When Better is Bad

If you happen to have met me in person, or even have stumbled across this web site more than once or twice, you know that I’m a fan of world travel myself, and have several friends scattered around the world. I currently have friends on at least six of the seven continents, and the one I’m not sure of is Asia. Being a degree or two of separation away from almost every culture and people group on the globe has provided me with many great stories, and hopefully more than a lesson or two.

I read one story today from a friend of friends in Bolivia. She caused me to think deeply, what happens when better is still bad? And not the “aw shucks” bad, but the heartrending, “why God?” bad. Here is her blog entry titled What would you do? (and the J-dude too):

She has two kids.

They were taken away from her by her husband because she was prostituting herself. Its not healthy for kid to be around that, right? He hid them from her for years. But she just found out that he was put in jail for sexually abusing their daughter.

Now both kids are staying with the husband’s brother. He abuses them to, physically and perhaps in other ways. But when she goes to get them, he demands a legal investigation to make sure she is not still prostituting, has a decent job, and can support the kids.

The law can’t help much. After all, she is still prostituting. How do we help? What do we do? She comes to us and cries over her lunch.

And I sit there, wondering where the Holy Spirit hides when we need instant wisdom. I try mix him up like Quaker Oats: thirty seconds and He should be ready to go. But I’m finding that all I have is the silence between me and her. And we sit.

What do you do with this? What can one do? I mourn this situation; this is not the way life is meant to be. I pray, hoping that God will infuse hope into the lives of these people so far away. I pray, hoping that God will help me understand why.

Upon reflection, I do see a glimmer of hope here, and I believe it is there without invoking poetic license. This woman, seemingly without anything, forced by culture and economics to prostitute herself for survival, having lost her husband and her children to poor, desperate decisions … has someone to cry with and to ask hopeful questions. It appears to not be much, but I would like to think that it can mean the world in the moments her tears stream. It is the Kingdom of God breaking in to her life, evidencing that there is a better way, even if today will not be the day the better way begins. Hope against all hope.

Good Sayings

For most of my tenure at Taylor University, the good Dr. Richard Allen Farmer blessed the school as the Dean of the Chapel. This man was the snappiest dresser I’ve ever met, and a heck of a pianist. He could also tell you a good story or two from the Good Book. When he would finish speaking, he would say “would you please look at me and receive the benedictus, the good sayings.” At that point he would craft a wonderful benediction that walked with you through the day, challenging, encouraging, and/or motivating you.

A friend of mine in Brazil posted a traditional Franciscan benediction on his blog. At first glance, the words do not seem like they could fall into the category of good sayings. At a glance, it appears a bit masochistic. My Sunday school teacher never used the felt board to illustrate prayers for discomfort, anger, tears, or foolishness.

But despite their oddity, these words resonated with my soul:

Traditional Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world.
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

(original source unknown)

These words ring true, reminding me that I am not alone as they echo my own requests over the past few years.

  • I long for depth in my journey and in my relationships. There is within me a passion to know and to be known, and sweet, yet uncomfortable experience.
  • I feel anger developing within me. It is as if my soul is attempting to fathom terrible actualities as my priorities are rearranged to let the anger speak itself into actions that bring justice, freedom, and peace.
  • And tears … A request for tears, in not so many words, has been my unspoken desire for years. Even as I desire contentment in my own life, I desire a tenderness to have my heart break for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war. The nightly news hardened me long ago. Only now am I learning to grieve the injustices reported in rehearsed tones of sincerity.
  • If you’ve known me in the past few years you know that I am only becoming more foolish in my belief that the world is mine for the changing. My motivations for doing so are a little different than most people. World change is a nice side benefit of being the person I’ve been designed to be. Love, justice, and righteousness, the very things that change the world, were in the mind of the One who designed me. Striving to live according to my design, to live fully alive, will manifest these three things.

No matter how sappy you think my words are, I hope that the Franciscan words can be your good sayings and your prayer as well as mine.
* Don’t forget to check out the spider monkeys on the Products page of Dr. Farmer’s site. Only $3,500 ? What a deal!

Life Soundtrack

Do you own any movie soundtracks? My family used to thoroughly enjoy listening to the Footloose soundtrack on family vacations (I’m enjoying it right now, as well). As a side note, the enlightenment of John Lithgow’s character in Footloose is enough to bring one to tears. God Bless America.

Anyway, back in 2004 I saw the movie Garden State and was struck by what came across as a perfect marriage between story line and soundtrack. I thought to myself, “why don’t I have a soundtrack?” My task was set. Over the succeeding months I set about selecting songs that spoke to me as challenges, encouraged me, or that were my favorite at the time. The result was a set of songs that encouraged, challenged, and kept me pretty much satisfied throughout my travels. Now, unfortunately, I’ve yet to figure out how I can get my soundtrack to play at the proper times, such as pregnant pauses in conversations and while running through airports to catch planes. Such an option would be handy for others (and for me, as well) to know just what mood I’m in. I might need to hire a guy to do that someday.

Why am I mentioning this now, you might ask. Well, I’ve discovered the obvious: sequels to all non-trilogesque movies must have their own soundtrack. Sure, they can share a song or two, but the bulk of the tracks will change because the people have changed. Heck, you can even still like the soundtrack to the first movie, but the subsequent movies have different story lines, different characters, and different lessons; and is therefore deserving of its own music. So, I’m back to the drawing board.

So, off with Dave Matthews’ “Ants Marching”, and bring on R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”, but not R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”.

What’s on your soundtrack?