Resurrection

iphigenia

We
are coddled.

She
watched her husband and several children
hacked to death with a machete.

She grieves.
Her remaining children are fatherless
missing limbs
also by machete
a living “lesson” from the perpetrators to never forget
that this could happen again.

Yet instead of nurturing vengeance
instead of nurturing bitterness
she looks the murderers and maimers in the eye
and says,
I forgive you.
You have shattered my life, but you will not shatter my spirit.”

She is able to say this, and believe this,
because she received a gift from the church.
The gift of truth and reconciliation.
A process that brings deep awareness of hurt and injustice,
yet extends the transformative power of forgiveness.
A real power that takes the tattered pieces of a fractured reality,
and makes hope rise again.

Yet here in America,
we are coddled.

We have conversations about hypothetical scenarios
of robbers who come to steal possessions, and maybe life.
We have constitutional amendments that justify our beliefs
about what we would do to those perpetrators.

We don’t believe in forgiveness.
We don’t believe in hope rising from the ashes of death.
We don’t believe in resurrection.

We do not receive the gift from the church
of truth and reconciliation.

We baptize our hatred,
we baptize our justifications
we marginalize the teachings of Jesus,
we call our beliefs and justifications
Christian.

Yet,
try as we might,
marginalize as we do,
stories like hers never go away.

They bubble up from seemingly hidden places,
searing stories of a Christianity
that is not defanged, declawed, spiritualized into oblivion;
unlike ours, her Christianity looks a lot like Jesus.

Giving
Loving
Judging
Forgiving
Weeping
Transforming.

We are coddled, lost.

We can be Christian again.

It is not hopeless.

God resurrected Jesus.

God can resurrect us.

I hope

The other night one of Hannah’s neighbors
couldn’t seem to settle down.
He had a keening, inconsolable kind of cry
that seemed desperate, almost.
I asked our nurse about that child.
“Drug dependent baby,” she said.
“We do our best to hold them,
but it sometimes will go on for hours.
Over the weekend we had eight.”
Her voice and face clearly displayed a certain kind of resignation,
the resignation borne of hundreds of such babies a year.
I may be reading into her words, but I suspect
she may be tempted to see a certain futility in her work at times.

I felt a raw kind of anger after hearing this.
When you do everything you can
together
to protect your developing child,
and everyone is still plunged into an extended crisis
that crushes you and forces you to radically alter your life,
you wish and hope to see the same kind of parents in the NICU.

Walking past one another,
sharing each other’s burdens
in that brief knowing smile, nod, or wave.
Weary eyes giving a window into a stressed, harried existence.

NICU parents know every moment means something.
One moment, your child seems fine,
and spending time with her lifts the heavy fog,
and even for a bit
you can breathe a little easier, sleep with more peace.

But in the next moment,
the bottom drops out,
and you spend half the day weeping, pleading,
leaving an opaque smear of snot and tears
on the plastic cover that your daughter is enclosed in.
You feel utterly helpless,
in free fall,
desperately seeking to find something
ANYTHING
to find some measure of stability.

The other parents walk past to their child,
and look over with pain,
your pain forcing them back into their trauma
that came a month, a week, a day, ago,
or continues.

Thank God, we have made it out of the worst of the trauma,
the days of catastrophe somehow blending into better days,
and Hannah growing, growing, growing.

Others have not experienced this hope realized.
 
We have sat in this room,
with sudden bright lights blooming beside us
a sea of blue shirts swarming around a newly arrived bed
an organized chaos of activity.

The father often stands at the edge of the chaos,
like I did,
looking adrift on a sea of emasculating pain and insignificance,
helpless to do anything other than pray, wish, or hope for the best.

Several hours later, the mother is wheeled down in her bed or wheelchair.
With dark circles under her eyes.
Exhaustion palpable,
she lifts her hand to enclose her child’s tiny hand,
realizing that even that sacred moment
represents a dream shattered.

