Sunday, July 15, 2012

Someday You'll Be Dead

Big, messy, unedited unloading of thoughts ahead.

The sermon this morning was about the second book of John in the new testament.  The whole book was read.  The idea was about how we should, as Christians, be known for love.  Love, love, love.  When the world hears the word Christian, they should think: love.  This is not really so true right now.  This is a problem.  We should fix it.  We should know that we are loved and then go love others out there in the world.  

I sat there agreeing with everything the pastor was saying.  About half-way through, I was itching for him to tell us some examples of how we should love.  Is it just about being nicer to people?  He  began repeating himself.  Love.  Go outside these doors and love people.  Ted and I started passing notes back and forth about how he needs to give concrete examples of people who have lived selflesslessly and how we can imitate them.  Give us ideas.  We are dumb sheep who like our comfort, and we need to be inspired by people who love well.  At least for me, I need this.  I suspect others might too since Ted overheard someone say that what he got out of the sermon was that he should "pray more." 

The last five minutes of the sermon was devoted to how we need to really understand that God loves us.  The whole thing imploded in on itself.  The navel-gazing began.  

The pastor prayed for us, that we would know God's love and then go out and love.   A song began, and I couldn't help feeling really cynical as I watched people in the crowd lifting their hands receiving God's love, having not been really encouraged in any tangible, concrete way to go out and live any differently than they had been before walking into the building.

Jesus taught by telling stories.  He didn't give us rhetoric the way we got this morning (admittedly, I do agree to every bit of the rhetoric I heard today).  My complaint right now isn't about what was said but about what wasn't said.

I kept wishing for a story about someone like Rich Mullins, the Christian songwriter who, as a multimillionaire, lived in a mobile home on a reservation as he worked towards getting his degree in education so he could teach music to the Native American kids living there.  Every year he told his accountant to set his yearly salary as the median blue-color worker's and then give the rest away.  He never knew how much money his talents ever really brought in.  He died in a car crash in 1997 before he finished his degree.

Or he could have told a story like this one, something that happened to one of Ted's students:

"I watched the man from across the street.  He looked like he was in his early 40’s.  His skin was light brown, but I couldn’t determine exactly which ethnicity he was.  He had thick, black curly hair.  His legs were in the street, but his torso was on the sidewalk, and his head was hanging at an odd angle.  And he was barely breathing. He wasn’t just sleeping; he was unconscious.
I got out of my car and went over to him.  I said, “Sir, can you hear me?”  He didn’t move.  I raised my voice and said, “Sir, please wake up!”  But he didn’t respond.  He had snoring respirations, the sound people make when their tongue is blocking their airway.  I rolled him onto his side, and his respirations became easier.  I grabbed his wrist and checked his radial pulse, which was steady and strong.
Once I had assessed him, I called 911, and asked them to send an ambulance.  When I hung up with the 911 operator, I realized that the man’s head was still not well supported, so I knelt down and put his head in my lap.  He started to wake up, and he was crying, sobbing, before his eyes were fully opened.
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
“Jessie,” he slurred, and I could smell the alcohol on his breath.
“Jessie, are you okay?”
He shook his head.
“What do you need?” I asked.
“I need love,” he sobbed.
I gave him my hand, and he held it in a vice grip.
“I need love.  I need love,” he said, over and over again, as we waited for the rescue squad to come."

How many of us have ever been willing to do what she did?  I never have.

What about telling us the amazing story of those nine women in Tennessee who delivered care packages to people in need for thirty years, all in total secret?  How about encouraging us to secretly give to people in need?

What about having a foster parent get up on the stage to tell us about what it's like to love kids who've been pulled from their homes?  

What about giving people a list of nonprofits that could use volunteers?  Nonprofits like SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) where you simply read for an hour every week with a kid who needs some extra attention at school?  I did this for a year before we had kids and ended up assigned to a little boy whose mother was in prison.  Every week, he'd pull some tiny object out of his pocket, usually something like a sequin or rock, and tell me about how he was going to mail it to his mom.  

How about encouraging us all to simply invite someone out to lunch after church?
As Ted said at lunch, why have we in the American church set the bar so low?  If Christ's sacrifice in death is the standard by which we are to love, then few of us have ever come anywhere close to this level of selflessness.

The whole sermon, I kept thinking about the east African widow I met a month ago.  She has a high-energy five-year-old son and a year old baby girl.  They have been here less than a year.  Her husband, the sole breadwinner in the family, was diagnosed with stage four cancer a few months after their arrival as refugees, and he soon after passed away.  She was left destitute and then homeless.  She and her two children ended up in a women's shelter until a nonprofit got her into temporary housing.  I have been to her apartment.  As her son played outside with an adult neighbor on one of the busiest and loudest streets in Portland, she offered me food and wept in front of the large framed photo of her deceased husband.  She breastfed her beautiful baby and wiped tears from her face.

Her son looks like my son.  They were homeless.  Her son and infant daughter.  Homeless.  Here as refugees.  Deceased husband.  Shelter and temporary housing and shut-off notices from the light company, and how the hell are they going to make it?

I can't get her out of my brain.  If I were in her position, I would be wracked with fear every waking minute.  

So couldn't the pastor have told us about the people like this in our city who could use the helping hand of the church?  Maybe people just don't know there are people like the African widow out there.  But they're here.  THEY ARE HERE.  And what the hell are we going to do about them?

Will they know we are Christians by our love, by our love, just the way the song says?  I don't know, I don't know, I don't know.  Christ set a high standard.  I long to hear a pastor stand up in front of a church and say, "You have one life. It is short, and soon you will be dead.  What are you going to do with it?"

