[I left this comment on a very good post on Halden’s blog — see here — but nobody seems to be talking about much over there and I’m curious to hear what others think of this idea, so I’m reposting it here (I also felt like it said some things I have been wanting to put into words for awhile).  Feel free to disagree… or not.]
It seems to me that you trying to look but taking back what you see at the same time. While trying to confront the severity of hope, it seems as though you still end up blunting the confrontation in a number of ways. Of course, that’s how things used to be for me as well, when I first started encountering the context of hopelessness and godforsakenness. Spend some more time there (if I may be so bold as to presume to speak this way) and this is what you will find:
Hope will stop crying out. Hope will stop dancing. Hope will not be appeased by any word or Word. The context of hopelessness and godforsakenness can cut out your tongue, cut off your feet, and make you deaf.
In the end, hope is simply the decision to remain alive. To not kill one’s self. That’s all.
No matter how a person chooses to stay alive (with the assistance of drugs or alcohol, by lashing out at others, by slashing his or her own body, etc.), all of these lives are the embodiment of hope, precisely in the way that they are lived, for as long as a person chooses not to die.
Some say that “where there’s life there’s hope” and take that to mean that things could be better, things could change, God could intervene, you never know what might happen… I take it to mean that choosing to remain alive, in one’s unchanging circumstances, and not choosing Death, is the most audacious act of hope there is.

Why Your Child Might be Better Off Watching TV

Unlike most other kids I knew, I wasn’t a really active child.  Partly due to my overly shy personality and partly due to the severe restrictions imposed by my parents (which, of course, contributed in a lot of ways to my shyness), I didn’t spend a lot of time running around outside or playing with friends.  Instead, I spent a lot of time reading.  I would lose myself in books for days at a time (in Junior High, for example, I finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy in three days).
I was thinking about this a week or so ago, when I was feeling lethargic and decided to try and compile a list of all the books I remember reading (thankfully, I started keeping a record of that some years ago).  As I looked over that list, especially the fiction section, I could see how various authors and genres were fairly representative of different stages in my life.  Upon further reflection, I realized that the books I read as a child completely misled me about what I might expect from life.  Everybody talks about how great it is for a child to become a lover of books… but I’m not so convinced.
When I was young, I read a lot of adventure-style books — books by authors like Tolkien, Howard Pyle, Sir Walter Scott, Alexander Dumas, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, and even Henryck Sienkiewicz.  On top of that, the “non-fiction” books I was reading at that time were a lot of stories about Christian missionaries or martyrs — things like The Cross and the Switchblade and Run, Baby, Run or Through Gates of Splendor or God’s Smuggler.  Truth be told, there was a lot of overlap between that which was presented as “fiction” and that which was presented as “non-fiction.”  Add regular devotional readings of the Bible to that mix and, voila, one ends up receiving a wildly inaccurate picture of what life would be like.
I thought life was going to be thrilling — full of mystery and beauty and excitement and miracles.  A swirl of passions and trials (that would always be exciting to experience even though they would be hard).  Despite everything, love would overcome fear, virtue would triumph over power, God would intervene, and we would all be healed and liberated to pursue abundant life together.
Jesus.  Talk about setting somebody up for disappointment.  Not to say that there is no mystery or beauty or passion in life.  It’s just, well, it’s just that there are a helluva lot of other things that are tedious and boring and painful (not in the large dramatic ways, but in the ways that poke at you day after day after day).  Nobody is ever as great as you expect them to be, everybody will let you down, death tends to win more often than life, almost nobody gives a damn, and those who do are only capable of sustaining that for a set amount of time before they also burn out or blow up.  Sheeyit, man.  Maybe I would have been better off watching TV.

