From Aaron: I have to tell you something. What Zaccheus threw on the floor was blood money.
From Mercy: You mean Judas?
From Aaron: Yeah, Judas. It was blood money.
From Aaron: I have to tell you something. What Zaccheus threw on the floor was blood money.
From Mercy: You mean Judas?
From Aaron: Yeah, Judas. It was blood money.
This headline caught my eye this morning:
South Africans head to the polls tomorrow in the fourth elections since the end of apartheid in 1994. More than 23 million people have registered to vote in what is being billed as one of most important elections in the country’s history.
I visited South Africa in the months leading up to that first historic election in 1994. I remember sitting in the living room in a township where a man who shared seventeen years in prison with Nelson Mandela hosted me and my best friend, Julie, for two nights. He had gathered the young leaders from his community, a passionate group of young men, and while Julie and I had expected to sip tea and ask them questions, we instead faced what we later called “the Inquisition”. The group sat, on the edges of their chairs, one after the other asking us questions about our nation’s foreign policy and our own awareness of what South Africa had endured and continued to endure to that day. It was perhaps the most challenging night of my life.
During our tour we met with religious and political leaders, as well as leaders in the financial sector who were projecting then much of what we see happening in the nation of South Africa now, post-Apartheid. The article highlights “high unemployment, one of the highest crime rates in the world and the highest number of HIV infections globally” as the backdrop for these elections, and I can’t help but remember how my global ignorance and inactivity felt that night in a township living room: the issues and battles are different now, but the overwhelming volume of suffering and loss of life continues.
I have been thinking a great deal lately about God’s global mission, and the scriptures assure us that God’s intention from the beginning is to see all nations blessed. And so I find myself wondering, what exactly does it look like to be partners, participants, servants of that mission? For there is certainly no exemption clause for those who profess allegiance to the Christ! Yet it is all too easy to sit and grow numb and opt for the kind of safe ignorance that a group of young men confronted in me fifteen years ago.
The other morning I lay in a hospital bed watching three different reality TV shows. We don’t have cable, so this was my chance to see firsthand three shows I had heard people talk about. It was alluring, I admit, to enter the intimate space of these peoples’ lives, as choreographed as much of it surely was. And I was reminded of something Dick Staub wrote in his most recent book, The Culturally Savvy Christian:
“Humans sit in front of television sets, passively watching human misery unfold, while just outside their door, down the street, or in an apartment next door, a real person faces the same problem and there is no one to help them because we’re all preoccupied withour favorite characters on reality TV.
When diversion is a way of life, we avoid the very issues to which we shouldbe most attentive. We are diverted from the grim, unpleasant truth that our lives lack meaning withouit God, that consumption does not satisfy, that the differential between wealth and poverty is unjust, that our neighbor is in need, and that the appropriate human response to poeple in need is sleeves-rolled-up service, not simply watching.”
Which takes me back to needs and challenges of South Africa. Part of the good news, in fact the center of the good news, is the truth of what Isaiah speaks in chapter nine: That “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” At first reading, that verse seems to describe “those people”; the ones suffering; the ones living in darkness; the ones I pity or maybe despise. But perhaps the verses instead describe those like me.
Verse five continues: “Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be feul for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Battles and bloodshed do not have the final word; not in South Africa where disease and poverty are king, or in those countries where we or any other power wrestles to rule. The final word is that word spoken from the beginning; an unlikely word; a child. And for us to be followers of that Word in our world is not a responsibility we can avoid, deny or reject.
I was invited to participate in a blog series hosted by L.A. friend, JR Woodward, exploring how people would describe the gospel, the “good news”, in their given context. My entry will post next week.
JR writes this about the series: In this blog series each of the contributors will be summarizing their understanding of the Good News in 300 to 500 words. Each author is writing their entry as if they were invited by their city newspaper to write an article on the Good News, thus you will find the name of the author’s city newspaper in each entry. This series will challenge us to grow in our ability to share the good news with a variety of people from different perspectives.
The list of contributors and the posting schedule can be found here.
“Row or Die!” These were the words Doug read from the side of a building outside my window. Not the most tactful message to have outside of a hospital room, however the view of the lake and the bridge and even the appearance of some sunshine was quite cheerful. Yes, the sun is now an “event”, in much the way that rain was a weather “event” down in Los Angeles.
After a long night of waiting in the UW Hospital emergency room Monday night, and after some confusion among the doctors as to what they were treating, I was admitted early Tuesday morning with a kidney infection. I had woken up on Easter morning with a shaky, fevery feeling, and made my way through the day as best I could. But by Sunday night I knew I was sick and when Monday morning hit, I was miserable.
