Longer Still (Post Election Reflections of a Black Man amongst the Evangelicals)

Thicket of the Jordan

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The Scriptures that contain the stories of Israel, the Messiah Jesus, and the early church have long shaped how I viewed the world. It was the bible that affirmed black personhood in the face of an Alabama that did so much to stamp it out. It was Jesus who taught me to love the poor and oppressed. It was Jesus who told me that his coming was good news for people like me, people easier to ignore than to love. The Bible lifted up the vision of a great society consisting of every tribe, tongue, and nation. And I believed every word of it. I have dedicated my life to seeing that vision become a reality.

I thought that my bible loving Evangelical Christians would look into the bible and see the same vision (and be willing to give everything to see it happen in their lifetime). I thought that…

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Dirt and all

 

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I’ve been thinking, writing, and praying about some hard things lately, so it felt like a break was needed on the blog. Found the writing in my journal from not long ago (a venting piece written a bit tongue in cheek) and then this fun pic of our kids at Shedd Aquarium last fall-minus Kelly 😦   

When my children were little and I would find sticky spots of who-knew-what under high chairs and on doors and …everywhere, I remember thinking that once they got to a certain age, I would need to simply hose down the entire house.

The logic behind this was that, at that “certain age,” my children would be cleaner, neater, tidier.

Um, when is that stage?

They’re all in double-digits now, and I still feel like dirt and sticky substances literally drip from their fingertips and feet. I can clean a kitchen countertop so squeaky I would be fine eating right off it, and two hours later I come back and it looks as if a family of small animals has been living on it for several weeks.

They’ve grown more autonomous, which means they can do things like fix meals for themselves, but it also means that ketchup, flour, hot dog “juice,” bits of banana, etc.!  can be slopped across the floor, in the fridge, under the microwave, behind the sink…

And since they eat all the time and anywhere, let’s add “in the couch and on the rug and on the windowsills…”

HOW?

If they are capable of fixing the food, of feeding themselves, are they not also capable of seeing the mess it creates?

And how, honestly, does a person make that much mess simply pouring a bowl of cereal? How is that even possible?

My inner “martyr mom” tells me they see at least some of the messes they create, but they assume, maybe even unconsciously, I will clean it up.

But I don’t think “seeing it” is the entirety of the problem. I am discovering there is a great chasm—Grand Canyon-sized—between my idea of “clean” and theirs.

“Wipe the countertops, please,” I ask.

When they are finished, it looks to me no different than when they started, but when I bring the offending child in to look, and I point at the offensive countertop, he or she responds, “What? I cleaned it.”

THAT is not clean!

Surely this will get better, right? I have this terrible image of my children, in their 20s, still blissfully unaware of the messes that follow them everywhere they go. This makes me want to create some giant plastic bubble suits into which I can zip them, with a little slot for me to pass food inside. All the slop will be with them in the suits and when they get disgusted enough with it (if they even notice it), I could send them outside to unzip and shake and hose down.

At times the state of our house gets to the point that I see nothing but the dirt, and every crumb-pile and crusty plate and spill in our house seems as if it’s jumping up and down, shouting, “Look at me! Look at me!” That’s when I go on a little rampage, pointing out all the gunk to whichever of my kids happens to be around. But even though I think the evidence of their slovenliness is quite overwhelming, all they do is look at me with that expression on their faces that tells me they think I’m losing it and probably need to see a doctor.

I wonder if they will ever notice or if I will be cleaning up after them when they visit me in their 30s. And usually at this point in my thinking, I indulge in a little fantasizing about a clean house, a tidy house, with everything arranged just so, staying just so.

Staying quiet.

With my introvert self being too quiet in the middle of it.

And I find I am grateful for my house being exactly the way it is.

Dirt and all.

Two tables

Pete was trying to learn how to talk with them, but it was difficult even to understand their different ways of eating, their strange foods. He still had to mask his shudders at what he sometimes found on his plate, had to bite his tongue at the questions that rose instantly to his mind. He still thought of them as smelling odd; the scents that rose from their clothing and skin were unfamiliar.