For the Bear

Over the last few years, I had someone lovely and unexpected come into my life — I nicknamed him ‘the Bear’.  There have been several rough patches during these years and always the Bear was there for me.  At my lowest moments, he would come and sit silently with me… just letting me know I was loved.  When I broke my ankle, he would help me to and from the bathroom.  When I was returning from a long and stressful day at work, he would often meet me afterwards with joy and affection.  When my wife was away visiting family, he always helped me pass the time.
I told him everything; we played, we fought, we laughed, we cried.  Through it all, all he ever asked was to love and to be loved.
Then about two weeks ago, the Bear started getting sick.  He got worse and worse, and late one night last week, I had to rush him to the emergency hospital because he was in a lot of pain.  I wasn’t sure what would happen, but I knew I wanted to be there for him… after everything he had helped me through, I was going to make sure that I was there for him to help him through.
But I couldn’t be there for him… and my friend died that night.  Before he passed away, I held him in my arms and cried so hard that no sound could come out.  I said goodbye, I said I loved him, I said I was sorry… and then he was gone.  I think the last pieces holding together my slowly breaking heart gave out that night.
So long, Bear, you were beautiful and full of love.  I’ll miss you buddy.  Life won’t be the same without you.

The Bear

Must it get worse? And if it must, what then?

And when the fascists lock the city down
And the riot police gather all around
Will we laugh, will we laugh, will we laugh?
That once we romanticized
And we practically fucking fantasized
About the downfall of a city