Doug has class on Mondays and had some homework to do before class so I felt bad calling him back and decided I could just push through the day. We operated at minimal capacity: Mercy did not go to preschool; the kids watched two and a half hours of PBS; I think I fed them cold waffles for breakfast and lunch. I finally called my mom and begged her to come and spend her lunch hour with us to give me at least some minutes’ rest. She came toward the end of the day and, seeing how badly I was doing, she packed up some jammies and the necessary blankets and animals, and took the three kiddos to her house (Doug was not going to be home until later in the evening due to his class). I crawled back into bed and when Doug called me around eight to check in. I took my temperature: 104.4.
I called my folks and asked my dad to come pick me up to take me to the ER. We drove to the UW hospital and he stayed with me until Doug showed up. When I got checked in, there was that slightly awkward moment with the woman behind the glass looked up at my dad and asked: “And this is your…” “Father!” I answered, quickly. I was of course still in the system as Erika Carney, and my parents were still my next-of-kin. As my dad informed Doug when he arrived: “You’ve been promoted.”
When we were finally given a room, I was shivering from my fever and huddling under my down jacket and as many of the heated blankets as Doug could find. One of the first doctors we spoke with was a beautiful young woman who, after looking at my chart, informed me that she is a member at Quest, another area Covenant church. Her warmth and personal care for us throughout the night and early morning were a gift in the midst of the pain.
Because I had come in with a high fever and back pain, they were afraid of what might be happening around my spine, and of course with everything our friends in L.A. have gone through with sudden paralysis due to spinal inflammation, that was deeply concerning. But by morning, the decision had been made to move me upstairs for treatment of what they believed to be a kidney infection.
When we got upstairs, we were told who our doctor would be and our nurse whispered to us: “You’ll love her!” And we did. As the residents gathered (it’s a teaching hospital so it’s a little Grey’s Anatomy sometimes) to run through my history and talk through the treatment I had so far received in the ER, my doctor was the only one who seemed to notice I was shivering in the new bed that had no blankets and she quickly pulled what she could find to cover me.
Treatment was basically IV fluids and IV antibiotics and pain medication. After I had been sufficiently poked and hooked up to things, we were left to try and rest. I wondered aloud to Doug that morning: “So when you’re the pastor, do you get visited?”
It turns out the answer is yes, and friends were quick to show up with provisions and prayers.
Coming from L.A. where we had more than our share of hospital stays, we found the UW hospital a bit remarkable. Not only were our doctor and nurse superior and the view lovely, but as a patient you get room service. No generic hospital food that comes when it wants, but a full eight page menu that you can order from at any time throughout the day. Thai basil stir fry, lemongrass pork loin, pacific salmon…and as many diet cokes and chocolate chip cookies as one would like.
We used to have moments in Los Angeles where something would happen and we would make the comment: “You know, because we live in L.A…” After my breakfast had been delivered, and the nurse introduce us to “Pinky”, the staff member whose job it is to go from room to room with coffee refills, we looked at each other: “Because we live in Seattle…”
One surreal moment came when, during my last morning, I flipped on the television and clicked through the cables channels only to see my OB’s from L.A. on their Discovery Health show, Deliver Me. Doug and I were filmed for the show, and this was the first time I had seen a real live episode. So as I sat in the midst of room service and lake views, I watched other people’s pregnancy dramas unfold form a distance.
I was able to go home on Wednesday, and have been resting at home recovering since. Friends have brought meals over and offered to play with the kiddos. Aaron is more concerned about the tape residue on my hands and arms from the many needle pokes, and he thinks those are the things that are making me feel sick. My sister comes into town tomorrow with her little baby, and I am hoping to feel well enough to spend as much time possible holding that little baby girl. Of course, I have my mother to compete with in that arena so I should probably reduce my expectations there…
We were in the car earlier when I started to sing: “This is the day, this is the day, that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made…” This song had been repeated so much in our house the last few weeks as the kids geared up to sing it in church on Palm Sunday that it runs through my mind without me realizing it.
We talked last night about the significance of Maundy Thursday, and the events we remember on that day. As the kids crawled into their beds, my Mom read the account of Jesus washing his disciples feet and I acted out the story (Mercy was quite disappointed that I did not have a real bowl of water and soap like last time–it was late so I had just grabbed a few wipes instead. I know, kind of lame…). After everyone’s feet (or Jammies, in Aaron’s case) were clean, we continued with the reading and I took some graham cracker and water and we continued the story. Mercy and Aaron were sober about what we were doing up until the moment I broke the graham cracker and they started fighting over who would get more pieces.
