Thursday, April 25, 2013

Listening



“Beth!” 

“Be-eth!”

I looked up and immediately shaded my eyes.  From his perch in the crook of the great flowering tree outside the door to Atherton Hall, Sam was busy calling me.

“Hi, Sam,” I said.

“Damn!” He contorted his body through the branches toward the ground.  “I was hoping you’d think I was God.”

Sam was a typical little-brother type.  He had a knack for poking people and getting a rise out of them. I am a typical older-sister type, immune to most poking.

One evening while Sam was busily riling up conservative fundamentalists in our scholars dorm—an easy enough feat since, in my opinion, you can’t spit on the Penn State campus without hitting a conservative or fundamentalist or both—he asked me what I thought.

While I may hold some fundamentalist views, I tend to apologize for apologists.  I take the view that we should stop trying to explain God because we just don’t know—and, to be honest, I wonder, especially around liberal intellectualists like Sam, why anyone would want to follow a God who was so mundane he could be completely understood and explained.  Part of my draw to God is that he knows more than I do.  I like it that way.

So Sam asked me, “Do you really think that God answers prayers?”

And so I said, “Yes.”

“When?” he wanted to know.

“My brother,” I answered, going into the very long, not-coincidence-laden story of his adoption.

“Fluke,” Sam said.  “What else?”

“Coming here,” I said, going into the story of how I knew I had ended up where I was supposed to be.

“Come on,” Sam said.  “I want something more concrete.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Here’s concrete—and unorthodox—but this is how God works with me.  In everything.  Just like this.  I try to do it myself, like I did this morning with my socks.  I look everywhere.  I look where I last put them.  I look where they’re supposed to be.  I look where they’re not supposed to be but where I’ve just been and might have left them.  I look in places that they might fit but no one has looked into possibly since the erection of the building.  No socks.”

Sam looked at me like I was crazy, and I now had the attention of the room.

“So I finally pray,” I continued. “’Lord, please help me find my socks because my feet are cold and I’m going to be late for class.’  And I hear a little voice, just in my head, like. ‘Open your eyes,’ it says.  And there, in front of me, where I had already looked, are my socks.”

“That could be anything,” said Sam.

“It could,” I say.  “But it always works that way for me.  If I don’t pray, I go sockless.  When I pray, there they are.”

“You really hear a voice?”

“Yes.  Kind of.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do.”

So Sam started calling me at odd intervals, trying to trick me into believing he was God.  He finally gave up after a year or more.  Of course, my real trouble has never been mistaking Sam for God but mistaking my own conclusions for God’s voice.  I don’t think God really cares about my socks.  I mean, he might, but really, I think he cares that I know I can’t do it myself.  And I think he cares that I know the sound of his voice and know that he’s listening.

Bearing the way God and I relate in mind, you will appreciate this story.  Recently, after some silence from God on some rather big topics, I wasn’t altogether serious when I prayed, “And Lord, no one is going to take me seriously with this falling-apart purse.  But I don’t have the time or money to do something about it right now.  So if you want someone to take me seriously, you’re going to have to take care of the whole purse issue.”

The next morning, as the bus pulled away from the bus stop, my friend turned to me and asked, “Hey, do you need a purse?”

I walked home with three brand new purses.  Three. 

Of course, I didn’t immediately thank God for them.  Instead, I prayed, “Really?  Really? You listened to the purse prayer?  What about the house?”

I just heard laughter.  Someone’s listening after all.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Terror






Somewhere today, there is a scooter that will stay empty.  There is a sink that will escape the toothpaste drops that had so plagued the lady of the house.  There is a mom who can blow kisses that no little boy will dodge.  Somewhere, an eight-year-old boy is not coming home.

But the most important thing to remember is that the eight-year-old boy who doesn't come home is not really only one eight-year-old boy.  All over this country, all over this world, little boys are not coming home.  Mothers and fathers rock as they did when they carried their new little baby, only this time their arms are empty and they are the ones crying.  The boys may have been taken in many ways.  Yes, one boy was taken by an as-yet-unnamed bomber, but others have been taken by car accidents, cancer, and other diseases.

No one misery lessens the other.  No one life is more valuable, no loss more more sorrowful.

The difference is in the attitude of those surviving.  Some will be terrified.  They will feel out of control, helpless, lost, alone.  I have been among them at times.  I have held my blue baby in my arms and screamed to God for mercy, knowing full well that I have no control over the situation.  I have wept those tears.  I have watched other parents, other spouses, other families and friends lose.  Lose. Lose. Lose.

It doesn't matter if the loss is caused by a madman, a rampant disease, or a genetic defect.  It doesn't matter if it happened intentionally, accidentally, or in due course.  It only matters that it happened, it hurt, and you couldn't stop it.

Terror happens when you feel alone and powerless. 

Terror is a lie.

We are not alone, and we are not powerless.

Take yesterday as an example.  Yes, we missed that bomb, but those victims were not alone.  Bystanders came racing forward to help, to carry them to safety, and to comfort.  Nor was the community powerless.  The hospitals were flooded with people donating blood.  Individuals in the area offered accommodations to those who needed them.  Restaurant owners opened their dining rooms and offered their food to anyone who needed it, regardless if they could pay.  Some of those who helped were victims also, people who had suffered great loss themselves, like Carlos Arredondo.

The same is true of other tragedies in life.  There are others who have faced the same circumstances, who are willing to come alongside us, hold our hands, and guide us through.  No one likes walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but we need not walk there alone.

You see, this is the very important part.  We are not alone.  We are not powerless.  Failure to understand these basic facts leads not only to our own terror but to the committing of terror.  Look at the other acts of terror committed on Patriot's Day.  Did Timothy McVeigh bomb the Oklahoma City Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building for fun?  No.  He did it because he felt alienated (alone) and unable to change the problem within the system (powerless).  If the fires at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco were really set by the Davidians, as has been alleged, were they set because the Davidians felt powerful?  No.  Absolutely not.  They were set because they were alone against the perceived enemy and powerless to prevail.

So let us not be afraid.  Let us continue to reach out.  Let us love our neighbors and treat them as fellow travelers in life instead of as possible suspects.  Let the thoughts of our hearts, the words of our mouths, and the works of our hands prove that we will build our community rather than tear it down.  Then we will not only alleviate our own terror, we will prevent its perpetuation.
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