About the downfall of a country
About the downfall of a lifetime

~ Hawksley Workman, Ilfracombe
Lately, I’ve been thinking about Marxist and other Left-leaning criticisms of capitalism. A common theme within many of these criticisms, is that capitalism must get worse before our situation can get better. Stated in a little more detail, this assertion is based upon the observation that, although capitalism is already causing horrendous amounts of damage to people and places around the globe, that damage (and the unredeemable nature of the capitalist system which causes the damage) is not yet apparent, or directly and overtly experienced as violence by enough people. This then is a part of the reason why ‘the workers’ (certainly a contested category today!) have not yet thrown off their chains and risen up, en masse, to overthrow their masters.
Consequently, what you then find in some Marxist-inspired thinking, is the suggestion that we should accelerate the worsening of capitalism, rather than prematurely attempting to resist capitalism — for all too frequently our efforts to resist capitalism simply end up becoming a necessary part of the sustenance thereof (I believe that I have come across this idea in the writings of Jean Baudrillard and of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, although I may have forgotten some others who discuss it).
Now, what I have not seen is many (or any?) suggestions on how we actually go about participating in the worsening of capitalism. However, it seems to me that, in general, the notion that things must get worse before they can get better functions as something of an implicit justification of the affluence and privilege granted to ‘radical’ intellectuals. Thus, the radical thinker, the one who criticises capitalism and calls for its exorcism, is also able to be centred in places of power and comfort and enjoy all the benefits that capitalism has to offer.  Such a thought can be used to justify or even promote the passivity of the radical intellectual — ‘I am helping things get worse (by remaining in my place of power and privilege), that that things can get better’ and so on.
However, in actuality, it seems to me that this (rather common) line of thinking actually serves as a powerful justification for the violent actions performed by people like Timothy McVeigh or Mohamed Atta.
After all, Timothy McVeigh was a veteran of the first American invasion of Iraq.  Horrified by what he say — the senseless deaths of civilians, women and children — McVeigh tried to bring that horror closer to home so that America would realise that true nature of her acts, repent, and change her ways.  Surely this is a classic example of a person deliberately worsening a situation in order to try and improve it.  Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out the way McVeigh desired.
The same line of thinking applies to Mohamed Atta and the other hijackers involved in the events that occurred in the United States on September 11, 2001.  Again, we have a violent act performed on behalf of the oppressed, and performed against a powerful symbol of American imperial and economic power.  However — setting aside the fact that civilians were attacked (while duly noting that civilians are always attacked in wars, and are always the ones who suffer the most when any major military operations occur) — this attack has often been condemned, even by others who resist imperialism and economic brutality, because of the fruit which it bore.  Rather than causing America to withdraw its forces from military bases around the world (like those in Saudi Arabia), that events of September 11, 2001 caused America to increase her military presence around the world (and caused other brutal powers to do the same, using ‘the war on terror’ as a handy ideological tool to strike at old enemies and rivalries).
Therefore, many on the post-Marxist Left have eschewed this form of violent resistance precisely because it produces this sort of result.  Yet this strikes me as a fundamental inconsistency in their thinking.  If things must get worse before they get better, than it seems to me that this is exactly the sort of action that the Left should be encouraging.  Yes, there are brutal consequences to be suffered — especially by the poor and powerless — but the demon of capitalism must be drawn out of its hiding place and revealed in its full brutality before the people will rise up to overthrow it.  If things must get worse, before they get better, than we must race to the bottom so that we can rise to the top.
Now, thank God, I don’t actually agree with this way of thinking.  There are a few good historical reasons for rejecting this way of thinking: (1) looking back, I think that capitalism has shown us that is incredibly good at gaining strength as it worsens; and (2) looking forward, should some major crisis occur within capitalism — say the collapse of the global market — leading to the downfall of capitalism, the future seems to promise some sort of renewed feudalism or imperium, and not anything more hopeful or ideal than that which we had with capitalism.  Consequently, I think that when we commit to worsening a situation (in order to make things better in the future), the end result is actually just a worsened situation.  Full stop.  (This is why I included the lyrics from Hawksley Workman at the beginning of this post — we fantasize about the downfall of capitalism and its power brokers, but when that downfall occurs, we might still be in bondage to oppressive powers.)
A good example of how this works out is found in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s participation in the attempt to assassinate Hitler.  Bonhoeffer penitently committed to perform evil, with the hopes that good would come… but the plot failed and the result was that Hitler became even more certain that he was sheltered by divine protection.  Thus, rather then heeding the advice of his generals, backing off, and cutting German (and other) losses, Hitler pressed on to total devastation (as did the Allies, for example when they needlessly fire-bombed Dresden, not to mention the fire-bombing of Tokyo and other civilian targets in Japan… bit I digress).
Similarly, I believe that the cycle of violence is endless.  Violence, even when employed with good intentions, always begets more violence.  There is no hope for salvation found within that cycle.
What, then, are we to do?  If we are to heed the warning that our current efforts to ‘resist’ capitalism, simply end up affirming it (this, I think, is often a true criticism of both ‘counter-cultural’ and ‘charitable’ efforts) but if we are not to accelerate the worsening of capitalism, what options do we have?
I would say that we have two mutually complimentary options.  The first is to genuinely participate in the groanings of creation, and the cries of the oppressed.  In particular, we are to enter into those cries, so that we also know what it is that causes the poor to cry out, and we are then to direct those cries to heaven, so that God can hear our groanings, look upon our sufferings, remember his covenant with us, and come down to act on our behalf (cf. Ex 2.23-25 and what follows for an exposition of this).  Ultimately, our hopes for liberation — from capitalism, from its power brokers, and from all other historical powers operating in the service of Sin and of Death — are totally dependent upon the action of God.  So we cry out to God and we long for an apocalyptic event — the in-breaking of God’s Sprit of Life into history.
Second, I think that we heed the advice of Žižek  and, to the best of our abilities, attempt to embody, or bring about, the change that we seek — even now when that change is impossible.  This is not something we do  acritically.  We must be aware of the impotency of most traditional avenues of change (say voting), and of most traditional counter-cultural avenues of change (say protesting),  but our awareness of these things — and of our own hopelessness — should not prevent us from attempting to act creatively or from experimenting with new modes of resistance.   After all, these actions are a part  of our groanings — they are the embodiment thereof.  The function as something of a liturgical dance, putting action and motion and even some sort of beauty into the groans we can articulate in no other ways.  Or, to use another example, this is how we finger death, even as it kills us.
Perhaps, then, it is up to us to try and fail, until the time when God takes heed of us, of our brokenness and of all our failed efforts, and comes down to save us.  It is our role to fail so that those who come after us can taste the salvation of God.  Should we shirk this role, perhaps that salvation will not come.
Maranatha.  Our Lord, come.

