We have all watched, read, and maybe even felt within ourselves today courage. It is not only a scary time of reckoning in our country, in our Church, and in our families; it is also a time where immense bravery … Continue reading
Is what the Life and Deaths
There have been times in life that make us feel courageous, that we are courageous people, perhaps by the grace of God but also perhaps by our own virtue.
These are rarely the times of true courage.
It seems that true courage, or the next courage, feels crappy. It is not when the mission is utterly clear, when the sacrifices are distinct, and the rewards are quick to the tongue. Sure we were exhausted, sure those were good callings and brave steps, but we were comforted by many assurances that this new courage may leave behind. I suspect that true courage is found in its purest form in the ambiguity, in the dry mouth of shock and the straining eyes of “what is next?”
In and around me, I see the battle cries. The ones dismissing people from faith, from understanding Scripture, from their circle of trust, because it’s all too foreign. The ones setting a church over another, handing out excommunication slips with the slip of the tongue, freely and full of pity. The ones buckled to a certain position on a temporal issue, that is of course higher in the heavenly rungs of Babel than the next. I hear the scraping of lines being drawn, in the sand, on the cement, in people’s flesh and blood, raw with passion, rightness and self-aggrandizement. And blood, blood, is everywhere. Under a shoddy understanding of courage and conviction, we enclose ourselves in echo chambers that murder any shred of a will we had to understand and be curious about the Other. And I can’t find eternity and I don’t know a Divine voice.
I have been in the debates. I have defended my view, easily attacked the opposing side, dismissed a fellow Christian, felt full of my own rightness and bravery, thought my choices were all probably going to trump theirs whenever the scoring took place. I care very much about many of the “issues” at hand and many of the rights and wrongs worrying the Church today. But I have lost the courage I knew before—the courage that emboldened me to argue much, for long, in the face of the echo chambers. I have gone through enough (dare I hope?) disappointment the past two years to have to face a different type of courage I must learn. For me, it is one that requires more faith, more silence, and less stability.
This courage is less rewarding. It is a grueling morning of dragging one’s body awake, into the naked air, squinting at the abrasive, unrelenting Light, and slowly, resigned and resolute, adding “well” to the “it is” of the night before.
This is the new, next courage.
A courage that is craved and imitated poorly.
From the looks of it, this courage is less likely to call a person an enemy and less likely to be productive in the ways I’ve practiced. It seems that this courage is going to ask me more about Forgiveness and less about Rightness. It may mean the death of some discussions and the start of better ones. It’s going to scoot my actions and activism to the side, not to expire them but to bleed out the toxins of loyalty to any one culture above one Kingdom.
And in this new courage, I recognize that old friend grace—that soulful desire for embrace and being embraced continues, a metaphor Miroslav Volf explains by “the will to give ourselves to others and ‘welcome’ them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, prior to any judgment about others except that of identifying them in their humanity.” And speaking of identity, this courage does not rest in any resumé entries, from schooling to fostering to missionarying to mothering to developing. It just is. Alone. Without promises, untethered by the things to which I like to tether.
Perhaps you too are deflated from the night, from the pile of “it is”-s of the past. All of those debates and deaths and doings that have left us undone. And daylight is awakening a profound discontentment. If this courage makes sense in your new year too, if the morning is also brash and there are a lot of untethering things, not least of all your self, that you’re wanting the Divine to make well, let’s ask together, “What is courageous in this place? What deaths and no’s or new-life yesses does a new-courage faith ask?”
“Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Philippians 1:18b-20
Quote from Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, p. 29.
There are definitive periods in one’s life that are not recognizable as such except through the blissful lens of hindsight. In the midst, those periods are achy and low. It seems that God has not gone before us here, no, and it is hard to find Him in and behind us too. It seems that calamity is near but well-being can be just around the corner.
In the middle of high school I went through a time that is now a shadowy slideshow of scenes with a bluesy soundtrack of loss. It was a time when limitations of trust and relationship came out in full light and in my partial, adolescent immaturity I groped for answers and outlets. I was carried away at times with the feelings of grief and injustice. I hurt for my family and I wanted to run or punch or both. I felt that if given the opportunity, I could bring people to their right mind. My faith went through an earthquake that ultimately strengthened it as its temporary, beloved scaffolding was shed. Running and punching were not my options. My options were to go to school. To grieve with my family. To realize that I was thousands of miles away and about forty years apart from the problems and that resolution was not my battle. My options were to reject and resent the family of God or to examine my loyalties and consider a servant Messiah and His broken bride anew. God was gracious to me in the following months and years. It turned out that that was a definitive period of my life and my realistic, still-imperfect love for the Church is partly rooted in this dark soil.
This morning in church our growing group poured over Ephesians 4:11-16 in two languages. It was a sweet and awkward time, as church often is here, of questions, stories, translation, resolutions and ideas. Offering in the best sense. It was exercising the body as we spoke about it–the five parts of ministry that reinforce one another and keep the Whole from chasing every new idea and breaking its own growth plates. We, the ligaments and joints–every working part–are not the muscle, nor the head. We are the stretching, the giving, the connecting pieces.
My turn-of-the-millenium-emotional-self does not seem so strange or far whenever I encounter difficulty with the family of God. The threat of being “tossed” and “carried about” from verse 14 and from high school are easily recalled whenever being a part of the Church is again, especially hard. In these times it is easy to fully turn my attention to the F of my Myers-Briggs personality type before I consider the body of Christ and where I am in that. It is easy to feel alone and feel justified and feel angry. To use Nouwen’s phrase, I am forced to face (again) my “unadorned self,” with few answers, credentials and safeguards.
The thing about being joints and ligaments is that you are never alone. Even when you feel like you are or you would really like to be. You cannot actually remove yourself or your family or protect yourself or only think about yourself when there is pain in this body. A couple weeks ago I had intense back pain and it took me a few days to realize that actually, one of my left ribs was hurt. The rest of my body had adjusted and was experiencing injury because of its connection to the hurt rib. Likewise, pain spreads. Injuries hide behind other injuries.
I sense I may be in another definitive period. And I would really prefer not to be.
I would prefer a long period of rest and disengagement after Guatemalan fleas and fungal infections. I would prefer to be left to my piles of laundry without those nagging concerns about unity and conflict. It would be easier to run or punch and I would prefer that God immediately show me HOW He is before me and WHERE He is behind me. I would prefer to know when the corner is coming.
It would be easier to forget that if someone injures me or someone I love, it is usually because of an injury that they are carrying. And they are part of my body. Their health is an ingredient to my growth. I cannot find Christ apart from His body, even on the days that the body seems full of arthritis and complaint. We do not get trade-ins and exchanges in this rusty Church. Thank God, as I am still here.
Lord, I am so sluggish in these places. Please help me have compassion and calm so I can offer them to others. Thank you for this, whatever it will be.
“I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places. I am the Lord and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west that there is none besides me. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.” – From Isaiah 42
“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Eph. 4:15-16