Friday, May 29, 2015

I Am Responsible

A friend of mine is a recovering alcoholic. He tells me that on the wall of many AA meeting rooms hangs a statement. It reads:

I am Responsible.
When anyone, anywhere
Reaches out for help,
I want the hand of AA to be there.
And for that: I am responsible.

Like many aspects of the 12-step program, this simple statement holds profound truth and power. It recognizes that I am my brother’s keeper. It proclaims that God, in the face of the skeptic’s scoffing, did do something about the world’s suffering. God created you and me. Put simply, it accepts responsibility.

There’s a lot of analysis out there about the current state of affairs of the Church. Pew Research Center, the Gallup Poll, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), have all placed empirical numbers behind the commonplace hunch that in the desacralizing face of postmodernism the Church’s efforts to evangelize (it’s fundamental raison d’etre) aren’t going very well.

Let me state as an emphatic caveat that I am both indebted to and grateful for the rise of religious research and the contributions this body of literature makes to the proclamation of the gospel. I am both a researcher and a student of research. I love the stuff. I’m fully onboard. Yet I fear that for many, and I can say this of myself even, this bourgeoning corpus of statistics isn’t bringing us any closer to addressing the problem. We can slice and dice the data but it doesn’t mean we’re doing anything about it. The overabundance of analysis brings more paralysis than apostolic action.

Pope Francis warns against an unhealthy Church “clinging to its security” and getting “caught up in a web of procedures.”[1] I wonder if he might say that same thing about all our impressive statistics. While we’re “in here” crunching all our numbers and arguing about interpretations, there are millions “out there” dying on the streets and losing hope in the dignity of life. “If something should rightly disturb and trouble our consciences,” Pope Francis exhorts, “it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life.”[2]

Perhaps an AA meeting might do us all good. What if every Christian, everywhere would accept responsibility for his brothers and sisters, those people in their daily sphere of influence who are quietly drifting, who are silently suffering, who need someone to talk to? What if on the wall of every Christian home hung a sign that said:

I am responsible.
When anyone, anywhere
Reaches out for help
I want the hand of Chris’s body to be there.
And for that: I am responsible.

It is much easier to pontificate over numbers than it is to pick up the phone, hop in the car, physically GO to where real people are, and engage “the other” in the name of Jesus. Yet we must call. We must go. We must embrace and love and forgive and comfort and challenge. We must, in the final analysis, take responsibility.

I believe God is calling every one of us. No one is exempt. No one is forgotten. And I can do no better than Bohemian-Austrian novelist Rainer Maria Rilke who wrote this haunting poem entitled “Go to the Limits of your Longing”:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
Then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall
Go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going.
No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

 If you're ready to be responsible, so am I. Give me your hand. We'll do this together.

[1] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), 49.
[2] Ibid.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Playing With Children, Dancing With God

I played with the children this morning. We ran around the trampoline. We hit whiffle balls with golf clubs. We wrote on the driveway with chalk. When they got cranky we had a snack. My youngest son took a nap. My three and six year old played with water on the deck. Now they’re in the tree fort.

When given the space, children do things that we don’t naturally do. They march in circles. They sing. They pick dandelions in the yard. They throw those helicopters into the air, ya know the ones that fall from trees? They imagine that they’re in a boat, even if they’re just sitting in the grass.

They fight sometimes. But they generally know right from wrong. When I asked Addie why Jackson was upset with her, she said it was because she had three fish and he only had one. I asked her what would happen if she gave one fish to Jackson. She said that they both would have two. I asked if that was fair. She got a big smile on her face and ran out onto the deck and gave Jackson one fish. 

Jesus was constantly trying to tell everyone to be like children. Children seem to have a knack for showing us the face of God. But we’re often too busy, too sophisticated, or too important to see Him. Children don’t know the difference between transubstantiation and consubstantiation but they know what love is. They might be mad at you for at 7:00 when you tell them they can’t have candy for breakfast, but they forgive you by 7:15 when you get down on the floor and roll around with them like, well, a child.

I read a poem this morning that reminded me of being a child. It was written by a little boy who had a terrible disease and didn’t live very long. But he could “see” better than most of the adults I know. It’s called “Angel-Wings”:

This morning, I smelled something very good.
Perhaps, it was a rainbow.
Or maybe, it was a dinosaur smile.
Or even, a seashell.
I am not sure what I smelled.
And I am not sure what rainbows
Or dinosaur smiles
Or seashells
Smell like.
But I’m sure they smell wonderful.
Wonderful and special
Like the smell of Angel-Wings.
But also,
I’m sure they smell a little sad,
Because we can’t really smell a rainbow,
Or a dinosaur smile,
Or a seashell,
Or especially,
We can’t really smell
The wonderful smell
Of Angel-Wings.[1]

My children are playing. They are beckoning me to see, to hear, to feel, to taste, and yes, to smell the wonderful presence of God. Lord, let me say yes. Let me say yes to the glorious invitation that you give us in children.

[1] Mattie Stepanek lived only thirteen years, suffering from a rare form of muscular dystrophy. In that time he published five best-selling volumes of poetry, penned peacemaking essays that influenced international leaders, and wrote the lyrics for an award-winning country album. See Mattie J. T. Stepanek, Heartsongs (NY: VSP Books, 2001), 9.