On Brokenness

The other day, while reading Holy Fools: Following Jesus with Reckless Abandon by Matthew Woodley (a surprisingly delightful little book.. but more on that when I get to my August book reviews), I came to a realisation regarding how I have been approaching brokenness.
You see, I have been approaching brokenness as if it were something I was called to enter into.  You know, journeying into places of exile, trying to enter into solidarity with the poor and oppressed, that sort of thing.  Essentially, I was approaching Christianity as though it were something that leads us to enter into the brokenness that we find outside of ourselves.
Now this is all well and good — Christianity does call us to this — but the picture painted thus far is incomplete. I have been so focused on extrinsic elements of brokenness that I have neglected the intrinsic element.  I have forgotten to account for the brokenness that is inside of me.  This, then, is why I have been so rocked by my own failures and by the limitations that I have discovered within myself (most recently expressed here but also here).  I had accounted for cruciformity — wherein we begin to break with the brokenness we take on from those around us — but I had failed too account for the fallen state of my own humanity (which also groans, along with the cosmos and the Spirit, as it awaits the new creation of all thing).  Furthermore, by failing to account for this brokenness I have made the mistake of attempting to operate on my own strength; I am constantly pushing myself to do more, and am regularly on the brink of burn-out and total exhaustion.  (An amusing story to illustrate this point: I was talking with some of my co-workers and they were emphasising how all of the studies on social work talk about the significance of having a healthy social life outside of work.  In response, I stated that I do have a healthy social life… it’s just that all my friends happen to be street-involved and are constantly going through crises!).  The result of this is that I’m not always able to be there for friends in need, I get more grumpy with my wife, I lose touch with family members for long periods of time, as well as all the other failures I’ve listed in the posts to which I have linked.
Now here’s the quote from Woodley’s book that got me rethinking all of this:

I finally grasped a central principle of holy folly: strength in weakness.  God’s power flows into and then gushes out of human vulnerability.  It’s the principle of engaging our brokenness, running into it rather than fleeing it our denying it, but then finding true strength–God’s strength–smack in the middle of our brokenness.

That’s when the the light-bulb went off in my head (even though this point should be blatantly obvious to anybody who has any sort of familiarity with, oh, say the letters of Paul).  I’ve been spending so much time engaging the brokenness of others that I have been totally suppressing my own brokenness.  My exhaustion from work, my inability to always be there for others, my grumpiness with my wife, these are all elements of the brokenness I need to run into (and not run from).  It is precisely these areas wherein I need to discover God’s strength in my weakness.
Now, I don’t know what that means, or what exactly that will end up looking like, but I sure as hell am excited to find out.

On Failing (an aspect of the 'imago dei'?)

