. Sometimes their loss might still illicit tears or sadness but hopefully, that loss has not kept you unable to find fullness in life.

Hopefully, you found a helpful ritual or prayer or found ways to accept the loss and have been given new eyes of appreciation for others. Hopefully, also, you will be presented with the opportunity to help others walk through their own grief and loss.

My hope is that this will not be a season that you will be called upon to do that, but there is a chance in the coming weeks even months you might know several people who lose something or someone due to this virus.

Not all loss is death, but death feels the most permanent. And in seasons where isolation is already becoming the norm if someone were to die while others are isolated and may not be able to mourn as easily communally, we will need to be diligent in helping to heal those who suffer loss.

We have power to minister and bring healing to others when we stay alert and aware in the midst of our own loss, to not checkout and isolate, but to remain available. To be reminded that others too will suffer the loss of spouse or grandparent or parent or child, that while our grief and loss is unique in the individual or thing lost, the experience of losing is not unique to us.

So a couple of practicals:

-Imagine you are in their position, in the coming weeks it might not take that much imagining (we’ll see)

-Listen more than spouting advice or cliche phrases of optimism (Scripture written in an encouraging note or a timely word spoken gently might be helpful but listen first)

-Pray for them

-Make sure they are fed and checked in on

-Affirm that they are loved, again gently

-Maybe not a reminder for the one suffering, but death is not the end of everything and it is a part of life; death might become more normalized, but Jesus has promised us eternity with Him for those who believe. So yes, a priority on the restoration to or perseverance in their most important relationship.

-Remember God is with us in our tears

Psalm 56:8

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?

Little Hands

I had a profound moment this weekend. I paid a visit to Charleston to see the sun, hang with friends, and attend some sessions of a Missions conference. This past week has been helpful in reflecting about a sense of purpose and what brings me joy. My trip was a nice, not nearly long enough visit and break, but I fit a lot into a lovely weekend. One moment stuck out, not because it was the best moment of the weekend, but it was certainly unexpected.

Sunday morning at the end of church, the entire congregation was called forward to lay  hands in prayer on missionaries who shared throughout the weekend.  I was initially unsure if they wanted everybody to come forward but when it became apparent everyone was, I walked forward and laid my hand as a point of connection on Milton’s (and elder at the church’s) shoulder  to pray. I was standing against the stage and did not have much of a thought about anything.

I pause the story here to say that in all honesty, part of my hope for the weekend was a moment of clarity or revelation regarding next steps in ministry or locale or vocation. I’ve written previously about trying to be an augur to (predict) my future and that trap, but I think this weekend served as a reminder of the will of God (sanctification) and being faithful with what God has already given, being grateful for it, and not demanding something I would deem better. That’s a lot of wonderful things to feel and hopefully hold onto in a whirlwind weekend.

But I want to come back to this one kiss from the Lord.

We are praying. My mind is clear but not focused and suddenly, as my head is bowed eyes closed, standing with arm outstretched, a little hand grabbed my hand at my side without a hint of timidity. I don’t know if there was hesitation, but it felt like the hand grabbed mine so quickly and gently that there was none.

And in that moment, something fascinating happened, for a split second it was curiosity, then a laugh, then a flood of pictures ran through my head. I saw myself praying at a table with I presume, my children. I saw myself reading the bible with them and highlighting the promises of God. I saw eager and excited eyes and was a bit overwhelmed. So, I looked back, almost behind me and saw a boy about 7, holding my hand with his head bowed in prayer.

I smiled, thanked God, and prayed something along the lines of, “Lord thank you for this reminder, please tell me I’m not crazy for wanting to be a dad and having a family.” I mouthed that prayer, but not out loud. Immediately, the little hand gave a little squeeze. Perhaps confirmation, probably coincidence but it felt right, and I felt God’s delight.

I gave God a knowing nod and appreciated the moment as the time of prayer was wrapping up. But then another gift, 20 seconds or so before the prayer was about to end, another even smaller hand slipped between our hands. The little boys presumably 4-year old brother, wearing a backpack, wanted to be connected in prayer as well.

There really isn’t too big of a lesson or metaphor here. After the Amen I looked at a man who I assume was the boys dad and smiled and returned without much of a thought. Thoughts and doubts, you don’t need them when you know you’re known.

Love Theories: Not Soup nor Slumber

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It can’t be stirred in a pot until it tastes better
Can’t be set a top a stove to heat up
Can’t be baked at 450 and set before us to satisfy our hunger
It can’t be shaken out of slumber or kissed alive like a fairy tale

It’s timing is a mystery when it chooses to awaken, when it chooses to be given

It must be wait upon, served when ready, not served when wanted

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It is not self-seeking, it doesn’t wave you off, it doesn’t point you in the wrong direction, it doesn’t see the opportunity you provide, before it sees you

It doesn’t try to perfect your body before it takes you as it’s own, it doesn’t let you go when you can’t make yourself well. It doesn’t ignore your call or get back to you only when convenient

Love is not convenience, it’s not angry when it’s presently healing and freeing others; it rejoices in that kind

It reciprocates goodness, does not hedge its bets or hedge its heart; it entrusts itself to potential hurt recognizing that it cannot fail even when wounded.

Love is the overcoming currency of the world, yet it never insists payment

But when it’s missing you will hear it, you will see it, you will see the blood in its absence, carry the dejection in darkness, feel the rage when it is replaced with indifference

Love is not another lecture, though it will endure far longer than one

Love will never lose its luster, though it will fall frequently to wash feet

Love isn’t interested in leverage, it holds loosely and is delighted to walk along

Love when perfected eliminates fear, brings near, keeps here

When love lays down or conquers, it looks the same because it leaves a wake of life

When love awakens, we are full

 

Mr. Rogers Cat Stevens and Bosco the Bear

“Well I left my happy home to see what I could find out
I left my folk and friends with the aim to clear my mind out
Well, I hit the rowdy road and many kinds I met there
Many stories told me of the way to get there”

Saw that Tom Hanks Mr. Rogers film yesterday. It was odd in good ways, nostalgic and started with forgiveness moving to generosity, then to kindness.

