The One Day That I Believe in Magic

When I experienced the “reawakening” of my faith a few years ago, I didn’t know what to do with the Easter story. As a kid, I never questioned the supernatural happenings written about in the Bible. I just accepted what my Sunday School teacher told me, what my Mom told me, and what I read in the Bible.

But, being in combat has a way of stripping away all your illusions. After the first time that I went to Iraq, I lost my ability to believe in miracles. I watched too many young men and women die horribly and painfully to believe that prayer accomplished much, or that supernatural intervention existed. I figured that the relationship between God and prayer fell into one of three categories: either God didn’t hear our prayers, God heard but didn’t listen, or God listened, but didn’t care.

So, when I came back to the church and began to practice my faith more intentionally, I felt that I had to re-imagine the story of the Resurrection to fit with the experiences of the previous 8 years of my life. For a time, I professed a view of the Resurrection that was purely symbolic: Jesus rose from the dead “metaphorically”, that symbolism applied to us as well. Jesus rose from the dead and lived forever in the sense that His teachings continued long after He died. After all, isn’t that the only way that we live forever: in the hearts and minds of the people that we affected?

In short, I didn’t have room in my faith or my life for magic.

Oh, what a difference a few years can make.

As the time has passed, as I’ve had the time to re-examine my experiences and my response to them, I have made a decision that seems counterintuitive: I have decided to believe in magic, at least on Easter Sunday.

It’s not that I need to live in a world where people come back from the dead.

I need to live in a world where Jesus rose from the dead.

The lesson of the resurrection, to me, is that God’s love overcame man’s wrath. And, I need to believe that.

I need to believe that love conquers wrath, even if just for one day.

I need to believe that the Prince of Peace was more powerful that the dogs of war, even if just for one day.

I need to believe that forgiveness conquers hatred and violence, even if just for one day.

I need to believe that life overcomes death, if just for one day.

Because, if Jesus truly, literally rose from the dead, these things can be true. And, if they can be true for Him, then maybe they can be true for the world that I live in. Maybe I and my children can live in the world that Jesus created when He walked out of the tomb. Maybe we can live in a world where forgiving your enemies is a more potent act than killing them. Maybe we can live in a world where mankind’s wrath and addiction to violence is finally satisfied, overcome by love, peace, and compassion.

Maybe, we can live in the world where death is not the final answer, where all the men and women who have died on the altar of warfare can rise again – in some other place and time – into a world where the lion lies down with the lamb.

A world with a risen Jesus is a world where there is hope. It’s a hope that says that no matter what happens on Friday night, Sunday morning will be better. It’s a hope that says that promises are kept, and that they can be believed.

So, today, I choose to believe in magic. I choose to believe that Jesus physically walked out of His grave, that He conquered death in a very real sense, and that death is now only a temporary state – a waiting room for everlasting and abundant life. Even if I can’t believe in a single other magical, supernatural occurrence, I have decided to believe in this one. Because, it makes the pain, the suffering, the death that I see and read about every day somehow bearable.

So, a glorious Resurrection Sunday to you all. Even if you don’t believe a word of the Bible, even if you don’t believe in any God or gods, the world that I hope for – the world that the Resurrection shows me – is a world for everyone.

May you find the magic in your own life. May you find the hope in the midst of the darkness. May you always work for the better world, and may you never stop believing that we can attain it.

Where Is Your Cross?

There are way too many homeless in my town, and not nearly enough people or places to help them. There’s an overpass that crosses the big commercial street, and there is always someone there.

“Need help. Will work.”

“Homeless and hungry.”

“Family member with cancer. Anything will help.”

I met a man under that bridge. He has no ID, and no way to get ID. He has been turned away from shelters. He has been living on the streets for FIVE YEARS. He jokingly told me that none of the cops harass him anymore, because they all know exactly who he is.

I can’t express how angry his whole story makes me. I live in Tennessee, which I like to refer to as the Buckle of the Bible Belt. There are churches every half mile in this town. There are big churches, small churches, and churches in between. Some of them help a great deal. Some of them don’t help at all. But, there are enough of them that no one should go without food and shelter for any length of time.

Let me say this again: with the number of churches in our town, NO ONE should have to go without food and shelter for ANY LENGTH OF TIME.

Most of these churches are content to kick the homeless over to our local food ministry, Manna Cafe. And, they do their best to take care of them, as much as they can. But, people like the man I met under the bridge need a lot more than one small organization can give them. Without ID, my friend isn’t even a person in the eyes of the government. He can’t get a checking account. He can’t get a job. He can’t get a phone. He can’t drive a car. He can’t do anything to improve his situation, without someone that has the resources and the WILLINGNESS to commit to HELP him improve his situation.

It makes me so angry that I could spit. It makes me so angry that I want to punch something.

It makes me so angry that I want to go make a whip out of reeds.

Most days, I get angry, I get sad, and then I just resign myself to the fact that 90% of the people who see them will pass them by. Then, I commit myself to being a part of the 10% that sees a person, instead of a problem. But, most days, it ends with that “quiet desperation”, a resignation to the fact that there is very little hope for men and women like that. As a society, we just don’t care.

But, today was different. Today was Palm Sunday. Today, we talked about the commitment of Jesus to begin His road to the Cross. We talked about our need for Good Friday, our need to pick up our own cross, before we celebrate the Resurrection on Easter. We had the kids wave around palm leaves, and we sang songs with the word “Hosanna” in them. I had a really wonderful, deep experience at church this morning.

