On Friday I drove down to St. Louis for a long over due weekend of ministry. I got to stay with my sister and her family that first night. My dad came out and we celebrated his birthday together with home made cake and raspberry sorbet. I brought dad a present I made him on the plasmacam at work. It was a sign that illustrates the word Home. The words on it are Dwelling, Place, Home, Healing, and Permanence. In the middle is a little image of my wife and daughter, a stamp made from a photo I took with my cellphone. The sign took far longer to make than I’d anticipated at first. I’m still getting used to the software, and art concepts don’t come easily to me. But homemade gifts still mean much more than buying them.
My sister keeps my mom’s journals which date back to when she was in high school. I borrowed the years 1969-1977 and am working my way through them. From the time I was a teenager I had an interest in what got my parents involved in ministry. Though my parents were very different people in their early twenties what I’m learning is that the Charismatic and Jesus Movements were fostering in them a commitment to Christ and to service that would sustain them for the next three decades. My mom writes about very simple things. She likes lists. She writes about what she did that day, her health, the people she hangs out with, the classes she’s taking in college, the letters she gets from my dad. She writes about witnessing and possible witnessing opportunities. She wrote about what she watched on television. She is very discreet and seems aware that someone will want this information later. Her journals were used years later to write about the history of their ministry.
My kids seem in awe that it’s okay for me to read their grandmother’s diaries. They know that their own diaries are off limits to each other. Don’t I feel weird going through her personal writings? Well, yes, I admit, I don’t want my own journals read by anyone after I die. But I don’t write the same way my mother does. I write for the most part about how I’m doing with the Lord, my personal failures, my fears, etc. This kind of thing shows up rarely in mom’s writing.
So anyway, what I’m doing right now is trying to compile a picture of the kind of people my folks were when they were in college, got married, and then started ministering together. Its an emotional journey for me, but its inspiring, largely because they seem such unlikely candidates for heading up an ecumenical charismatic non profit spread out across three states helping homeless and poor people and utilizing television and radio to spread the gospel. Their ministry grew sporadically and slowly, they never had enough finances to rest secure, and only enough to step out in faith in the next way. Now, close to forty years later my mother is gone and the work continues.
I find that inspiring because now that I’m grown and married with kids I see how easy it is to lose sight of what a miracle every day is when you have a routine. When you’re young all of life is an adventure. You have no idea what’s coming next. You don’t want to predict where you’ll be but you’re excited to see anything new happen. As I get older and I’ve lost my mother and grandpa and some good friends I start to wonder if all change is not loss. I know change is a good thing but I’m less eager for it. I know a bit about what more money and growth entails. I know a bit more about the costs involved in media exposure and public attention. But I have also experienced God’s faithfulness, clear answers to prayer, and miracles big and small. Like my parents I have an expectation that when I align myself with God’s Narrative of time and history that there is real Hope. Hope is being on the way, not content to stay put because what God gives is truly good. In this life we are promised struggle, opposition and persecution. We also get misguided praise, personality worshipers and people along for the ride doing the right things for what later prove to be the wrong reasons. All in all the final truth is that there is no way to be in control in this life. It’s hard wired into us to try to be in control as much as possible, and to get frustrated when our efforts fail.
But to follow Jesus is to know that taking up your cross means you’re not in control! This whole idea of carrying the cross alone because I have to just like Jesus is silly. What is a cross for God’s sake? It’s a cruel form of execution. Who put’s themselves on a cross? Nobody. The thing we can’t seem to wrap our heads around is that the God of the Universe became incarnate and then let Himself be cruelly executed by the state like a common criminal. The only thing more insane than that would be that that God would call us to that same sort of powerless vulnerability. Even worse, Jesus gave this impossible commission that we preach to all the world to do the same thing! Whoa!!! Surrendering control seems downright unChristian. Where’s the part about Jesus wanting to make me into a better person who can then make a better world by being nice to everybody? I hope you “catch my drift” here.
What makes a theology of the cross possible in any sense is the understanding that God is for humanity to the point of kenosis, self-emptying, and that that self-emptying is a sign of God’s faithfulness, that even death itself does not annihilate Hope. Someone might argue that it was easy for God to empty himself only to be raised again later. He might say further that such posturing is not truly an example to us humans. I heard that line of reasoning all the time growing up among fellow church kids. “Of course Jesus resisted the devil’s temptation, he was perfect!”
There’s an endless loop in that reasoning, and an inherent refusal to see God as part of His creation. As a follower of Jesus I believe God has never left the world alone. I believe that God is present in all of life’s cruel and miraculous reality, and that we are not alone and forgotten. My life’s meaning, my story is one that I share with all those who have God’s promises.
A further note about the sign I made dad. Those words Dwelling, Place, Home, Healing, and Permanence, are descriptive words in faith. Its hard to think of home as permanent when your mom dies while you’re young. It’s hard to dwell in a house where the residents are at odds or are not truly present when they’re there because they’re on the phone or watching TV or are planning on being elsewhere in the coming moments. It’s hard to think of home in terms of healing especially when we all know that some of our worst emotional wounds have been inflicted there, by people who love us and whom we love. Home is the stuff of dreams in this life. It is what I hope for, what I try to make, and yet what I know I fail to give and receive. Home is where God is. It’s where relationships happen. It’s where foundations are built and virtues are fostered. I want that.