Dead, dead, dead, one day we'll all be dead.  Even the writers of Southpark know it.  Maybe what the church needs most is a healthy reminder of our impending death, not of how much God loves us.  I don't mean to diminish the importance of the message of God's love.  It's everything.  God's love is what sustains us and makes us who we are.  But if we aren't picking up the homeless drunks on the filthy streets, reading books to kids whose parents are in prison, and providing food and shelter to the widows and orphans, then what is the point? 

 I refuse to be a "navel-gazer."  I prefer to be a doer.  So far, I fail at it.  I am not holding myself up as the example of how we should show love.  I just want pastors to stand up on Sunday mornings and start shining the light on the needy in our communities so that we, in our comfortable and tidy lives, know. 

Dead, Dead, Dead, someday you'll be dead
Dead, Dead, Dead, someday we'll all be dead.
The minute we're born, we start dying,
We die a little more every day..
Young or old, rich or poor,
There's nothing we can do to stop it..
So look long at that Christmas tree,
It may be the last one that you see..
Decorate your house in green and red,
'cos someday you'll be dead..

--Trey Parker and Matt Stone

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do no break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” 
--Jesus of Nazareth


Kirstin C said...

I love this post. You are exactly right - we need to be known by our love and by what we DO for "the least of these." Not because we have to do good things, but because if we really want to follow Jesus, we will do what he did, not just learn about it.

The H Family said...

I'm not a fabulous example of how to show love, either, but I'm longing for our priest to shake things up one Sunday, too. Our church currently meets in the school gym, and is starting a campaign to raise much money to build a proper church building. I keep hoping the priest will say to the congregation...wait a minute. Since we already have a place that works okay as a church, why don't we join together to raise mega money to change the world together instead? Support refugees or feed the hungry or help the homeless here in our very own city. Or build a water project in a developing country. SOMETHING. But no; we're going to rally together to build something for ourselves instead.

hotflawedmama said...

really, really, really beautiful. and so true. i hate that about churches in america. i'm a doer too, but what does that mean? i wish i had more answers and less questions.

Jill said...

i felt exactly the same way...i felt frustrated and cynical and i kept drifting off. i think you should send the pastor this blogpost. it's legitimate feedback. and what about asking for the Change for a Dollar for the east African widow??

findingmagnolia said...

This is so good. And I think that so many of us fail at doing all we could do for others, but I am with you in wishing that more pastors would at least tell their congregants to try. Practice makes perfect, doesn't it? So each small thing we do could add up to so much more as we become accustomed to doing more and giving more.

I will say, though, that hope is not lost. We have our baby, just home from Ethiopia, in the hospital being treated for a plethora of stuff, and as people have heard about her, they have stepped forward in support. I think that if people just know that someone needs something, then they will help, and particularly if they can be given a tangible thing to do, they will do it.

If the widow you mentioned is still in danger of having her power shut off, I would like to send enough money to take care of it for her. Is that possible? Or is there some other need that is even more pressing? Could I send a Safeway card? Email me if either of these things would be helpful (or both): marymuses at gmail dot com

Sharon said...

Amen. Amen. Amen.

Amy said...

Beautiful post ... and so true. Our pastor has been teaching from James - a really great book on doing. And instead, we've heard phrases when discussing not showing preference to the rich like, "It's ok to be rich". period. Nothing following. And also, how James was talking to fellow believers in the church when he said to not say, "Go and be well fed" without doing something for them. There is such great need around us. Thanks for the reminder, Lori.

Claudia said...

Really great, thought provoking post, Lori! (This is why you must NOT stop blogging!!)

For me, I am good at being generous / loving with money but I SUCK at being generous with my time. I know that I need a kick up the backside about showing love by giving people time. Thanks for kicking me today!

Tim said...

Lori, I think you should become a minister. I think you would be doing what you were put here to do.

Suzanne said...

I've been reading your blog for some time now Lori. I was moved today with your words and examples. Thank you for sharing with many you don't know. Thank you for the stories, insight, and love you put into your blog.

kn said...

Oh Lori, please don't stop writing!

Thank you so much for writing this. Thank you for sharing these stories. I so agree with everything you've written.

Thanks for the last quote also. After reading what you've written I read took a slightly different meaning from it.

Thank you.

Rusty Spell said...


greg's wife said...

Our actions and 'works' reflect our inner beliefs and shed light on our true desires. If we truly love God and love humanity, then we DO. We do something about it. Beautiful post. And convicting. Thanks.

greg's wife said...

Not sure what happened to my last post. If I end up doubling it, my apologies.
What I wrote was something along the lines of the fact that our works and what we actually 'do' (or don't do) is a reflection of our inner disposition, convictions and beliefs. Granted, we all fall short and must keep trucking along, but if we love God, then we must love humanity. If we love God and humanity we DO. We act on that is not passive. God is love and by His very nature, He created. We do. We MUST serve and take care of others. Thanks for this beautiful post. I find it convicting.

Anonymous said...

Lori, friends of mine set up a website that makes it super easy to raise money for specific causes. Their hope was that it would be used for things like this.... a family who is not going to be served by a 501c3 but who an individual can advocate for and through social media possibly raise some serious money quickly.
You know this family and you know their story. If you set it up and used your beautiful writing to tell their story I know we could provide them "love" - well, in this case love = money... but if that is what they need, then it is love.

The B Family said...

I always look forward to your posts. This is one of your best.

Lynette said...

Lori, your steadfast conviction to speak out amazes me. Thank you.

Luv4thePaws said...

I always appreciate your unique and thoughful posts and the way you humanize people and make others aware. Have you ever thought about going into a church role? You would be a refreshing change....