Unexpected Answers

Unexpected Answers

accidental saints

I read a lot of books. I recommend books to friends I know would enjoy them. But I don’t write about books on this blog. Unless of course, I run across something that so rocks my world that I have to write about it. Last time that happened, it was The Shack. This time it was Accidental Saints: Finding God in All The Wrong People.

Ever read a book that you can’t put down? I’ve read a lot of those. A few years ago, I called out sick because I had quite literally stayed up all night to finish the Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest and still had 100 pages left when the sun came up. I couldn’t go anywhere until I knew what happened to Lisbeth Salander.

But now let me ask the question another way: Did you ever read a book that wouldn’t let go of you? Because in the last ten days I read one that pulled me in and wouldn’t let go. It wasn’t that long of a book but it took me ten days to read because, crazy as it sounds, I swear to you that book told me when to pick it up and when to put it down.

I mentioned in a previous post that I had read Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Pastrix during the Week of Guided Prayer over the summer. That book beat me up. It challenged me into a profession of faith that I felt not quite ready to make. Add the scripture readings into the mix and well, I came away from that week feeling very bruised. The image of a rosebush being pruned (or run over by a lawnmower, depending on your perspective) was the image of the week.

So maybe given how that week went, pre-ordering Pastor Nadia’s next book Accidental Saints was probably a little crazy. But it was okay because I wasn’t going to read it right away. I figured I’d save it for the long Thanksgiving weekend. I lasted all of about 2 hours after UPS dropped it off. Then I randomly read all of Chapter 8 in the laundromat and cried my eyes out. (Don’t worry – no spoilers here.)  But even reading a random chapter was enough. It grabbed me and pulled me in. As I read, I found myself facing all those things that had come up during the Week of Guided Prayer: trust, surrender, pruning and deeper healing. I read about “forgiving some jackass who I really want punch in the throat” and how much love and grace can sting. Being loved well stings – that is a perfect description of something that I’ve felt so deeply but could never manage to find the words for and to see it there in black and white in my hands dissolved me entirely.  For the second time in ten days I was sitting in the laundromat with a book in one hand and wiping away a stubbornly steady flood of tears with the other. The regulars there are probably beginning to wonder if I’m coming unhinged.

Deacon Ron always tells me to look for the recurring themes in my writings. Trust and surrender are not my strong points. Patience is a virtue. It isn’t one of mine. Read any three random posts on this blog and you’ll see those things pop up. What you might not find so easily are the themes I don’t write about as much. Being vulnerable.  Letting people love me. More specifically, not letting anyone close enough to love me.  It’s taken a long time to learn to open up again and even longer to accept that I had walled myself off from being hurt because I had been deeply hurt – actually I believe the term most often used by my therapist was brutalized, although try as he did, he could never get me to say that word out loud.

It was hard to type that sentence and if this seems a bit disjointed here it’s because I had to walk away to make a cup of tea and sit in the sunshine for awhile until all the ugly feelings that word brings up – weakness, powerlessness, shame, fear, embarrassment – had dissolved again.

For years there had been a lingering pain that I could never quite explain. I know why I flinch if someone touches me unexpectedly or why I get panicky if I hear someone yelling and angry. But I could never find the way to express how much it hurt, and sometimes still does, to hear, “I love you” or to have someone do something kind for me. And it sounds pretty batshit crazy to tell someone, “I’m so glad you hugged me (said you loved me, repaired my car, drove me to a doctor) today. I needed that. And by the way it feels like you ripped my heart out of my chest in the process.”  No. I kept that level of crazy to myself in hopes that sooner or later it would make sense. I don’t know how I expected that answer to come but I can promise you I never expected it to come all at once in the middle of the spin cycle.

Grace stings because it is so undeserved.

Love stings because we believe ourselves to be so unworthy.

Trusting God is scary as hell because it means first accepting that we are so

Surrender requires working through the other three.

candleAnd this is why grace is like water. It slips under the walls, through the cracks in the mortar, drips in through the ceiling. Not only is it impossible to hang on to, it’s impossible to keep out. Except it’s more like rubbing alcohol than water. It stings but it cleans and once you’ve been soaked in it, you can be set on fire.