Most of all, though, he just had to get over the fact that he was sitting arm by arm with them. Was this really the way it was supposed to be? His mind still circled round and round the barriers that had always existed between his people and these people—were they supposed to sit at the same table? Share meals together? Come together in complete equality—not as the “haves” and “have-nots”—but as the equally grace-given? As brothers? As family?

He often watched his friend interact with them. How did he seem so natural? Was he not struggling with the same thoughts? His friend had adopted some of their mannerisms; he seemed to enjoy their food; he laughed at jokes that were not quite kosher. He accepted their hugs; he hugged them back.

He seemed comfortable in ways Pete could not understand. For Pete, the questions still circled. He fought the impulse to sit apart, to surround himself with those who felt familiar to him, who shared a common tradition, culture, codes—both written and unwritten. Yet he kept being surprised by joy. In the midst of meals and gatherings that felt awkward and fumbling, he felt sudden flashes of joy, a joy beyond and above the sense of belonging he’d always had with his own people. It was a joy outside himself, and the joy didn’t bring ease and comfort. Even in the moments of greatest joy he felt himself longing for conversation in which he knew the right things to say, in which the other person knew the right things as well. He longed to have a meal with people who shared his cultural codes. He ached for an evening of storytelling that made sense to him, an evening in which he understood each person’s point of view, an evening in which any differences were simple ones, arising out of a shared culture.

Here, with this group of mixed backgrounds, he had to watch his quick tongue; he had to swallow his pride and ask pardon—often—when he unknowingly stepped on toes; he had to learn to see from others’ perspectives. His sense of humor felt squashed; they didn’t understand his jokes. He didn’t understand theirs. He often felt as if he were stumbling around in the dark. It was hard—it was work! And he wondered if it wouldn’t be best to just keep some separation, just a little?

But again, that Joy, that unmistakable Joy! Could this really be what God wanted? This uncomfortable mixing?

This night one of the men was in the middle of telling a story—a story of his growing up years. Pete had to smooth his face to hide the shock at what the man was describing. Such shameful actions, so much profanity! So different from his own carefully guided upbringing! Did this man have no understanding of decency? Was there no order to the relationships in his family?

Suddenly the door opened.

Pete felt the blood rush to his face. He sprang to his feet and stepped away from the table. He slowed his breathing and calmed his features and then looked at the men who had just entered the room. He took in their clothing and read their faces.

They recognized him. They knew his name. Pete took another step away from the table.

Pete watched as the men’s gazes slid across the table, the food on it, the men and women around it. The men nodded and smiled at several people, but Pete knew what they were thinking. There was such a mix of emotion in his own heart—sorrow, frustration, shame—but there was also relief. He knew what they were thinking. He could identify with them. They spoke the same unspoken language.

A woman at the table asked if they all wanted to squeeze in. “We can make room,” she said, but one of the men shook his head. “There are too many of us. We would crowd you too much.” Pete saw the face of the one who’d offered space, and he swallowed. He could read that face, too, now.

