Monday, January 18, 2016

Dropping Another Stone

Yesterday was a successful day.  I successfully avoided the two things I was suppose to do: exercising and writing.  Instead, I watched the movie, He Named Me Malala.  It's the story of the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, who openly defied the Taliban's policy against educating girls.  They shot her in the head.  She almost died. 

For most of my life, I've admired Martin Luther King, a man who did die for what he believed in.  As a Christian, I follow one who suffered an agonizing death because he could not stop challenging injustice and living a life which proclaimed, in word and deed, the inestimable value of those whom society  tried its best to pretend did not exist, or at the very least did not matter.  That same man declared that the greatest love any person could have was to lay down one's  life for one's friend.  He was very clear that everyone was God's, and therefore his, friend.  So if I follow Christ, I'm suppose to be willing to die for what I believe in; for any and all of God's children.  Just how willing am I ?

What is it that makes someone able to die for what they believe in?  What is it that made Martin Luther King able to march through Montgomery, through Birmingham, through Memphis, knowing only too well that those steps could cost him his life?  God?  But his God is my God.  God is just as present with me as God was with Martin Luther King, and. . .King lived the life of an early to mid-twentieth century Black man.  In far too many ways, it was a brutal, dehumanizing life.  King also had the opportunity to think deeply about the meaning and cost of discipleship.  If those realities to some degree explain a man's willingness to face death, what on earth explains the willingness of a child, of a teenager, of Malala?  Is whatever explains that in me?
How willing am I to lay down my life?  Not very.  Do I have what Malala has?  No.  Years ago, I participated with a disability rights group in a protest.  My biggest worry was that I would get arrested, so I did my best to make damn sure I didn't.  When a friend who was willing to get arrested asked me to guard the door he was blocking while he went to the restroom, I did as he asked, but I was scared to death.  If it was that hard for me to risk arrest, I doubt I would risk my life.  And that's the problem with admiring Martin Luther King and Malala, let alone with trying to live as a disciple of Christ: I often feel like I failed.

Martin Luther King led a bus boycott when he was twenty-five.  When I was twenty-five, I graduated from college.  It pales by comparison.  And although I know the comparison is unfair, I still do it .   Every time I do it I wonder, What have I done with my life?  When I was Malala's age, I was an American teenager absorbed in adolescent angst.  It would never have occurred to me to risk a huge sacrifice for the sake of other people.  Is that ok?  If I admire and try to follow extraordinary people, is it ok that I am in so many ways ordinary?

Today was also a successful day, more or less.  I successfully avoided exercising again, and almost avoided writing.  This time my method of avoidance was Carrie Newcomer.  A folk singer grounded in a deep and rich sense of the sacred, she sang the Word of God to me--Not out of the Bible, but out of ordinary life:

So today I'll drop stones into the river,
And the current takes them out into forever,
And the truth is,
Most of us will never know
Where our best intentions go.
Still I'll drop another stone.
I'm not Martin or Malala.  I'm Mary.  I write blog entries and do a Bible study for ordinary people I love and care about who love and care about me. I know some people who read what I post, and each of the four or five people who sit with me and ponder questions about God and life every Monday.  But the truth is, in a very real sense, I have no idea where my best intentions go--how they mix and mesh --or don't mix and mesh--with what's inside you.  I can't determine outcomes or entirely control their impact.  All I can do is drop stones into the river. . .

So I'm dropping another stone.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Mangers, Christmas Parties, and the Energy of God

We had our Christmas party last week--"We" being the residents and staff who live and work in the place I call home.  I am not much for parties.  Introvert that I am, I prefer being alone.  But my power chair had been broken for six weeks (I would have written about that, but it was basically  a repeat of the "My chair needs a new battery" post I wrote not long enough ago, and "ditto" doesn't count as writing). Life in my manual chair was less than fun. Even I was tired of sitting in my apartment.  I went to the party.

Someone had hired a band for the occasion--a perfectly decent band I suppose, but in a space as small as our dining hall, their amplifiers and mics turned the music into a wall of sound--a wall I felt like I had just crashed into. Conversation was impossible.  A friend pushed me to a table.  It was sprinkled with candy--Hershey's kisses, mints, chocolate Santas.   Miraculously, I didn't want any.  The band played; I twiddled my thumbs, literally. I'll stay for thirty minutes, I promised no one in particular.  Then I looked up, and saw Sasha.

She was dancing.  I mean really dancing.  She moved like Elvis.  I swear each hip wiggled independently.  I stared at her.  I broke into a smile.  I think I actually laughed. Almost involuntarily, my hand began to tap on the arm of my chair. I was keeping time with the music, which had apparently stopped being a wall.  Speaking of Elvis, Santa could dance too!  The head of our maintenance department, whose name really is Elvis, was Santa this year, and he and Sasha made quite a pair!  I looked around the room.  People got out of their chairs and joined the dance. Our executive director was taking pictures.  She and the rest of the staff were laughing with each other, and with us.  This was worth coming for, I thought, and this is God.

The pure, unadulterated joy; the energy that moved through the room, that moved my hand to tap and my lips into a smile--that is the God my religion sings of, who delights in surprising us, who loves to show up in unexpected places, like mangers and dining halls, and even grumpy people who don't like parties.  In life's best moments, that God fills us to the brim with his--or her--exuberance, extravagance, and generosity, which then spills out as loud music, joyous dancing, and occasionally, a run-on sentence or two!

May your new year and mine be filled with that God.