And, when I saw the man under the bridge, followed by the hordes of people at the restaurant – dressed in their “church clothes” – I thought to myself, “Where are all the crosses?”

It’s sometimes considered controversial theology to say that Jesus has a special place for the poor and homeless, for the sick and infirm, for the hopeless and helpless. The attitudes that Jesus faced in His public ministry is still prevalent in our society today: that wealth and power are a sign of God’s favor. Even though that flies in the face of every word of the Gospel, we still think that the wealthy and the powerful are somehow blessed by God, that they have the Lord’s favor, that their authority and privilege derives from the same Jesus that told a rich young ruler to sell everything that he had and give it to the poor.

But, I truly, deeply believe that the poor are the favored ones, that their crosses are being carried already, and that our job is to be the ones that help take the weight when they stumble. I believe that when we stubbornly hoard our resources, when we look down on those men and women holding signs under bridges, we curse ourselves, we damn ourselves. It is the great sin of our society that we ignore the most vulnerable among us, that we place the blame for their destitution on the very ones that are destitute.

We watch them struggle under the weight of their cross, and we curse them for not carrying it better.

But where are our crosses? Why aren’t we falling all over ourselves to help bear that weight? Why aren’t we emptying our hearts, our pantries, our wallets to help lighten the load on the poorest among us? Why aren’t we pounding on the doors of our churches, begging for our brothers and sisters to be let in from the cold? Why aren’t we marching on our city halls, on our state capitals, demanding that we do more to lift up the poor?

Because it’s hard. Because it takes away from what we think we deserve. Because we want it to be someone else’s problem. Because we think the poor are somehow deserving of their own poverty, that the homeless somehow chose to live under the bridges, out in the cold. We want to believe that their destitution is their responsibility, and no one else’s. Because, if we absolve ourselves of responsibility, then we can pass right by. Not a second look. Not a moment’s remorse.

“They made their bed.”

“They should get a job.”

If you’re a person who doesn’t believe that they have an obligation to help those less fortunate… move along. Nothing to see here.

But, if you’re a  person who dares to claim that they follow Jesus… if you’re a person who rejoices in the Resurrection on Easter Sunday:

Pick up your cross.

Help someone else carry theirs when the weight gets too heavy.

If you can’t do this, if you can’t bear the scars and the splinters, the bruises and the battering of following Jesus into the Garden and up the hill of Golgotha, then don’t bother rejoicing on Easter Sunday.

You can’t have a resurrection without a cross.

You can’t have a new life without first dying.

To pretend that you can is to have a counterfeit faith.

When The World Hurts Too Much

I know that I need to write today. I haven’t written a blog post in over a month. There are important things to write about. There are things that need saying, and I know how to say them. I have important ideas, and I know how to articulate them well. I have a responsibility to write, no matter how small my audience is.

But, the world hurts too much right now.

I’ve been dealing with that old dragon, depression. I haven’t had a single week in the past month without at least one day of dragging myself out of bed, and just trying to summon up enough energy to stay awake. I haven’t had a single week without at least one day of having no desire or energy to do anything at all. I haven’t had a single week without, at some point, curling up in my bed and just wishing that I could close my eyes and die.

I try to keep up appearances. I try to pantomime a semi-normal life. After all, I have kids. I have a spouse. I have friends. I have responsibilities. I have people who rely on me to be invested in what’s going on around me. I try so hard, and it sucks all the life right out of me by the end of the day.

Because, the world hurts too much right now.

When the world hurts too much, it’s like my head is swimming with thoughts and ideas that cry out for expression, but they’re all locked in because I just don’t see the point in letting them out.

When anger, violence, ignorance, and hate seem to rule the world, it feels pointless to talk about love, peace, understanding, and compassion. Who is listening? Who cares?

When so many Christians aren’t interested in acting at all like Jesus, why bother trying to bring the Gospel to the Church? When there are no ears to hear, why even open your mouth?

When the streets are filled with so many homeless and destitute, when homes are filled with abused children, with hungry children, with children who will never get a chance to rise above their upbringing… you know you’ll never be able to help even a fraction of them, so why bother?

Why walk out into the world when everyone is shouting at you to stay home? Why try to be the dissenting voice when everyone is telling you to sit down and shut up?

I try not to grow weary of doing good, but I’m weary of never making a difference. I’m weary of pretending that I matter.

I’m weary of feeling embarrassed that the world hurts so much that I want to disengage from it completely. I’m weary of “sucking it up”. I’m weary of being hurt, of taking one for the team. I’m weary of fighting fights that I can’t win, fights that can only leave me bleeding and bruised.

Yet, in those moments of clarity – those rare moments when I can see past the hurt – I realize that I’d rather die fighting those fights that I can’t win than curled up in bed, whimpering that it all hurts too much. I’d rather be ineffective while trying to make a difference than living a life where I don’t try at all. I’d rather help a few individuals in my life than despair over all the ones that I can’t help. I’d rather preach the Gospel to deaf ears than never preach it at all.

Maybe we all need a moment when the world hurts too much to speak, or think, or breathe. Maybe we all need those times that feel so much like self-pity, but are actually self-protection. Maybe we need these moments of crying out that we’re so damned tired of it all.

Because, once we’re done crying out, we know it’s time to move again. It’s time to speak again. It’s time to fight again.

When the world hurts too much, just let it hurt a little. And remember that if it’s hurting you this much, it’s hurting itself far, far worse.

Go out and try to heal it.