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
~ Samuel Beckett, Westward Ho.
For the last several months I have been coming up against many of my own limits, and many of the limits of the communities in which I participate.
Thus, on the personal level, after approximately ten years of going deeper and deeper into relationships with those ‘on the margins’ of society — from going out once a week handing out bag lunches to hosting sex workers in our home for weekly dinners, having wanted criminals sleep on our couch, being a 24/7 contact person for other friends struggling with addictions and suicide, and so on — I appear to have hit a wall of sorts and find that most of the time I’m just… well… tired. The result of this is that I neglect friendships that I have developed, I withdraw from the people and places around me, and I’m not always there for friends in crises — friends who often have nobody else to whom they can turn. Not surprisingly, this leaves me feeling frustrated with myself. I am trying to live a life that is other-focused… no wait… I tell myself that I am trying to live a life that is other-focused, yet I quickly come up against my own limits and I actually don’t seem able to break through them. Of course, this could simply be a stopping point along the way, perhaps as time passes, as I develop further disciplines, as I learn more of how to love (and be loved), I might be able to progress further down this road. For now, however, it is hard to be at this impasse.
On the communal level, I have twice tried, and failed, to establish an ‘intentional Christian community’ rooted in the inner-city. The first one I tried lasted for a year and an half and then fell apart. The second one fell apart before it even got off the ground. A third effort might be in the works, but everything is so vague and tentative that I’m not holding my breath. I lot of people like to talk about this sort of endeavour (after all, ‘new monasticism’ is an hot topic in Christian circles these days) but not a whole lot of people actually like to take the dive and commit to something serious or even a little bit daring. This especially frustrates me. It seems to me that — if the Church truly is possessed by the Spirit of life, and holds the potential to be an agent of new creation within our present world — a lot of my hopes depend upon the Church actually living as the Church. The problem is, I can’t seem to find this Church. Sure, some churches are taking good steps in this or that direction… but if I look for a community of disciples that looks anything like the community Jesus gathered (and the community reflected in Acts) I’m hard-pressed to come up with (m)any local examples. So, I look to the Church for salvation… but I’ve given up on holding my breath.
On another communal level, I have gotten to know the social services field fairly well over the last ten years, and have mostly found social service agencies to be amazing in their inability to live up to their inherent potential. It is sad, but no longer surprising, to discover how quickly agencies devolve into corporate entities more interested in building their own brand-status and meeting the expectations of their donors, rather than being entities that genuinely act in the interest of the people whom they claim to serve. What was surprising (at first) was the observation that this is so widespread in social service agencies. So, I’m not saying people should avoid this field (I work in it myself), I’m just saying that one shouldn’t be surprised if the largest obstacles one encounters in working with street-involved people, end up coming from the social service agencies themselves.
So, what am I left with? Personal failures, a failed Church, and failed social service agencies.
However, the only way I know how to respond to these many failures is by pressing on and continuing to fail. For some odd reason, although this failure is difficult, I don’t find it entirely unexpected. You see, that ‘odd reason’ is that both Jesus and Paul provide us with prototypes of our own Christian lives — and they, like so many other saints, were remarkable failures (and don’t even get me started on the prophets). Paul, despite his talk of living life in the power of the Spirit, and despite his desperate and pleading letters, seems to have failed to develop many communities that lived up to (or anywhere close to) his expectations. In fact, it seems like a lot of his communities got away from him. It wasn’t until after Paul’s death that his true impact was felt. In life, however, Paul was likely regarded by many — and perhaps even himself — as a failure (just take a read through 2 Corinthians, and you’ll see what I’m talking about).
Similarly, Jesus also failed. Despite his efforts to bring the good news to the people he loved, despite his efforts to unite the ‘healthy’ and the ‘sick’, the ‘righteous’ and the ‘sinners’, the ‘privileged’ with the ‘marginalised’, despite his efforts to show a ‘way of peace’ to a people heading down the road of self-destruction, he found that, by and large, people refused to listen, refused to act, refused to follow. And so he, too, died, forsaken by God, and abandoned by all except a few faithful women. Like Paul, his true impact wasn’t felt until after his death — because it was the resurrection that changed everything. It was the vindication of the Son of Man, that transformed a failed messianic pretender into the risen Lord.
But we can, perhaps, take things one step further. With a great deal of hesitation, could we not also argue that the history of God’s engagement with creation, is also an history of failure? Let’s sketch out some of the broader points:
(1) God creates a good and pleasing world and places the man and the woman in a good place… but this fails to work as intended, the man and the woman are expelled from the garden, and death enters the world;
(2) therefore, God becomes tired of watching death develop into murder and rapacious living and so he tries to start anew — flooding the world, so that only one righteous man, and his family, survive… but this fails as this man, Noah, goes astray, and once again things begin to fall apart;
(3) thus, noting that ‘final solutions’ don’t end up being so final, God decides to choose another two people — Abraham and Sarah — to parent a nation that is called to be a blessing to all the other nations of the world… but this also fails as this nation, Israel, goes astray and, rather then serving others, seeks to become like the others in power and domination;
(4) therefore, running out of options, God chooses to become flesh and become a member of this nation, so that their destiny can be fulfilled, and so that a new people, possessed by God’s own Spirit, can go forth and be agents of new creation in the world… but this Spirit-empowered people also ends up losing its way. And we find ourselves where we are today.
What is the history of God’s engagement with the world? Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
So, given that humanity is created in the image of God, perhaps this means that it is in our failing that we are most like God. What is our calling as Christians? Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Because, and here we find ourselves in the realm of mystery, I think that it might be through our failures that we come to the place where we triumph. Here, apart from the way in which this seems to be the model provided for us by Jesus and Paul (who, through a series of failures, end up overcoming far many than any expected or imagined), I am reminded of the words of Žižek. When speaking of previous (failed) revolutions, Žižek emphasises the fact that, if we wait for the revolution to arrive (so that we can join in), it will never arrive. Rather, he argues, the revolution only arrives after a series of failed attempts. Hence, Žižek argues, the revolutionary must have the patience of losing (the battles) in order to win (the final fight). Thus, he concludes:
These past defeats accumulate the utopian energy which will explode in the final battle: “maturation” is not waiting for “objective” circumstances to reach maturity, but the accumulation of defeats (cf. In Defense of Lost Causes, 392).
This is why Žižek continually cites the quotation from Beckett that has served as the conerstone of this post. I can only hope that what he says is true. Because if it is not… then what are we left with?

