Rise Against

Word Offering

After a desperately needed week off – though it wasn’t a week free of drama and chaos, it was a week off from this space. I do love this space (the imaginary blog space and the psychological space of work, as well as this actual physical space of chair and computer) but stepping away gave me the opportunity to respond quickly and without reservation. It gave me the opportunity to answer the phone and quickly say yes, and that is something we (at least that I) don’t get the freedom to do nearly enough.

I’ll touch on last week soon enough, but I do want to dive into the Visio Divina poem from 2 weeks ago. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please take a second to read my last post, ‘This Branch.’)

So. This branch – “This branch is blowing, sometimes gently, sometimes violently, moved, led, a dance of differing tempos. This branch, before the cool gray shy and behind the jarring, out-of-place power lines, connected to the tree, (the Vine), healthy, crisp, bright, refined, bending, swaying, it is beautiful, an extension of the tree, it’s very nature is, here, now, lovely. As it is.” – is me. You. Him. Her. Us. We are beautiful, lovely, at our deepest essence. Exactly as we are. (Despite the lies we believe distance us and make us something less, we remain made in the image of God, after all, made in, by, and for, love. As Rise Against sings, “We are far from perfect, but perfect as we are. We are bruised, we are broken, but we are ** works of art.”) Exactly as we have been created, joined, connected to the Tree that gives us life and vitality. We are acted upon by our environments, consisting of the world around us. This takes many forms, none intrinsically good or bad, like neighbors, work, viruses, winter, pizza, sex, money, the ocean, etc. The environment that blows us, weathers us, and threatens to sever us from the Tree that sustains us as it reminds us again and again that we are these amazing works of art.

Now, the condensation: “But a stripe from the window, a separation, condensation (cold meeting warm leaving unwelcome evidence of the battle on the glass) cuts through the branch, blurs, dulls, smears, makes the concrete abstract, changes perception, confuses, redefines the branch, the branch loses it’s essence, unrecognizable.” As the environment simply exists, it can engage with itself or other environments in many ways, some of them in conflict, which can change the perception we have of ourselves. We become unrecognizable (I mis-typed and was corrected to “unrecognized” but that is no correction at all, it’s 100% wrong. The Tree recognizes us, no matter where we are, how far we go, or how much condensation separates us.) and confused. We own the notion that we are re-defined by this blur, so we re-define ourselves, which encourages us to re-define others, as “sinners,” or some other broad-sweeping generalizations that reduce the beauty of the branches and the Tree for one unfortunate aspect or behavior.

I don’t have any idea how coherent this explanation of this Visio is…probably not very. Maybe it’s so difficult to convey because any revelation, any truly soul-altering experience, is ultimately a personal exchange between you and the Divine. An intimate moment beyond words… that we try to use words to catch and maybe in the attempt to capture, loses its nature or its heart.

Maybe I should delete this whole thing, maybe sharing it profanes it’s purity. But you already know I won’t. I won’t delete it because maybe its purity is instead magnified in the overwhelming goodness of a God who would meet us in a branch and smudge on a window. So, on that chance, I will post it gladly, in all of its jumbled inadequacy, His goodness displayed in my weakness, as a Word Offering (like a drink offering of the Old Testament) to the God that so thoroughly provides.

On The Way

Then I met a girl and we fell in love. Then I met 2 families and we fell in love. Then I met Jesus and we fell in love, too, and my life was forever changed. So, I took some Bible classes, mostly because Rob Bell was tying books of the Bible to other books of the Bible to my life that made sense in a way that nothing else could, and I wanted to know how to begin to do that on my own. To borrow a trite expression, I wanted to learn how to fish.

Writing all of those papers, I was discovering something very surprising. The Bible wasn’t perfect, or produced, or pretty. It was beautiful, but in the kind of way that Rise Against is beautiful. 

In 2011, Rise Against released an album called Endgame that’s 2nd track was “Help Is On The Way.” This song was a scathing indictment of the response (or lack thereof) during hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. (To be fair, this song, and especially the video, affected me in such a visceral way because we were also the victims of a tropical storm and flooding that ended with my home underwater and all of our possessions gone and a sickening apathy on the part of organizations whose sole purpose is to respond and care for victims like us. I knew what it was to watch your child’s grade school artwork float away, knew the pity in a school secretary’s eyes when she asked if we were still “homeless,” knew what it was to walk barefoot into the Walmart to buy some shoes, knew what it was to face bankruptcy because the flood insurance didn’t cover total losses. But we are not really talking about the video. But as long as we are, you could listen to “One Blue Sky” by Sugarland, too.) The song, when he screams, “Right here, right now!!!” Then later, “We were told just to sit tight, ‘cause somebody will soon arrive, help is on the way…but it never caaaaaaaame!!!” That guttural wail is what it sounds like when your heart is torn out of your chest. Now, maybe Tim McIlrath doesn’t know what it feels like to wait without hope, feeling lost and forgotten, maybe he doesn’t care about people like me, but it sure sounds like he does. It sure sounds like he has something in his soul to say that absolutely must get out, even if no one will ever hear it. 