The men were now looking at him. Pete felt himself slide away from the table even further, till he was almost against the wall. He stepped toward the men. “Come this way,” he told them. “We’ll find a quiet table where we can talk.”

~~~~

It wasn’t what he’d hoped for. Oh, the food was familiar and the conversation was comfortable and easy. He knew what to say and what to do.

But something wasn’t right.

He pushed this knowledge down, tried to pull up the sense of belonging he should be feeling. He reminded himself that these were his people. This was what he’d been missing.

And then the door of this room, too, opened.

Paul stood in the doorway, his eyes wide.

“What are you doing here? Why aren’t you out there with the others? This is not right!”

Paul was in Peter’s face now, his finger nearly touching Peter’s nose. “You know, Peter. You know! This—” Paul waved his arm, gesturing toward the large room where Peter had been sitting not so long before and then back to the table where Peter now sat. “—this is not where you should be! We are one family now; one body; one people; one Church! You are wrong to separate yourself from them.”

           adapted from Galatians 2:11-14 

          For commentary on this passage, read “The Conflict at Antioch” on Bible Gateway.

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. A Prayer for the Unity of the Church (the Book of Common Prayer)

All children

The verse, “Children are a gift from the Lord” hangs right next to my bed. It was given to me not long after the twins were born. I hung it there mostly because there was already a nail and it fit the space perfectly, but also, in all honesty, because sometimes I need that reminder!

A few weeks ago, I lay in bed late one night staring at that verse, but I wasn’t thinking about my own kids. I was thinking of the two teenage boys who’d been killed in our neighborhood earlier that day. I was thinking of their mothers. Was anyone mourning with them?

I’d read the news account of the killing. The two boys were barely mentioned, just their names and the statement, “Police believe the shooting was gang related.” Much more space was given to the neighbor lady who was injured by a stray bullet.

I get that. She was the “truly innocent bystander,” caught in the crossfire of Chicago’s gang violence.

But they were teenagers; one of them 17, the other 16—the age of my Emily. And though I understand the attitude that glosses over their deaths a bit—because, after all, “they chose to be in a gang and they know how violent they are and who knows what they did to cause retaliation and…”

…they were 16 and 17.

I don’t know about you, but at that age, I was nowhere near ready to make major life decisions. Particularly not ones that involved gangs and mortality. I was nowhere near ready to step completely out of the flow of all my peers. I was nowhere near ready to recognize and then actually carry out logical planning to map out potential options for my future and how to proceed.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t need to do all that. I was guided in that process. I was surrounded by peers who were, for the most part, engaged and busy and active with good things—because they too, for the most part, were being guided—by their parents, by our school, by the structures surrounding us—in the messy, confusing business of growing up. We were guided toward a future we couldn’t even imagine yet. We were shaped into and equipped to be productive members of our society.

I’m pretty sure that’s not the case for those two boys. There was lots of shaping and equipping going on, but I doubt there was much future planning involved. Boys in gang-saturated neighborhoods, going to underfunded schools, coming from broken family structures, living hand to mouth… they often don’t expect to live very long, and the few who do don’t know any other structures to pass on to the next generation. I would argue that most 16-year-old kids involved in a gang have few other options presented to them. It’s not a real choice in the sense of “I’ve got a few good, productive options in front of me and I see them as real and possible.”

Honestly, though, my point in writing today is not to write about the violence in Chicago. It’s not even to protest police or military force (though I think it’s a horrible idea.)

Here’s what’s been itching at my heart the past few weeks. A couple days after those boys were shot, I walked past the house where it happened. There was nothing there to mark it—other than police tape. No signs, no candles, no stuffed animals—nothing. They’d been erased, and it really felt like no one cared.

But they were someone’s babies. They were someone’s boys. They were created by God just as my precious children were. They mattered. And they really had no chance.

At least not like the chances my kids have.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

I would say that until we see other people’s children as being as valuable as our own, as valuable as the children of our friends and our neighbors and our fellow church members—we will not seek justice for them. In fact, we will place the needs and the safety of our own children above theirs. If we feel that good done to other people’s children might have negative effect on our own, we will choose against them. In other words, we really won’t care that much.

