When my girls were small, I had magical healing powers. I could kiss a scrape or bandage a cut and presto! It would be “all better.” They would smile and go back to playing. Today, these girls are young women, and I no longer have that power. They spend their days working hard in places far from home, and when they hurt they’re on their own. They’re old enough to know that kisses do not work long distance, only in person.
I’m grateful that my girls know that Christ can be such a person, thanks to Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, mentors and pastors. Thank goodness, because the world my kids navigate is very different from the one I grew up in. It’s different, even, than the one they knew as children. Today, it seems, there is more shouting and posturing, more blatant hatred and prejudice, and more evident disrespect for persons and planet on a global scale. Nearly everywhere there is rubble, covered in dust.
This is the world my children have inherited from me, and the world I receive today in news, navigation and neighborhood. So many dusty images flood my mind, of collapse and heartbreak, earthquake and explosion, fire and flood, with medics and rescue personnel searching desperately for survivors.
In Mexico City recently, the collapse of buildings brought rescue efforts to the scene of a school. Oh children, especially children — the weakest, youngest and most promising among us — bid us to pause… hoping, waiting, listening, praying.
How in the midst of all of our commotion can we hear a tiny cry, barely a breath? But when together we pause and a hush falls, we do hear it. Then suddenly there is furious digging, hand to hand and shoulder to shoulder, cobbling through earth and stone and rubble to reach the tiny one before it’s too late.
Shovelfuls of earth yield to hands which brush away dirt and debris as the small, still form is lifted to safety. Silence doesn’t dare hope. But suddenly, there are shouts: “The child is alive!” Oh, such cheering and joy must reach through tear-stained cheeks to the very ears of God. Out of the dust there is life.
Hope is there when brother acknowledges brother, father welcomes son, and foe becomes friend. When we all gather with one cause, one intention, and one mission, our hopes are realized. We do this for our children, for all children.
“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Isaiah 58:12)
The business of rebuilding the ancient foundations falls to us. We will be called repairer of broken walls, restorer of streets with dwellings. Dwellings where our children can raise their children, with loving care tendered to kiss scraped knees, and all children can play together.
Lord, thank you for the resilience and tenacity of children. Help us to love them well by providing sturdy support and a firm foundation on which they can build.
This is what we ask ourselves when events like the recent crash of the German passenger plane happen. Or bombings at a marathon finish line. Or shootings at numerous schools. Or museums. Or places of worship.
We are faulty, we humans. But are we at fault? Can we help ourselves?
A pastor friend once remarked, the line between good and evil is drawn straight through every human heart. Yes, I feel this potential in me. Perhaps that’s why these atrocities hit “home.” Because I can see the possibility alive in me to do what I know I should not do, perhaps in a way that is permanently destructive. In this temptation toward evil, I must continuously choose good.
What if our mind is confused about which one is which? What if the truth is so veiled that all we see is evil and it is masquerading as good?
I am told — and the Bible says — that Jesus died to save me from my sin. That I can come near the One who is completely Good because the separation between us, the cleft of sin, has been banished. But what of my heart – the one I so very well know – that is part good and part evil? How can I turn from my own faulty choice to God’s will?
The truth is, anything that turns me away from the Absolute Good is evil for me. That turning is different for each of us, because different temptations beckon. Absent this awareness and I am the pilot. I am the bomber. I am the shooter.
While none of us alive today heard Jesus speak when He walked the earth, His death and risen life made way for the Spirit of Christ to open our ears to the divine command, “This is my Son whom I have chosen. Listen to Him!”
Lord, quiet the clamor which shouts you down and the internal chatter which drowns you out. Help me to listen closely and only to You. Amen.
There’s no more need for the narrative…they say. They, being CNN Opinion writer Douglas Rushkoff. “It’s a quaint structure that went out with the industrial age and the moon shot. We live in a state of present shock.”
In the aftermath of breaking news every moment with the Boston tragedy, all of us hanging on every pixel of our computers, I am hard-pressed to disagree. That, even as I work on my narrative, a story with a problem to be resolved which changes the main character for the better.
Books are so old fashioned, Rushkoff contends. Beginning-middle-end is just not how we live. As he cleverly puts the battle against terrorism, “We can’t stick a flag in it and call it won.”
His message: Things are no longer conquests with clear endpoints; they’re more steady state concerns. Let’s be about the dealing with the now. In real time. Don’t bother yourself with history or strategy. Victory is just not an option. He concludes, “Life goes on.”
Does this bother anyone else but me? That life is just a skating rink where I go round and round, waiting till my balance fails me and I slip and fall? I think I am worth more than that to God. And to my family, friends and neighbors. I think I am part of a much larger narrative, so large in fact that from my tiny vantage point I can’t see the way forward. Perhaps I can just see the ice oval.
And there is no question, it’s slippery.
It’s that very characteristic of life, its danger and risk, that causes me to grapple with the narrative. What is the story that sheds light and meaning for me? What helps me keep my balance?
The question reminds me of an encounter a good friend Barbara told me about during her recent business excursion to Beijing. She befriended a young woman who knew Barbara to be a Christian and the woman asked her, “How do you know your faith is not a fairy tale?” Barbara was hard-pressed to answer that for a woman with no Bible and no experience with Christianity. The Biblical narrative is a story lived and recorded many centuries ago. The question was valid: How can we know it’s true? How can we count on the truth it offers?
Barbara told me she shared with this woman the assurance she now has looking back on her life and seeing all the ways God directed events to head her toward Him. I know this is true for Barbara, but I wonder how helpful the “looking back” testimony is to people of today. Who live in present shock. Their perspective is present tense. Literally. It probably rings just as hollow as telling the bombing victims “it will all be okay.” Their need is now.
That’s where I realize how much I count on the narrative. The knowing that the story has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning and the end have already been written. We’re living in the middle. But I don’t think we’re mired in the middle. Steady-state just has that feel to it. Cause and effect, cause and effect, everything a stimulus and a response to maintain the status quo. A maintenance of the civil and the responsible and the healthy. Guess that makes us all maintenance workers.
As a scientist I know this pattern as homeostasis. It’s the miraculous design of our bodies to live and breathe and grow and survive. It doesn’t always succeed. Unguided or random stimulus like cancer may spiral it into dishealth and illness. It is easy to see the impact. But let’s not miss the flip side. Guided, directed, proportional stimulus can send it exactly in the other direction. We call this growth.
Stimulus is a constant. But I find it miraculous that we were designed to withstand it, even to grow from it, almost as if our Designer knew what was coming. Having a healthy narrative that guides our response is a recipe for survival. Mr. Rushkoff, that is life. In the end I have the hope that I may look back and see it. From the middle I am now in, it looks and feels slippery and very much the oval. But when in a moment of balance and beautiful glide, however temporary, I allow myself to look back on the places I’ve been saved from myself, my confidence is renewed. There is assurance. My story has a purpose; my life is worth that much.
Call me old-fashioned. I’m choosing the narrative. Makes much better telling.