This past Sunday, I heard a wonderful sermon on the parable of the prodigal son and thirty-second Psalm. This prayer is a result of reflections thereafter:
I wear so many hats: husband, brother, son, and uncle(!). Most days I am an employee, a coworker, a colleague and a subordinate. Some know me as a reader or a blogger, a runner and a skier, a crazy person who enjoys winter, a lover of pastries, a laugher and a crier. These are the roles by which I identify myself in relation to others. And I tend to do the same with you.
I will not tell you I am a sinner God, for this you already know. But I will tell you my confession: I am sorry for my stubbornness and pride, particularly within my marriage. I am sorry for my obsession and idolization: books and writing have the thrown of my heart, as do skiing and whatever dose of fame or reputation I could possibly procure.
I am sorry for my gossip. (I think I need the most forgiveness here.) For I would rather talk about someone than with them. The latter takes social courage, which I readily shun.
In saying these things God I know that I do not earn your forgiveness but rather I accept my identity as one who has been forgiven; I realize that my condition before you is that of the prodigal son who has squandered your grace on tiny pleasures and vices. I manage to hide these indulgences from others, but never from you.
Of all the identities I claim, make this my first and foremost: that I am a sinner who has been forgiven.
I ran into a (former) seminary classmate yesterday. He was walking into our campus apartment building with his arms full of cardboard boxes; he and his wife were getting ready to move south, onto their next chapter. I held the door for him.
“You all packed up?”
“Almost,” he said, and smiled the way a captain of ship might as it passes another in the night.
I continued on my way but then had a thought and called after him. “Hey- if I don’t see you again, well…then…” Actually, I wasn’t sure what to say.
He looked back at me, still smiling. “God bless you,” he said. And he turned with a nod as I did too.
They left sometime last night. I wasn’t around to see them off.
I keep returning from my runs with inchworms all over my shirt. How they ended up on my person was a mystery to me. So I slowed to a walk during one jog a couple days ago. And I observed an inchworm dangling in the middle of the trail, just below my eye level, attached by an invisible thread to some tree branch up above, waiting for someone, something, to come by.
I had a nightmare the other night in which my wife died. I woke up and reached for her in the dark. She was there, but was she breathing? I sat up and leaned over, my hand reaching to check her pulse.
“Wha- what…babe? What are you doing?” Ah. There’s that pulse.
“Uh, nothing…go back to sleep.”
She gave me a look, like I was up to no good, like I was ten years old and she was my brother and myself and Stephen Banich were sneaking into his room in the middle of the night to paint his fingernails bright pink before the morning of his first football practice. But her eyelids were heavy and she was soon back asleep.
Which was convenient. Because how on earth could I possibly explain? I thought I’d lost you; my heart was about to explode inside my chest?
We were on a walk this evening, and I couldn’t help but notice that the parking lot outside our apartment looks somewhat ominous: there’s moving trucks parked where minivans used to be, storage containers occupying our neighbor’s parking spot.
And I felt a little bit like an inchworm.
All day and all night these little creatures dangle and flail about, waiting for something to come by, waiting for the wind to blow, waiting to find something solid, something steady, something secure to which they can hang on. And when they (finally) find something, when they think the world has stopped spinning madly beneath their feet, they find it pulled from under them again.
It makes me feel a little heartless at how quickly I just flick them off, onto the concrete or pavement. But they had a good go of it, I tell myself. This is the way of things.
And then I pass someone in the hallway. And I think about the classes we had together, the time we were in the same group for a project, and the couple of movies and dinners shared in his apartment. We weren’t incredibly close- but a small corner of my world is attached to his. And he’s getting ready to pack it into boxes.
We shed as we pick up, Tom Stoppard once said, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms. Perhaps I should have offered to help carry a box.
What a world it is that God has made. A world that spins, evolves, moves from season to season, arrives and departs, from dust to dust. Life is a short and fevered rehearsal, A.W. Tozer once said, for a concert we cannot stay to give.
As we walked into our building I took my wife’s hand. This world may scare. But there’s something to be said for the hope that, wherever we land, whatever we latch onto for however long a period of time, it’s just a shadow of where we’ll one day stand.
Which should be of comfort, I suppose. Comfort as we cling to shadows that then slip away, into the night of today. Because the sunrise is coming, and it will shine like a million candles in the darkness. And every shadow we’ve held, every love we’ve lost, every corner of our world we’d seen packed into boxes and whisked away, it’ll be there, waiting again for us to hug, cherish, admire, have and hold.
It sounds like a distant dream. But the inchworms, panicked love, and move-out dates of the world fan the flames of its desire.
It may be all we have. But there’s much to be said of it, I’m sure.
Growing up in the Christian subculture was a unique experience. As was growing up in the 90’s. Those of us who emerged from a blend of these two backgrounds share common-experiences, cultural bonds and traits that make up who we are- and what we believe- today.
Here’s just a few of them:
1.) All you need to know you learned from:
2.) You seriously questioned whether or not you should read the Harry Potter books when they first came out…because witches.
3.) This was what you watched at every youth-group movie night for, oh- about sixteen years:4.) Most of the anxiety in your life can be traced back to the Left Behind series:
6.) Avalon, Steven Curtis Chapman, Plus One, OC Supertones and, lest we forget:
7.) Speaking of which: you know all the words to “Jesus Freak.”
8.) …and your first AOL screename was derived from the title (JSUSFreakgurl3599)
37.) But what cheers you up is when you read the Bible and encounter a story you’ve definitely heard before… on Veggie Tales:
In a research project titled Faith That Lasts the Barna Group looked to identify the reason why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) walk away, either temporarily or permanently, from their faith after the age of 15. Their conclusion, after five years of interviews, surveys and case studies, was that
“No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged.”
Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
Christian heritage is a wonderful thing. But it comes with its share of baggage. One of the great challenges for those of us entering adulthood is rectifying the realities of faith with the questions of our world. How does Jesus matter outside of Vacation Bible School? Is the notion of ‘purity’ we learned as kids truly pertinent to faith? Is there room on the straight and narrow for our wide and over-bearing questions? Where do I belong?
What we have to remember- what we’re coming to learn- is these 37 things are not the cornerstone of our faith. The foundation of Christian faith is not what we do, how we identify ourselves or the way we grew up- the foundation of Christian faith is grace. Grace that permeates our homes, childhood and new beginnings; grace that opens up the gates and invites all to enter; grace that answers our questions with a gentle smile; grace that confronts our doubt with outstretched hands; grace that reminds us that we are caught up in it every minute of every day.
Maybe we can come to see our upbringing with all its traits, flaws, debaucheries, guffaws, legalities and nuances– maybe we can come to see these, not as relics of our disillusionment but as the quirky means of ordinary grace.
If we can accomplish this then maybe, just maybe, our reasons for leaving the faith can become the transformative means of God’s grace in this ongoing journey. Maybe we can take the good and the bad, knowing that Christ sees all of it as somewhat peculiar (at best) and yet loves us anyway. Maybe we can reform our hearts instead of leaving our traditions. Maybe renewal is possible and redemption- even of the most idiotic aspects of our backgrounds- does have a chance.