Martin Luther King also said, “If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to hell.”

Those are strong words!

But I think they need to be repeated.

And we need to listen.

Till we see all children as precious, precious gifts.

Human Trafficking Awareness Month

It’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month right now. Did your heart just sink a little when you read that? It’s a hard realization, to recognize that beyond even the visible hurts and problems we see in our communities is an entire hidden world of them, a world where the vulnerable are not only not cared for but are horribly exploited. It’s generally easier to distance ourselves from this knowledge, but that is not our calling. So, because that is not our calling, I am sharing two articles today. The first is “When Backpage.com Peddles Schoolgirls for Sex” by Nicholas Kristof, author of Half the Sky (click on the book title for the Half the Sky website and here for a post I wrote that is partly about this book). Kristof is well known for his impassioned research, investigation, and writing in this area.

The second article is by Carolyn Custis James, whom I had the pleasure of hearing speak a  couple months ago (though on a totally unrelated topic). Its title is “Teenagers Sold ‘Like Pizza’–What Will Your Church Do?”  Custis James pulls no punches and this is an interesting read. She ends with the question: What will you do?

What will you do? That’s a hard question, not only because this is a hard issue but because there are so many hurts and epidemics about which we can ask the same question. This week alone I’ve been asked much the same question regarding the underground Church, orphaned children in Uganda, and victims of Hurricane Matthew. I don’t know the exact answer to “What will I do?” but I do know the answer to “What must I not do?” in relation to all areas of brokenness. The answer to that question is, “I must not grow numb. I must not hide. I must not shield myself from difficult truths and realities.”

This difficult position can feel like limbo, so I share one more post, a very short one by pastor-blogger John Piippo titled “You Don’t Need to Know Where You Are Going.” It’s a good reminder.

Blessings, all.

Jen

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Cafe and Pray Chicago

Hi everyone,

I’ve been out of the loop a bit the last couple weeks with travel and my kids being out of school. I’m getting caught up now and should be back to regular posting next week. In the meantime, I’m sharing two things:

  1. a for-fun piece I wrote for dineANDrhyme about Chicago Hope Cafe. Hope Cafe is my new away-from-home office and is a coffeeshop with a great cause–to support nearby Chicago Hope Academy, a  Christian inner-city high school (those are a real anomaly!). If you ever find yourself on the west side of Chicago, swing by (they have free street parking!). Tell them you read about them on Dine and Rhyme; they’ll be thrilled! Click on the dineANDrhyme link above (or in this sentence) to read the poem. Click on the Hope Cafe link above (or in this sentence) to visit the cafe’s website.
  2. Pray Chicago is having an event this weekend, a prayer summit (scroll down for a video and info about the prayer summit) at Progressive Baptist Church on Sunday evening. Pray Chicago is also asking Chicagoans to consider this Sunday a day of fasting and prayer. If you haven’t visited Pray Chicago’s website before and you live anywhere in the Chicago area, it has my full recommendation.

How we grow

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artwork and photography by Em

About 20 minutes into one of my favorite workout videos, the trainer asks, “Are you out of breath? Hurting? Remember, you started this video so you would get a good workout—and those things are part of it. You chose to do this. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s how you grow.”

I appreciate that reminder every single time I do that particular video, not so much for the purpose of the workout, but for life. The first time I did that workout, I was deep in thought about the struggles resulting from our recent move into the city: each of our kids needed close friendships, and all of us were dealing with the loss of our close-knit community in our old home in Chicago’s western suburbs. When the trainer said those words: “It’s supposed to be hard; this is how you grow,” my head snapped up. It was a Holy Spirit message, delivered through my Fit by Kit workout. Crazy!
It’s a message the kids and I often discuss. We knew this move wouldn’t be easy for them. “Easy/comfortable” would have been staying just where we were. But God was stirring our hearts, and in all my prayers for my children (some of them rather panicky pleas), God kept telling me, “I have them.” I knew God didn’t mean that all would be easy and smooth for them, but that God knows the very best for them, knows how to stretch each of them, how to nurture hidden gifts, how to draw them into his boundless, intimate love and fill them with a real, deep, practical love for all people—all people. He knows how to embolden them with his love so they can go anywhere, do anything, and work with anyone. This is far more important than their comfort, or even their “success.”
