Tuesday, March 6, 2018

This is What it Feels Like to Talk to the Wind

Every Wednesday at 10 o'clock I meet up with my friend Kristen, a standing date. Don't be too impressed. After months of pinging texts around, trying to coordinate schedules amid intense deadlines all around, both of us juggling work and life, it was only last week that we decided to simplify and just set it in stone. Coffee, on the regular.

There are others like her. Becca, Julia, my friend Jolene. "Want to grab coffee?" "Let's meet for coffee!" "When can we have coffee?"

Just last week, Silas came in for his after-school hug and drew back with a grin. "Did you go to The Brew today?" he asked, like he'd caught me in a secret, the earthy scent still clinging to my t-shirt and hair hours after I'd been there.

"Yep. I met so-and-so for coffee."

"But I thought you don't like coffee?" he asked, confused that I would say something so obviously untrue.

He's right, of course. I say "coffee" when what I really mean is, "tea."
Social shorthand, I suppose. Coffee is the language most everyone else is speaking. Over time it has become easier to set my default at the common narrative.

It's only coffee.

It's no big deal.


Last winter, while the wind whipped raspy through skeletal Walnut trees and snow collected in the skies but never really fell, I spent a disproportionate amount of time sitting around oblong tables, drinking tap water from paper cups. If you know me at all, if you've read Falling Free, you know Cory and I somewhat reluctantly accepted God's grand calling on our lives to embrace the Ministry of Meetings. PTO, neighborhood association, probation, various boards, IEP meetings where we landed almost by accident. These form the pulmonary artery of our full-time ministry (which is to say our ordinary, daily life. Though the details vary, each of us has one.) It's not as flashy as we imagined.

A few meetings stand out in my mind, not because they were exceptionally well-run or because they had superior snacks, but because they almost broke me. They were the ones that nudged my paradigm on liberty and Christian love toward a more desperate, cynical direction.

The  worst one happened back during that steely, snowless winter, but I can still feel the blood pulsing behind my eyes today. I remember my face on fire, my hands gone cold in my lap, my heart lurching as I sat across from tender-hearted humans unceremoniously plunked down at the edges of acceptability like toddlers in time-out. There would be no egg timer signaling relief. No hug waiting at the end. No cold cup of juice.

I watched in agonizing proximity as stories were drafted for people I care about without their consent. I watched as these scripts were fed back to them, line by line. I watched the lump in their throats as they swallowed them down like junk nourishment. And I wondered - why is no one screaming? How is it that whole lives can be shattered without making a sound?

For the past year I've been on a fast-track to catching a glimpse of what it's like to be hated by people who hold all the power in their own slick fists. The powerful rely on different tactics, some take their shot at distraction with easy smiles and honey tongues, others go straight for the kill, refusing eye contact, talking over you, taking phone calls as you sit low at their mercy, rubbing it in that while it's your life hanging in the balance, it's of no consequences to them.

I am new to these meetings, but my friends are not.
I say some things. I listen. I watch.

I have seen that when your future is painted grimly enough, you might hold onto your life at the expense of the truth. When you are told often enough that you don't matter, that you're a problem, a liar, a mistake, that you aren't worth the air you breathe, it is only so long before you fold into yourself and try to disappear, storing up your voice in the storm clouds within. It is only so long before you believe your best shot for redemption is to speak only the words Power wants to hear.

"They kept saying you punched him, but you told us you didn't."

"No, I never punched him. I only grabbed his shirt."

"But in the meeting you said it, too. You said 'when I punched him'."

"Well, that's what they always call it. So that's what I call it when I'm talking to them."

What are you having today, sweeping devastation? Or relief? 

Coffee? Or Tea? 


They, the powerful, are louder.  Bigger. Fiercer, they believe.

They are the wind, and they'll carry the truth away, if we let them.
But we don't have to go.

Faced with destruction staged in the polite, midday sun, we can surrender or we can rise up together, a rogue garage band hellbent on breaking the sound ordinance.

We don't have to go.

We can insist upon having each other's backs at the expense of being on the right side of Power. We can grab hold of each other and sing like we mean it, letting their hot air swirl around us like redemption's flames, igniting our purpose - to stand for truth and for justice, especially when we're told it's none of our business.

What the wind forgets is that it actually makes us stronger. This is the resistance training of injustice. It bends us, but we snap back, our roots a little deeper, our stance a little wider.

We don't break.

We reach for the resilience born of struggle. We join the fight, because if our friends aren't free, we aren't either. If their voices have been silenced, we'll scream until theirs heals. We'll listen until they hear it for themselves. And then we'll hand them a megaphone.

Our roots thicken, tangling underground as we hedge together to break the howling wind.

I'm getting a bit existential here, I know. What I'm really trying to say is that even when it feels futile, even when we walk out of meetings with our faces on fire, even when we are patronized, even when we're given the side-eye, even when they doubt and disparage us, even when they imagine the worst of us and talk smack, even when they mentally check out or double down, we can can value the truth - everyone's truth. Shared suffering, even when we only get a taste, is the communion of kingdom vitality.

Standing next to each other, we keep talking to the wind, not because it changes anything, but because it might.