We Will Forget Aylan

We Will Forget Aylan

I let a month go by without a blog post. How did that happen? Very simply: too much all at once. My summer class in Jewish Christian Relations demanded a hefty amount of time during those first two weeks of August. I spent those two weeks studying the Holocaust, not from the historical timeline that I’ve read a hundred times before but from reading survivors’ stories about life and faith in the camps. I also read the Jewish theological responses to the Holocaust. Had God allowed the Holocaust? Had He broken His Covenant? Abandoned the Jews?  Finally, I had put together a narrative PowerPoint about the lessons we need to learn from the Holocaust and to do that meant not only reading more stories but combing through photos and watching video interviews, finding the material I needed. Those who know me best can tell you that if I’m reading or intently working on something, you can walk right up to me and I won’t even notice you. Coming out of an emotional Week of Guided Prayer and then immediately immersing myself into one of the worst horrors in history was really not a good recipe for sleeping well at night.

One of the things that hit me especially hard was an interview that I used in my presentation. Survivor Benjamin Meed spoke about escaping the Warsaw Ghetto during the uprising and blending into the crowd in a church as it was Palm Sunday. The priest did not even mention the ghetto burning right across the street. When church was over, the people took their children on the carousel in the park next to the church. Few people even mentioned the blazing buildings across the street or if they did it was to point out the Jews jumping from the rooftops. The apathy that this man witnessed still haunts him. And it was something I wrote about as I recounted how the then fledgling United Nations made a pledge: Never Again. That the world community would never again stand by and watch as events unfolded. But it has. Repeatedly. When I made up the list of genocides since 1945, I had to leave off a half dozen because they wouldn’t fit on the slide and I had a fifteen minute time limit. Cambodia, East Timor, Serbia and Croatia, and Rwanda were only a few. There are others, some ongoing.

The Jews who were liberated from the Nazi camps ended up in DP camps all over Europe. They couldn’t go home and no country wanted them. Many tried to flee by boat into British controlled Palestine. Some tried overland routes through Turkey. They were often caught and either imprisoned or returned to the camps. Many died in the attempt to reach Palestine before the creation of the state of Israel.

There are people now fleeing from the violence in the Middle East. They are desperate for the world to help them. And the apathy is no different in 2015 than it was in 1945. These people can’t go home and no country wants them. The world is watching and commenting. While Isis doesn’t have the organized camp system of the Nazis, they are systematically wiping out non-Muslims. Their violence and propaganda are well-documented. The world leaders debate and discuss. Meanwhile, people are dying.

Aylan - age 3

Aylan – age 3

This week the picture that shot around the world was of a little Syrian boy named Aylan who drowned along with his brother and his mother trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. His father, who tried desperately to save his children, was the only one of the family left alive. When I first saw that photo, all I could see was my own sons lying face down in the waves while policemen stood by and took notes. My heart broke for his father, who lost his wife and his boys when all they wanted was a new life away from war and death. And I’d like to think that now that everyone around the world knows Aylan’s name and his sweet little face that maybe it would shake us out of this apathetic stupor to help those still stuck in refugee camps or those still journeying, trying to reach safe haven somewhere, anywhere. But I’ve read so much of history lately that I suspect, even now with our global news and our social media connections and our viral images, we’ll soon forget little Aylan.

School started this week. One of my sons had a bit of health scare this week and only made it through an hour of his first day of school. The other is deeply disappointed that his favorite teacher, the one he was so excited to have for homeroom this year, is leaving. They’ll have homework and projects due soon. So will I. So will all their friends. And life will go on. Those little bumps in the road will be forgotten. There was an urgent care clinic, an ultrasound, a good doctor and easy access to medicine. There are other teachers. There’s plenty of food and a roof over our heads. No one will kidnap or behead us for going to church this Sunday and no bombs are likely go off in my neighborhood this week.

We’ll soon be back to listening to men like Donald Trump rant about illegal immigrants and building walls to keep them out. We’ll be listening to men like Mike Huckabee talk about trampling of the religious rights of Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples as directed by her job description. We’ll follow the other stories about Black Lives Matter and Planned Parenthood and gun violence and Wall Street. After all there’s an election coming up next year. We’ll either snicker or express outrage about that story of a college girl in Texas who lost her license for DWI so is now driving herself around campus in a Barbie Power Wheels toy jeep.

And so we’ll forget. Little Aylan will fade from our collective memory and life will go on as usual. The next iPhone will be rumored and we’ll be asking Siri to give us a hint. Meanwhile, the refugees will still be in the camps or clinging to each other in the overcrowded boats or walking along the railroad tracks tomorrow or dying in trucks or drowning at sea next week and next month and the month after that.

Aylan, I am so very sorry. We failed you and your whole family. And I am afraid we will fail many others like you before the world wakes up.

By Turkish Artist Murat Sayin

By Turkish Artist Murat Sayin