Yet sometimes it’s hard to remember this ultimate goal in the middle of all that’s new and unfamiliar, in the loneliness that is part of forming new friendships, in the feeling slightly out of place in many situations. In the middle of all that, there are times when a return to what is comfortable and known is quite tempting.
One of my children and I are also prone to another temptation related to this: we determine God’s plan by how much we feel we are accomplishing. “I just don’t feel like we’re making a real difference,” this child told me just a few days ago. “Other than the little neighbor boys coming over, what else do we do to help in our neighborhood?”
I’ve learned (through personal experience) this kind of thinking can be a trap. When we think God’s will is all about what we do; when we see the work as ours rather than God’s; when we need visible, quick, substantial results as validation that what we are doing is indeed God-sanctioned, then we are not thinking rightly.
So I told this child, “I’m not sure the primary goal was ever about us making a difference. Yes, we moved here to join the efforts already being done in this community, but we moved here knowing the greatest change would be in us. We moved here so God would open our eyes and ears and deepen our hearts. We’re assuming that as he does this, he is also preparing us for involvement, but the change in us is a huge part of His work. Have you grown since we’ve moved here? Have you learned anything?”
She nodded. She has grown. I have, too. We all have. We still are. And we’ve got a whole lot of growing left to do, a whole lot of learning still to learn.
And it’s hard. At times we’re breathing heavy. We’re a little sore and achy.
But, in the words of trainer Kit Rich, this is why we came.
As I thought about and wrote this post, the Spirit brought to my mind friends and family members who are going through truly difficult situations. Some of these cannot be avoided (grief, health issues); others were stepped into (caring for a relative, pursuing a distant child, continuing to fight an addiction). No matter how much or little choice was involved at the initial entry into the situation, each one requires continual choice as to how the situation will be faced. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it hurts. But if we keep pressing into Jesus through the situation, our relationship with him will grow fuller, deeper. This is why he came; this is why he called us to follow. And he was clear about the nature of this call; his description was clear: it was no quick stroll in the park but a hilly marathon on rough terrain. It was a call to self-sacrifice, to the way of the cross, to the way Jesus lived. We answered this call; we chose to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. Let’s not grow weary in the middle of it. 
For this is how we grow.

Necessary reminder

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A totally unrelated pic for this post, but here are            “3 in a tree”

A few weeks ago a man told me he never gives to poor people asking for money. He did that once, many years ago, bought lunch for a man begging on the street. “I felt good for a few minutes after,” he told me, “felt like I’d done my good deed for the day, but then I realized I’d simply made that man successful at asking for money. I hadn’t given him a reason to do anything else. Now I only give to people who are already pursuing their goals, who are already successful.”

He’s not alone in this practice. Marketing operates on this principle: success breeds success. When you need support for an organization, you don’t start with your needs; you start with the stories of change, growth, transformation. Then you talk about need, only then.
Sometimes I wonder if those begging on street corners understand this. Many, when you stop and talk with them, tell you they were successful in their past. Last week one man—sitting out on a day when the high was in single digits—told me he’d been a stock broker, he’d scored incredibly well on the test stock brokers have to take, he’d lost it all paying for his mother’s cancer treatment bills.
Was he trying to convince me? Trying to tell me the cash I’d pushed into his mittened hands wasn’t wasted, was being spent on someone “worth it”? Or was he trying to convince himself?
Maybe a bit of both?
Here’s what struck me, as I drove away from him still sitting on the corner: I wasn’t so much giving to him as paying him, paying him for a very important service he was providing me. As a plumber repairs my pipes and a lawyer prepares my will, this man reminds me of several important things. His very presence on the side of the road speaks truth to me. Take away my background, the economic stability of my childhood home and neighborhood, the education I was encouraged and enabled to pursue, the mind I’ve been given to study and do work that pays well enough, my health… Put me in different circumstances, and I, too, could be sitting on the side of the road or, as I tried to convince him, in a shelter till the weather broke. His presence reminds me of my frailty, of the frailty of humanity collectively—we are all like grass, easily withered, easily chopped low, easily blown away.