The due date arriving.
The excited, tired call to the midwife.
The soothing music, the warm water of the tub.
The redemptive pain of labor.
The joy of the first sight of your child.
Holding your child close to your breast.
Establishing the bond in that quiet that only will deepen.

No, the mother holds her child’s hand because that is all she can do,
that small hand somehow anchoring her and giving her hope
that even amongst the shattered dream from before,
another dream can emerge.

 For some, that dream ends.
The bustle of medical staff lessens to a trickle.
The doctor consults the family,
the chaplain rests a hand on a quivering shoulder,
the lights dim.
Tomorrow, that bed is empty,
the parents gone.
The eerie bare mattress ready for another emergency.

The emptiness there draws us into prayer,
for God to join the father and mother
in their unspeakable pain,
in their accumulated dreams and hopes
that must now be laid to rest.
One day those hopes will arise again,
now tinged with anxieties that were absent the first time around.
“May they find life continuing next time,” we pray.
 
And so, here,
this nurse tells me of these dependency babies
and their desperate cries
created by open and destructive disregard for the dignity of their lives.

Jesus chastens my desire to condemn these people
most of the time.
He does not permit me to see myself as a different class than them,
as decisions I consciously make represent a different shade of the same darkness.
Yet the sight of their beautiful child
that has somehow emerged out of the witches’ brew of substances
to be here with us, crying out for solace,
fills me with rage.

Nurses see this same disregard, and serve and care for these children,
and their mothers,
every single day,
They bear witness to a unique kind of enemy love
that desires to destroy that parent
to put them through the pain
and drawn-out suffering their child is experiencing.

But no, the nurses hunker down at that bedside,
holding the child for countless hours by the time they leave.
Investing in a life that they must eventually give back
to the person whose disregard and depravity put the child there in the first place,
and in so doing setting an example for the rest of us to invest in life
whether our energy is wasted, dismissed, spat upon, or not.
I have one word for those nurses, whether they do it with pure motives or not;
Respect.

I hope that in some small way,
we function in some form of a healing role
in the lives of these nurses.
I hope in our soft touches, holds, and giggles with Hannah,
our inquisitive questions and desire to learn,
“Is this right?” “Is this ok?” “Is this fine?”
our concerned faces and questions about their lives we come to know too,
the nurses see something that reminds them why they entered this field,
this holy vocation of care.

I hope this.
Desperately sometimes.

I want to know that something redemptive is coming forth
in addition to our precious daughter’s life that we care so deeply about.
Something that swallows up the tempting (or testing?) whisper
that Hannah suffers because we weren’t enough,
weren’t intentional enough, healthy enough, complete enough, or whatever enough.
The tears shed most often in private,
looking back over and over and over again.
Wondering.

I hope.

The Loving Bandit

Moses the Black was such an unruly slave that his Egyptian owner, who couldn’t control him, sent him away. About the year 400, the banished Moses went to a desert region where he lived as an outlaw. Being a strong leader, he soon attracted 70 other bandits to his gang. Their killing and robbery terrorized everyone in the area and any travelers passing by.

Moses was huge. Rumor had it he could eat a whole sheep and drink a whole jar of wine at a time. Besides food, he liked women and killing people.

However, Moses the Black sometimes wondered about God. He would look at the sun and say, “Oh, Sun, if you are God, tell me. I don’t know you, God. Show yourself to me.”

One day as he prayed this way, a voice told him, “Go to the desert of Wadi Natrun. The holy men there will tell you about God.”

The monks at Wadi Natrun were afraid at first when they saw this huge man with his sword, but they began to teach him. Moses learned eagerly and happily and soon was baptized. He lived in a cell alone, near the other monks, and tried to make up for his many past sins by living a good life. He changed so much that the other 500 brothers chose him to be their leader and he became a priest.

As Moses was talking to his monks one day, some people passing by mocked him and spoke many abusive words about him. Moses said nothing.

Later, the monks asked him, “Weren’t you bothered by what those people said?”

