Monday, February 28, 2011

“Go to the Light.”

The last five weeks I have not been able to shake the pains of death. First, my dear friend, partner in ministry, the person who convinced me to attend seminary, Tom Smith, died without warning at age 43. Ten days later, David Tucker, my closest and best friend from second grade, the best man at wedding, whom I loved deeply, passed away at 42. A week later, John Moore, the brother of Kellie best friend Amy died of a heart attack at age 46. Just as we were recovering, just getting by, Alicia White, the wife of another dear friend, died suddenly at the age of 31. It is times like this we begin to plead to God why? Make it stop? We can not take anymore. We lament to God to show us some type of light, some sign that the pain will stop. We have witnessed what death can leave in its wake and now we are getting ready for Lent. At time we focus on the death of Christ, it may just be too dark to handle. If you are like me, I need some light to shine in my life for a while to pierce the darkness of death.

The story of the transfiguration is found in three of the four gospels. We read it every year, and every year the three disciples who witness the moment tremble and stare. Each year Peter volunteers to make the glory permanent, to keep it high up on the mountain, as it were, by building three booths or tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, even though he is so overcome with fear, he doesn't know what he is saying. Where is our mountain top? Were do we see the transfiguration of Christ light in our darkness of pain, suffering, confusion, and despair?

Sometime ago I heard an interview with an amazing man-a man who makes me believe that what this text says about what is real and what is not is true and that what is real is the power we have for love and reconciliation and healing. His name is Father Greg Boyle, and he works with gangs in the neighborhoods of Los Angeles. He has worked there for well over twenty years. In his work he has seen things that might make anyone give up hope. He has buried many teenagers who were victims of gang warfare. He has watched mothers bury not one but all their sons. He has sat by beds of shooting victims and beating victims in hospitals, some of whom never recover. He says mass in 25 jails, but he has also started a business that employs ex-gang members, since kids coming out of prison who are tattooed from head-to-toe are not exactly what employers have in mind when looking for people to man their counter or their cash register. So he started a silk-screen t-shirt factory, and he employs kids there. In the factory, kids from rival gangs work side-by-side. "Usually," says Father Boyle, "when a kid begins and is told there will be former members of rival gangs at work beside him, the kid will say, 'Well, I just won't talk to them.' But after a time and a short time at that, they do begin to talk, and they get to know each other. And the old label of enemy or rival gives way to the name co-worker and sometimes friend." The interviewer asked Boyle if he had met kids who he knew would be hopeless to try and help, and he said every time he thought he'd met a kid he could never reach, they, too, turned out to be people who wanted regular lives and homes and families and freedom from what they had known in gangs. She asked him if he talked about the gospel with these kids. "Not really," he answered. "It's more important," he said, "to live as if the truth were true, to go where love has not yet arrived, choose to stand with the folks that God chooses to stand with." Then he told the story of the desert monks centuries ago who, whenever they were greatly distressed or despondent, would repeat just one word over and over and over. "A mantra," he said, "that keeps you facing the person who's facing you; it keeps you present to God revealed magnificently in front of you. The word wasn't Jesus," said Boyle. “It wasn't love. The word was today." No matter how dark it gets, God can transform us if we live as if the truth were true, go where love has not yet arrived, and stand with folks that God chooses to stand with today.
See ya in church but until then take care of yourself and one another.
Dance in the light,

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