He, sitting out in all weathers, enduring the disregard of so many, is doing much harder work than I, and it is work that, in one way or another, must be done. Without reminders of our innate weakness, we assume we have actually earned and deserved the good we enjoy. And then we lose gratitude, humility, love…
His presence leads me to prayer, to connection with those near and far away, with those in need in my city, those in need in my world. His presence on the corner reminds me of Aleppo, of Sudan, of North Korea, of prisoners and persecuted Christians, of those lonely or in sorrow, of my friend who just lost her father. His presence reminds me we are all in need. We are all connected. John Donne’s words come to mind: No man is an island,/Entire of itself,/Every man is a piece of the continent,/a part of the main. … Any man’s death diminishes me,/Because I am involved in mankind,/And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;/It tolls for thee.
The cash I pressed into his hand now seems a very small price to pay for all that.
*Several of the links above are to articles related to homelessness and cold weather: one deals with reasons some homeless people sleep in the cold rather than go to shelters; another suggests ways you can help (and has hotline numbers in major cities to call if you see someone sleeping outside in dangerously cold weather).
*Other links are to Scriptures that deal with our weakness–and our reliance on Christ!

 

Cross-shaped prayer

iron cross at Westminster

A picture taken in London just before heading to Scotland in January 2016–looking into the inner courtyard of Westminster Abbey

In January of 2016 Dave and I led a group of Wheaton Academy students on a trip to Scotland. It was a double-duty trip for us. We were praying for guidance; about which of two very different directions we should pursue. One of those directions was Scotland. We met with the UK field director of GEM (Greater European Missions) during that trip, and it was in many ways an exploratory time for us.

But we were also praying about moving into the city of Chicago, to live in a depressed neighborhood, for Dave to teach/work with underprivileged kids. It was strange how God used the wonderful, spiritually rich trip to Scotland to confirm that it was not the decision for this time, and Chicago is. One of the confirming moments came when we put on the program for an assembly at a Scottish public high school. We began with a video one of our students had made to introduce the team members and their home. After shots of Wheaton Academy and its grounds, the video moved to the downtown area of Chicago. One shot showed hundreds of people milling around the Bean. Watching it for the first time in that assembly, I suddenly got choked up. There were all those people, of all ethnicities and races and religions, gathered together to look at a reflective structure, but going home to segregated neighborhoods, going home to places sorely in need of gospel hope. Behind me in that auditorium sat rows and rows of students who needed to hear about Christ, and I was fervently praying for them, but my heart was pounding for the people of Chicago. When Dave told me—without my saying anything about my own experience—that he’d had much the same reaction when he saw the video, we knew God was stirring in our hearts.

Another affirming moment on that trip came in a coffee shop, where Dave and I had retreated while the students shopped in the area. Here’s what I wrote in my journal about that time:

We were talking about a topic we’ve often discussed: why are some prayers—especially those for “small” things—answered, while others, particularly those for very necessary, very important things, seem to be ignored. This topic had re-surfaced because I told Dave how glad I was that a member of our mission team who’d felt sick the day before was fully recovered. I remarked, “Several of us were praying for her.”

He got a funny look on his face and pulled out the book he’s currently reading: There Are No Children Here, published in 1991, written by Alex Kotlowitz, a Chicago journalist. It follows the lives of brothers Lafayette and Pharaoh, two young boys who lived in the Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex just blocks from Chicago’s Loop that was a veritable war zone. Dave turned to a passage and gave me a preface before reading it aloud. Nine-year-old Pharaoh, seeking respite from the violence and drama of Henry Horner, has found a condominium complex nearby with green lawns and trees. He goes there to sit under the trees and simply be.

Pharaoh had long sought such a refuge. For a few months last spring, he’d attended Bible classes at the First Congregational Baptist Church. Washington Boulevard was lined with churches, but most of them now served people who had since moved from the neighborhood. Churches had lost their authority in areas like Horner. Pharaoh grew bored with the classes and began to question whether there was indeed a God. He often prayed to him, asking that he let them move from the projects. But, Pharaoh would say, “I be praying but he don’t do nothing. Maybe there ain’t no God.” It was as much a question as it was a statement. (page 143)