“Yes, I was,” answered Moses. “But a true follower of Christ needs to learn to be calm in his body and calm in his soul. When someone is mocked and yet controls his tongue, he has a calm body. When the one who is abused doesn’t even feel anger, then he has a calm soul.”

Once a brother was found guilty of a serious sin. The others, who were gathering to judge him and to decide on his punishment, sent word to Moses to join them.

When they saw him walking toward them, he was carrying on his back an old heavy basket filled with sand. “What are you doing? What in the world is that?” they called to him. Moses answered, “If I’m coming to judge another, I need to remember how heavy my own sins were, even though I no longer bear them.”

With this example and reminder, the monks forgave their guilty brother and told him to go and sin no more.

A beautiful story from They Loved their Enemies, stories assembled by Marian Hostetler, pgs 25-26

The practice of forgiveness

Our Vineyard Central church community is gathering this afternoon for worship, prayer, and fellowship. Through Lent, we are dwelling in Psalm 22 and a “word” of Jesus from the cross to guide our worship. One brother, Greg York, will be reflecting today on the Psalm and Jesus’ word “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

In preparing my spirit for our time together, as I’ve traveled to and from work this week on the bicycle, I’ve tried to be mindful of that word of Jesus.

“Today you will be with me in paradise.”

I have let it repeat over and over in my mind. I have spoken it out loud. I have said it in cadence with the circular strokes of my pedaling. As the phrase has settled in my spirit, I have been impressed at the core commitment it displays. Radical forgiveness.

The context of the “word” is the interactions of two dying men being crucified with Jesus. One mocks him, and the other defends him. In response to the basic defense of the one (being “rightly” executed for being a violent threat to the Roman regime), Jesus, in the midst of his intense physical and emotional pain, reaches out in forgiveness to the man. Without making a statement on the man’s depravity, Jesus draws the man into an embrace that will transcend the death they both are about to experience. What a gift!

This reminded me of a story I had heard awhile ago that illustrated the powerful embrace of forgiveness. The story was first told to psychologist Jack Kornfield by the director of a nearby rehabilitation program for violent juvenile offenders.

One 14-year-old boy in the program had shot and killed an innocent teenager to prove himself to his gang. At the trial, the victim’s mother sat impassively silent until the end, when the youth was convicted of the killing. After the verdict was announced, she stood up slowly and stared directly at him and stated, “I’m going to kill you.” Then the youth was taken away to serve several years in the juvenile facility.

After the first half-year the mother of the slain child went to visit his killer. He had been living on the streets before the killing, and she was the only visitor (in jail) he’d had. For a time they talked, and when she left she gave him some money for cigarettes. Then she started step-by-step to visit him more regularly, bringing food and small gifts.

Near the end of his three-year sentence, she asked him what he would be doing when he got out. He was confused and very uncertain, so she offered to help set him up with a job at a friend’s company. Then she inquired about where he would live, and since he had no family to return to, she offered him temporary use of the spare room in her home. For eight months he lived there, ate her food, and worked at the job.

Then one evening she called him into the living room to talk. She sat down opposite him and waited. Then she started, “Do you remember in the courtroom when I said I was going to kill you?” “I sure do,” he replied. “I’ll never forget that moment.” “Well, I did it,” she went on. “I did not want the boy who could kill my son for no reason to remain alive on this earth. I wanted him to die. That’s why I started to visit you and bring you things. That’s why I got you the job and let you live here in my house. That’s how I set about changing you. And that old boy, he’s gone. So now I want to ask you, since my son is gone, and that killer is gone, if you’ll stay here. I’ve got room and I’d like to adopt you if you let me.” And she became the mother he never had.

This story reminds me that forgiveness is not an emotional decision, where one must emotionally feel at peace before forgiving someone we believe has wronged us and/or others. Forgiveness is a posture toward others that transcends our emotion. We make a decision, which establishes firmly within us that our emotions will not rule us. We let our decision lead us. The emotions catch up later. May I pursue such a commitment.