Acknowledging My Failure

If we wait for the ‘right moment’ to start a revolution, this moment will never come — we have to take the risk, and precipitate ourselves into revolutionary attempt, since it is only through a series of ‘premature’ attempts (and their failure) that that (subjective) conditions for the ‘right’ moment are created.
~ Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf, 133.
Nevertheless, of course, the cruciform Church will fail, and each of us who aspire to cruciformity will also fail — again and again. Even here, however, the cross is the answer. When we fail, we return to the cross, the symbol and means of forgiveness and reconciliation.
~ Michael Gorman, Cruciformity, 400.
The last six months have been quite difficult.
Just over a year ago, four of us came together to explore an alternate way of living, and we began an ‘intentional Christian community’ in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. I was quite thrilled with what happened in the first six months of our journey into life together — we developed a pattern of praying together; some of us started reading in the park as a way of getting know our neighbours; others of us started walking the streets at night, getting to know the working girls; we (occasionally) invited homeless people to sleep on our couches or in our rooms if some of us were away; we celebrated a ‘community dinner’ once a week that was open to friends, co-workers, people living in our neighbourhood, others who were passing through town, and, really, pretty much anybody (those dinners were delightful and we hosted anywhere from five to twenty-five people per week).
But then, about six months ago, everything started falling apart. One of us moved to Honduras to pursue a teaching job there, and nobody ended up coming to join us to fill the empty spot (it was an odd series of events, as multiple people appeared to be close to joining — or even committed to join — but then backed out at the last minute). Also, unresolved tensions and conflicts between community members piled up, and we realised we had invested too much energy early on into engaging ‘missionally’ with the people around us, instead of taking the time to invest in the relationships that needed to exist amongst the community members. So, we scaled back our ‘missional’ activity and began to spend more time with one another. An important step, but one that took us away from the people around us. Then I began to burn-out physically (I had been working full-time overnights shifts for about three years, while also doing my Masters). I was regularly so exhausted that I had no desire to go out into the community around us. Simultaneously, another community member became so involved in various other commitments that that member was hardly present in the house at all. Likewise, the third member began to burn-out emotionally. Consequently, our times of prayer became more sporadic and we lost our routine of praying together. Our community dinners also suffered and we went for about four or five months without hosting a single dinner. Instead, we found ourselves just inviting friends over for dinner or drinks, and we became something of the ‘host house’ for our friends — but not for people in our neighbourhood. Finally, a few weeks ago, we had a big house meeting to address a lot of these things and we started up our community dinner once again. However, the community is still far from what it could be, or even what it used to be.
Now granted, this community was not intended to be a long-term community. It was only supposed to last for about 18 months — although it looks like it will be drawing to a close in a little less time than that. Realistically, without a fourth member, the rent is too expensive for us to be able to stay here much longer, and we still have one member who is burned-out and another who, despite good intentions, has too many other commitments to be able to fully invest in the community here. Consequently, even though I finally got off of my night shifts a few weeks ago and find myself reinvigorated, I am bracing myself to say goodbye to this place and move into some sort of limbo state until my wife and I can figure out where we are going from here. To make matters worse, the people with whom my wife and I had planned to begin a long-term community, ended up backing out on us.
So, as I look back on the time in this community, I can’t help but feel saddened and ashamed. Saddened because we failed to be what we could have been. Ashamed because I think that many assume that we were what we were not. Whenever a person expresses any sort of admiration for what we do, I cannot help but feel like a poser and a hypocrite.
Of course, even in our lowest moments, there were still good things that happened. Even when we were failing to be a community, we were still there for a friend who needed a safe place to be to ‘come down’ after relapsing, and we were still there for another friend who needed a safe place to be after having a ‘bad date’. The shame of our failure becomes bearable when I remember such moments — but it does not change the fact that we have, by and large, failed to embody much of any sort of real alternate way of sharing life together.
Consequently, as I think about moving on from here (as we plan to do at the end of January/start of February ’08), I do get scared. The idea of moving from here to some sort of apartment (hopefully in this neighbourhood) with just my wife and I, scares me because it holds the potential to be a first step in a trajectory that travels in a very different direction than the way we hope to go. It makes me remember the many voices that have told me that what we hoped to do was a figment of a young and foolish imagination. It makes me worry that those voices were right.
However, there is hope. In our failure, we have learned a great deal about the ways in which a group of people should go about learning to journey together (i.e. we made a lot of mistakes, but such mistakes may prove to be quite useful for future attempts at intentional Christian living). Furthermore, limbo states can be fruitful. The wilderness — the place that intervenes between one’s departure point and one’s destination — although a place of trial and testing, is also a place where one encounters, and is nourished by, God. And so, as I brace myself for the wilderness that is looming on our horizon, I hold onto the hope there there is One who has gone before us, and prepared a way for us, through the dry places and beyond into the land that flows with milk and honey. Milk and honey not just for us, but for all who are hungry, for all who are thirsting, and for all who desperately need a community wherein they can be known as beloved children of God.
Lord, have mercy. On all of us.