In the Bible, Habakkuk asks why bad people succeed and good people don’t. We study Jonah and whales as kids, but the book of Jonah is very much about a disobedient boy who runs rather than helps those he doesn’t like. Lamentations is a full book (excepting a few verses in the middle) of how mean God has been to us. One Psalm details a wish that the writer’s enemies will have their babies “dashed on the rocks.” And I could go on and on. These are real people in real places in real times with things to say that have to be said, screamed or cried.

The thing about these very honest questions, doubts, prayers, is that they are never met with judgment. Never does God (or the authors of the individual books) chastise or punish these people for the exchange. They are allowed to exist, just as they are. If you are one who, like me, believes the entire book is inspired by God, and the books collected are collected with God’s divine guidance (So, why would God want these things? If I was writing a book about me, I would probably leave out the parts that weren’t too complimentary. I would only include the parts testifying to how awesome I am), the God of the Bible seems very comfortable with these questions, with the conflict, with the wrestling. Sometimes, (almost all the times), the questions were never answered. Certainly not in the concrete way we’d prefer. 

As I fell more and more in love with the Bible, it was obvious that the Bible was far more Rise Against than it was Mariah Carey. 

The Bible was not what I had been sold, not even close. There was room for me, my questions, my rough edges, and my inadequacies. Right where I was, right where I am.

Now. This exhilarating fact led to an inevitable next uncomfortable question: If there was room for me, was there also room for pretty, perfect production, too?

Far From Perfect

There are days, weeks, seasons of our lives where the walls are caving in, every phone call is at best: an emergency, at worst: the worst. There is no end to our prayers, no more tears to cry, our heart hurts even though it’s already in pieces, broken so thoroughly it feels as if it’ll never be put back together. You know these spaces, this darkness, this pain. And yet we pray, we still cry, still hurt. We keep moving, because tomorrow can’t be like this, right? And then, of course, it is. This is a season like that.

But we get up again. We don’t want to, but we do. We stand.

This is why it’s so important to examine and understand weight, priority, value – for times like this. Because it’s hard to see at night. Sometimes, it’s hard to breathe and we’re overcome with despair, and it’s precisely these times when we need to know what we are about, when there’s no time to think and the foundation is shaking. When the water is rising.

Everyone responds well when the sun is shining, everyone is gracious when they win.

Anyway. 

I love to watch court shows, like the People’s Court. The People’s Court is on where I live at 1 and 5, I record the 5 o’clock and watch it the next day while I eat my lunch around noon-ish. Today, I’m not watching it because I’m writing. This isn’t too unusual, but I’ll tell you something. I’m sad today. There’s a sweet boy I know undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor right now, I’ve had a run of bad news, relationships are falling apart – others and a few of my own, my legs hurt from a spin class 2 days ago, a good friend is trying to get home but is in the hospital while his insides bleed slowly, several people have passed away and I’m praying for peace for the beautiful friends who have lost. SO. All I want to do is lay on the couch and cry a little and watch Marilyn Milian. 

I’m not, though. Instead, I’m writing. Because that’s who I am. At least it’s who I’ve decided I want to be, who I have been created to be, long before the surgeries and phone calls and funerals and spin bikes. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time exhuming myself, getting rid of all of the walls and dirt and damaging words and thoughts and lies I’ve buried myself under, trying to discover me.       

I value honesty, mercy, and forgiveness. (I’m really working on the last 2 towards myself, but I’m working on them because they are so important to me.) 

I believe people are created in the image of God (even me, which may be the most difficult to accept, right?) I believe that waaaaay down, in the deepest parts of my soul. Then when people let me down (and we always do, eventually) and I’m tempted to think humanity is a hopeless lost cause, I remember what I know – what I learned in the daylight, when it was quiet and I could think clearly. 

But if I didn’t give the time and effort then, I would surely forget the million examples of beauty and love and be prisoner of the moment, of the offense, of the wound, and make decisions based solely on circumstance. Only on the now.

I’m finished for now. I’m going to lay down and cry a little and listen to some music. But there is this Rise Against song, that seems totally appropriate today. It’s called ‘Far From Perfect’ and this is the chorus:   

“We are far from perfect, but we’re perfect as we are.

We are bruised, we are broken

But we are [expletive deleted] works of art.”