Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Chase the Light

Over the past two weeks, I accidentally went into hiding. I wrote my last post with a good bit of optimism, feeling above the fray, ready to take a couple of deep breaths and then move along. Let's get on with it. 

But as Cory says, a lot can happen in two weeks. Or even two days. What is real on a Monday might bend against the shadows come Tuesday morning. The plight of a world in constant flux is the chaos it invites. We suffer fickle hearts and good intentions gone bad, both as victim and perpetrator.

In nine years of blogging, I've never been quiet for so long. I've written a dozen mental posts while going about the business of my life, deleting each of them by nightfall. My hope is that if I'm here at all, it's with my heart laid bare. I never want to show up just to say I've been here, and I'm sorry for the times when I have. This is my promise to you, that I will only give you what's real. When I write again about muffins or soup or my beloved mug rack (and I will,) I promise it will be because they form part of the fabric of my life. Sometimes they are what I find burning when I peer inside. I've never claimed to be so spiritual or important that I'm immune to being swept into passionate feelings about television, gingham, or tacos. This hasn't changed.

But sometimes what's just below my surface feels pretty inconvenient. Sometimes it takes forever to find my words and when I finally do, I wish I hadn't. They're too sad, or too difficult to explain. This might be one of those times. But I'm going to try anyway, because this is my story. This matters to me. Of course the online space wasn't made for real conversation, but when it comes to you and I, it's all we've got. So imagine my eyes, dark brown and weary, wrinkles at the corners and the stubborn birth mark that's sometimes mistaken for a bruise. I'll do the same for you. As always, I hope we'll walk away a little closer to each other than we were yesterday.


The morning after the election I caught a Facebook post from one of my dearest neighbors and my heart lodged up in my throat. I admitted to Cory that I had been overly optimistic as we stared out the window of our favorite Mexican restaurant and wondered what we would be willing to do to protect the people we love, if it ever came to that. The next day, I flew my crumpled heart to a deep red state where I was scheduled to talk with 300 white evangelical women about what it means to be a neighbor.

Thanks to pundits, with their statistical analyses and broad brushes, we know things about how certain demographics engaged in the election.  But I have learned that when it comes to living, breathing humans, categorizations lose their meaning. Distilling one another down to data bites was never what God had in mind.

The women welcomed me with open arms and tender hearts while I spoke the Word of truth for each of us - when we belong to Christ, nothing is off limits. He has the authority to shift our hearts, our minds, our bodies, and our souls. He will take what is his, sparing nothing. Jesus came to be with us, to sit so close that our thighs touch and our breath mingles and we can't help but belong to one another. I talked about his unfussy example, and how terrible the implications are for all of us introverts and cozy Christians who prefer our echo chambers and our easy answers. I shared my family's complicated journey away from emotional comfort to this place where I never imagined I could cry so much, my voice breaking as if on cue.

I told most of the truth, dancing around the stuff I wasn't quite sure how to handle, or at least not publicly. I stuffed it down.

A few hundred miles away, a neighbor boy ran down the alley to our front door with a plastic juice pitcher full of pozole verde, comforting the comfortable.

Four separate times that weekend I stood at the mic, unable to finish a single story about my neighbors without wanting to lay my head on the wooden podium and weep. That was the story haunting me, the one I couldn't outrun even with prayer and preaching.

In the end, I was too emotionally exhausted to continue trying. I surrendered. We all survived.

Over the course of the following week I nursed sadness with gratitude over many mugs of lukewarm tea, sharing space with people who mirror my feelings and those who pointedly do not, parting ways each time with enough love to fill the cracks. I read until my vision blurred. I prayed desperate, tired prayers. I watched my neighbor's eyes fill with tears as he said, "My family is feeling better now because we are beginning to see that our neighbors really care. It's very meaningful. It helps us to not be afraid."

It would be wrong of me to talk about my life as a neighbor, to write a book about the ways my neighbors have changed my life and shown me a truer picture of God's power and love, yet not share with you that my neighborhood is hurting right now. I wrestle constantly with the most honoring way to share the lives which intersect with my own. I never know if I'm doing it right, but I can at least attempt to do it fairly by telling the whole truth.

I'm not interested in being a political activist. I'm far too cynical, having seen from close range the damage both sides do. But if I fear anything, it's my primal urge to default to apathy and inaction. Conservatives find me a traitor. Liberals find me a light-weight. No one is happy with who I am or what I stand for and half the time, I'm a little unclear myself. But my neighbors haven't asked who I voted for. They don't have time for political skirmishes. They just want to know I love them and I'm with them. They need to feel some of their sadness seep into my bones. 

November has been rough, but the war we're in is not the war we think we're in. Our fight is against darkness, wherever we find it, even and especially within ourselves. Our call is to look out and be about the business of those who are pushed aside, forced down, and silenced. Find them, walk toward their pain, and suffer it with them through service. I want to live in such a way that this is my first instinct.

Jesus sided with the poor, the grieving, the humble, the hungry, the merciful, the pure, the persecuted, the champions of peace. He raged against rulers and grabbed hold of ordinary humans. He did far more than just pray. He questioned systems and voted for life with his actual life. My friend Shannon invites us most beautifully to do the same.

In this battle, our best weapon isn't our sharp rhetoric, our imposing size, or the threat of our force. We kill darkness by leaving our door ajar, passing foil pans of cakes and tamales, and being willing to look foolish.

The neighbors send a dove for an olive branch - a boy with a pitcher of soup - as if searching for dry land.

I sit at the island with a note-card and Spanish "skills" buried beneath two decades of mental rust, scratching out a string of mistakes that hopefully amounts to something like, "We are so thankful to have you as our neighbor."

We invite each other in. We listen. We cry. We hug. We eat together and laugh.

How do we win when the odds feel grim? By turning toward the light and chasing it together.

"What good is a door with just one hinge? You need two hinges to get doors to work, or it's just no good at all. Jesus said you are to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Loving God is the top hinge, and loving your neighbor is the bottom one. Everything depends on both of these. They cannot be separated." 

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