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I’m not a movie critic but the films pacing was patient. It was the first time in a long time or perhaps ever, when I thought throughout the movie, “that’s who I want to be.”

There was a particular scene where Mr. Rogers is on the phone with this guy Lloyd (who the movie is really about) and says, “This conversation is the most important thing in the world to me right now.”

And I was reminded of Jesus and how the practice of patience and presence is what perfects us. Letting patience have its perfect work in the midst of testing and trial leads us to love. Jesus found opportunity in the pain while putting up boundaries towards evil ideologies and that which would try to cast doubt on His identity.

A major problem, perhaps not new to humanity is: the world would have us tolerate attacks and lies about individual identity by allowing people to self-identify, while they stumble through trial and pain until they forget themselves rather than find the Creator. Mr. Rogers teaches us, collective identity (the neighborhood) always informs, even may heal individual identity.

The difficulty with identifying on our own or in reaction to our pain rather than to truth is the distortion of self and a further movement into the depths of brokenness, even darkness. That’s why any attempts to gender reassign or maintaining a loose sexual ethic does not breed liberty. People become less recognizable, self-doubt increases, as does anxiety, and it always effects more than the self.

This, I believe, is why Mr. Rogers places the focus on the feeling. He says the feeling is real and he refuses to demonize sadness or anger, even fear. while celebrating joy with the sober knowledge that the other core emotions desperately need expression in order to remain tender in solidarity with creation.

How those feelings/emotions are expressed is our opportunity to become generous with our time,  recognizing time is a currency that none of us can buy more of. We can’t work harder or become more efficient to procure more time than someone else. All we can do is be more mindful how we spend it, how we express emotion in relation to the other.

“Yes the answer lies within, so why not take a look now?
Kick out the devil’s sin, pick up, pick up a good book now.”

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Cat Stevens’ song “On the Road to Find Out,” is featured in the film and I loved Cat Stevens as a teenager. So much so that we had a stray runt of the litter cat that lived outside our house who I named Cat Stevens. He was 1 of 3 siblings but was the only one that would let us pet him and he had this tick where once you’d pet him, if you grabbed his tail as you pet him, he would immediately turn around and want to be pet again.

Cat Stevens, likely burnt by the music industry, perhaps burnt by the 60’s and 70’s and a bout with tuberculosis went on wild journey of self-discovery, landing in Islam. He is not American which seems important and might be the reason that his searching led him to obscurity rather than at a grasp for more popularity. That could likewise just be a socio-religious facet that also would separate Islam from Christian evangelicalism. Cat Stevens reminds me of the Sufi mystic poet Rumi in his lyrics that are usually spiritually searching, mixed with romantic hope, and familial reconciliation, all of which were within him, seemingly prior to his conversion.

Familial reconciliation with shimmers of romantic hope encompass the film as well, but spiritual searching is left on the outs, likely to keep it palatable for the masses. 

Trying to make a non-controversial film where kindness and forgiveness is celebrated while still being of substance and quality and touching on little to no religious themes seems almost impossible in the current climate, but I think it managed well enough.

Lastly, sticking with the cat theme, there is Daniel Tiger, the disheveled puppet turned kids cartoon that bore an essence or life of his own through Mr. Rogers hands. Habakkuk suggests the hands is where the power of God is, and I would suggest the things we hold and handle are the things we animate. It’s how we get babies and toddlers to eat vegetables, by fooling them into thinking they are swallowing an airplane as if they are Godzilla.

There is a scene where Mr. Rogers puts Daniel Tiger on his hand and talks to Lloyd in Fred’s apartment. It seems silly until you realize why. Sometimes facing your pain in the imaginary realm makes it feel safer to face in present. It might just give you the courage to face the real place or person that has hurt us. 

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I had/have a bear. I’ve written about him before, Bosco, married with a child, who I shared a bed with until high school. When I was 16 or so he lived in my closet because I needed to mature away from him, until I went to college and brought him with me there as well. My junior year he married and my senior year he had a child. I talked to Bosco, Bosco had a voice and he was the expression of my lost innocence. He was the stuffed animal given to me my first Christmas by my great aunt. He was given permission by my kindergarten teacher to be brought to class whenever I wanted after my parents were going through a divorce. He is who I talked to about my confusion and who I sought for rescue when I could not hear God answer my prayers.

I wept on him, wrestled with him; he was the safe place for my anger and sadness. He was who I clutched when I was afraid. Perhaps, the Old Testament would label him an idol, but I did not worship him though I was desperate to keep him, and couldn’t bring myself to get rid of him. I created his family, which was large. He was the oldest which meant he could keep all the others safe. 

If you did a case study of my relationship to this bear and my attachment to it, you could from our interactions trace pain and problems and could  likely rewrite a story that would have been much more picturesque if you just removed every occasion that would have led me back to this safety object.

Powerless, that bear, yet sometimes has felt safer than God. That bear is where I last left him and there have been times I have left him and had to rely on others to get me back to him. After college he came with me to my grandmother’s and then probably through the 10 moves season and even traveled to Charleston. Now he is at my brother’s in Chester. He hasn’t seen his family but once in probably 7 years.

Powerful that God, yet there is no better place than with Him, God has never left and there have been times I tried to leave Him and had to rely on others to get me back to Him. I hope to find more beautiful days to come with Him.