Today we have talked about the fact that we are remembering Jesus’ death (not sure how we will act this one out tonight…Mercy suggested I hang on a cross and we could use some ketchup for the blood). This has come up on more than one occasion, so when I started to sing “This is the Day” earlier, I stopped with what felt like a dissonance: really? This is the day the Lord has made? Let us rejoice? Be glad in it?
Last Sunday the kids waved their palms and sang and reminded us of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. And their song reminded us that Jesus’ coming was reason to celebrate: Let us rejoice! And be glad in it!
And as much as Jesus’ death suggested deepest disappointment and denial, the fact remains that indeed he HAD come as king. And the cross, the dissonance brought by blood and suffering, does not undo or deny that. It demonstrates that in all of its seeming contradictions.
“Colossal evil is unprepared for an encounter with colossal grace. Such evil is caught off guard when grace dares it to do its worst (Colossians 2:14-15). When grace is too good to be true, it becomes the ground of its own dismissal. Yet grace won’t go away. It reaches beyond itself, as was the case at the Ravensbrück concentration camp, site of the deaths of 90,000 women and children during World War II. The following prayer was found on a scrap of paper near the body of a dead child:
‘O Lord, Remember not only men and women of good will, but also of ill will. But do not only remember the suffering they have inflicted on us, remember the fruits we have brought thanks to this suffering - our comradeship, our loyalty, humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this. And when they come to judgment, let the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness. Amen. Amen. Amen.’”
Sunday after worship, the big kids decided to walk back to my parents’ house with “Grammy and Pop-Pop” so I headed out to the van with only Elijah. I had the diaper bag backpack, my purse, a folder that held my teaching notes, and the stainless travel coffee mug that is my faithful companion most days. Oh, and of course my one-year-old who is now sharing clothes with Aaron. Needless to say, my hands were full.
I have a habit of setting the tall coffee mug up on the roof of the van while I buckle the baby into his seat. It rests perfectly inside the rails that hold the Thule top on our van, and this frees my hands to load things into place.
After securing everyone and everything, I slipped behind the wheel, latched my own seat belt, backed out of my parking space and drove to the parking lot exit. As I turned the van onto Ashworth, a large thud was heard right outside the van, and there was the sound of something heavy bouncing along the street.
I slammed on the breaks, and before I could even throw the van into reverse, a little voice from behind me declared: “Coffee!”
My kids love to be read to, and part of our nightly ritual is sitting on one of their beds after they are all tucked in and reading sections of a longer chapter book. We alternate between books from the library, books we own and have read before, and the big children’s Bible they love.
The big kids can have a hard time settling down at the end of the day, so one of the expectations during the reading time is that they lay in their beds, practicing being “quiet and still”. They can of course ask questions, and there is typically a fair amount of “Excuse me, Mommy…” and “Excuse me, Daddy…” and the waterfall of questions that we have come to expect, especially from Mercy. (Someone made the comment this past week that if we could somehow charge admission for entry into our daughter’s mind, we would be rich!)
At some point, either if it is late, the kiddos are extremely tired, or there have already been enough questions asked, we will tell the kids that they need to lay still, with eyes closed, and no more talking. This is often what it takes for them to finally settle down enough to come anywhere near to sleep.
The other night I had reached the point with Mercy (Aaron had already passed out) where we were at the eyes closed/no more talking stage, and I was reading for her the story of Jesus’ death. This is almost always the story she asks for when I open up the big Bible.
As I finished reading about the crucifixion, I chose to keep going with the story and I read this:
“Peter and John returned home, but Mary stayed by the tomb weeping. Suddenly she looked up to see two angels sitting where the body of Jesus had lain.
“Why are you weeping?” they asked her.
“Because they have taken my Lord away.” As she spoke she turned and saw a man standing behind her in the shadows. It was Jesus, although at first Mary failed to recognize him.
At this point, Mercy’s body grew completely tense and her face started to twitch, yet she managed to keep those eyes closed and remain horizontal on her bed. I continued reading:
“Why are you weeping?” he said. Believing him to be the gardener, she asked him if he knew where the body had been taken.
“Mary, it is I.”
“My Lord!” she cried, her face full of joy.
As I read these last words, Mercy suddenly erupted into a grin that seemed to cover her whole body and her eyes flew open. And through that giant smile, her voice breathless, she hurried to explain: “Mommy, my face just always has to smile when she says “My Lord”!”
Mercy’s joy, uncontrolled and overwhelming, at hearing about that moment when Mary recognized Jesus; when she realized that her Lord was alive, is a good reminder for me of what this Sunday is all about.