this Something

I’m sure the T.V. sets will tell us when someone reinvents the wheel.
Till then I’ll have a million conversations about shit that isn’t real.
But I’ll try to breathe in meaning, dig deep through every gasp of air.
Cause I know you did the same thing, for as long as you could bear.

~ from “Reinvent the Wheel” by Conor Oberst
About a week ago, a young man that I knew obtained a day pass, a pass that permitted him to leave the psych ward of the hospital –- where he was being held and monitored –- and he went to visit a friend. While he was at that friend’s house, he hung himself and died.
This young man had been in “anguish” for a long time. I don’t know how else to describe what he was experiencing. Something in his mind was broken. Something was wrong; and, whatever that Something was, it tortured him. I don’t know when it first appeared -– maybe it came in and broke his mind when his family broke his heart, or maybe it came in and broke his mind when older men broke his body. Maybe that Something was always there and just got stronger and stronger with each new experience of brokenness, until it overwhelmed him.
I have encountered this Something before. I have seen it devour other lives. Indeed, tonight I sat and watched two other young people who are, literally, fighting for their lives against this Something.
What is this Something? It’s Plath’s “Bell Jar,” an invisible cage that suffocates whomever it surrounds. It is a darkness that enters through our wounds and fills us until all light, all hope, is lost. But it is also more than that. It is a Power in the service of Sin and of Death. It is one aspect of the demonic confronted by Jesus and by Paul (cf., for example, Mt 12.28; Eph 6.12).
And this Something is strong. It was stronger than this young man, and it was far stronger than anything we had to offer.
Supposedly such Powers were dethroned in the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, supposedly through the Spirit of New Life, we are equipped to proclaim the end of the reign of such Powers. But, as I watch my young friends sleep, I am far from confident that we will be victorious. The darkness is rising and they are suffocating.