Dave read the last line and then looked up at me. “I’m struggling with this right now. How can we pray for such relatively small things as someone’s upset stomach when people all over the world are living lives like this?” He tapped the page in the book. “And how does God see these vastly different prayers? Why are our prayers for someone’s stomach answered when a young kid praying not to be molested or sold for sex doesn’t get the answer they so desperately need? When a mom who has prayed for food to feed her family watches her baby starve to death? I don’t understand!”

I don’t understand either. Part of his question does have to do with God, to be sure, but Scripture tells me God is not indifferent to suffering, and Christ proved to me God is not indifferent to suffering. But we, the people of God, the Church, are the body of Christ here, so why is it that Pharaoh was left so abandoned? Where was the church? Why weren’t the churches of Chicagoland agonized by Henry Horner and the other housing projects? And the violence and hopelessness of areas like Englewood and Lawndale and Garfield Park? Why aren’t we agonized now?

I asked Dave to hand me the book. I wanted to look at one line in particular. I read it aloud to him. “Churches had lost their authority in areas like Horner.”

“What if the churches were supposed to be the answer to Pharaoh’s prayer?” I asked. “What if they were supposed to pray about Henry Horner—along with all the personal requests they had—praying BOTH, until God so changed their hearts they were ready to act and intervene and enter in, even if in small ways at first? Until they served the people who lived right nearby rather than those who’d had the resources to move out?

“I know it’s not really an answer to your question, but I don’t think the answer is an either-or proposition. I think we should pray about all hurts, even the ones we see as small.”

I looked back at this journal entry a few times during the months that followed, as we prayed for both “big” and “small” and received guidance for all and then detours and then more guidance. For us the conversation was about the inner city and inequality in education and racial reconciliation in the church. But even more so, it was a conversation about prayer and change–heart change. And that’s a conversation for everyone. Not everyone is being led to the inner city, but all of us are being led somewhere, even if it’s right out our front door, even if it’s simply onto our knees.

Prayer opens our blinded eyes and guarded hearts to the needs we are meant to see, meant to enter into.

So I’d like to end this post with some words I read recently in The Challenge of Jesus by N. T. Wright.

The Christian vocation is to be in prayer, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, and as we embrace that vocation, we discover it to be the way of following Christ, shaped according to his messianic vocation to the cross, with arms outstretched, holding on simultaneously to the pain of the world and to the love of God. … Learn new ways of praying with and from the pain, the brokenness, of that crucial part of the world where God has placed you. And out of that prayer discover the ways of being peacemakers, of taking the risk of hearing both sides, of running the risk of being shot at from both sides. Are you or are you not a follower of the crucified Messiah? (The Challenge of Jesus, chapter 8, “The Light of the World”) 

The Table

Eat my flesh.

Drink my blood.

Those outside the early church, hearing these words,

accused of cannibalism.

Understandable.

But though there were no ritual drums,

No contemptible ingredients.

It was; it IS—

a brush with the holy.

No matter literal or symbolic,

We have, in truth, taken. in. God.

Mystery upon mystery:

that the God of the universe

Put on flesh,

veins, arteries ribboning through,

Coursing with blood—

And offered himself for our consumption,

Entering us, being in us.

Somehow making each

Unique

Yet (another mystery!)

Part of a people, the people of God

Belonging as family, truest family,

the Presence within far surpassing the differences without.

So let us not forget, as we come to the table, as we are told,

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.

This is Christ’s blood, spilled for you,”

These holy mysteries:

God enfleshed,

God in me, you,

Us, the people of God.

Remember—

with lips and teeth and tongue and throats,

with chewing, swallowing, digesting.

So that,

in-Presenced with Christ

From fingers to toes, and all in between;

Empowered with the energy of digested bread and wine—

Flesh and blood—

with life given to heart and lungs and mind and limbs,

we love with heart and breath and mind and strength:

God and neighbor.

God and the Family.

And lest we forget—how easily we do—

We come to the table again

And again and again.

Take, eat.

Take, drink.

This is my body, torn for you.

This is my blood, spilt for you.

The gifts of God for the people of God,

So we can be filled with him,

Can be a people filled with him.

Do this—take and eat—

and remember