Longings of a Disabled Person

There are some longings that I have not been able to satisfy or abandon. In a way, I carry these longings as a wound within me; they are a thread of brokenness, of sadness, that runs through me and, increasingly, even at the best of times, they are never too far below the surface. I suppose that one can only encounter so much brokenness before one ends up broken-hearted, broken-hearted and longing for the day when all wounds will be healed, all tears will be wiped away, and all things will be made new.*
Until that day, it seems as though we live in the midst of an irresolvable tension.
On the one hand, having seen God intervene and reach into the depths of brokenness (both my own and that of others), we live with the hope that any one of us can be transformed. I have seen God break in and enable people to overcome unimaginably awful events (I say, “unimaginably” because, unless one has gone through such events, one literally cannot imagine what that event is like), and so, as I journey alongside of people overwhelmed by the Powers of Sin and Death, I persevere because one never knows when, or to whom, God will appear. I have seen survivors of brutally violent sexual assaults (although that’s a bit redundant since all sexual assaults are brutally violent) be not only healed but made new in unimaginably incredible ways (for some traumas are so deep that it is not enough to be healed, one must become a new person in order to be set free), and I have seen crack addicts, addicts that were going to “die on the street,” get freed from their addictions. There is no brokenness so deep that God cannot make us new, here and now.
On the other hand, I have more frequently seen God fail to intervene. Recently I had to bring a kid to the hospital, and the “hospital smell” vividly reminded me of all the times I spent with my oldest brother in the hospital when I was younger. I still remember the night that I was sitting beside him as he lay in a hospital bed, his six foot frame wasted away to under 100 pounds, he was writhing and groaning with pain; I remember then how I stopped praying for God to make him better and started praying for God to “take him home” (an emergency surgery later that night saved his life and, although he is not “healed,” his life is “liveable” now… at least until the disease flairs up again). However, there are others I know who carry a form of pain that cannot be cured or appeased by any medical procedure. I think again of the many I have known who carry the ongoing wounds of sexual trauma: the bodily scars they keep covered, the nightmares that wake them at night, and the way in which such events fracture the world and make it a foreign, dark, and threatening place. And I also remember those who never came to see any healing. Pain ended up overwhelming them — I remember Becky jumping in front of a subway train, I remember Ruckus bleeding to death on a street corner, I remember Shaun overdosing in an alley.
And so my life is marked by a longing that is rarely satisfied. I live as one who is too weak to accomplish that for which I long. I cannot overcome the power of Addiction any more than I can physically cure my brother, or anymore than I can piece Becky’s shattered body back together. I live, in places of godforsakenness, as one who is disabled.
That might be the reason why the following quotation resonated so deeply with me. It comes from an article by Nancy L. Eiesland, herself a person with a disability, the author of The Disabled God: Toward a Liberation Theology of Disability. She writes:
I was reading Luke 24.36–39… “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them… They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see.’” …here was the resurrected Christ making good on the promise that God would be with us, embodied, as we are – disabled and divine… The foundation of Christian theology is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet seldom is the resurrected Christ recognised as a deity whose hands, feet, and side bear the marks of profound physical impairment. The resurrected Christ of Christian tradition is a disabled God.
God with us, disabled and divine; the resurrected Christ, marked with a profound physical impairment. Strange that such a thought should be so comforting. Strange that, to many who are suffering, a God of weakness becomes so much more meaningful than of God of absolute power (strange, perhaps, until we remember what Power has done to those who suffer). Is it enough to know that God is broken when we are broken? Is it enough to know that God weeps when we weep, bleeds when we bleed, dies when we die? No, it is not enough, but it is something. It means that we are not forgotten, and we are not alone. And if it is God who remembers us, if it God who is with us, than perhaps there will yet be a day when our longings are fulfilled.
Until that day, I live as one disabled, following a disabled God. Christ’s hands pierced, and my hands too impaired to heal the brokenness I encounter. Christ’s feet pierced, and my feet too impaired and slow to prevent the brokenness that precedes me. I am always too weak and too late. I cannot do enough. But, perhaps, I can still do something. I can remember, and I can be with others.
Sadly, such remembering often means remembering against the Church (as a member of the Church). Until the Church begins to remember and journey with the broken, those whom I remember — those like Becky, Ruckus, and Shaun — are remembered as a charge against the Church. What did you do, O Church, for those like Becky, Ruckus, and Shaun? Nothing. You don’t even have any memory of them. Thus, even as I remember them on your behalf, I also remember them against you.
*By speaking of these things, as I sometimes do on this blog, I am not seeking consolation or encouragement. I am simply recognising that this brokenness is a part of who I am and a part of the road laid out before me — and before any of us who are seeking to journey alongside of those who suffer in exile today.