Let me warn you that I will be writing about some difficult things in this post. My intent is not to darken anyone's mood, but I think there are some things we must look at and feel if our statements of hope and joy and faith and love are to hold any weight in a broken world.
I feel that God's call to me lately has been to behold a suffering world, and to expand my capacity for compassion.
There are the immediate pains in my neighborhood. A middle schooler we work with cares so gently for his younger siblings, two of whom are mentally disabled. The weight of responsibility on his shoulders keeps him from really being a kid. As a result, he is violently tempermental, resistant to any kind of correction, and subject to dark moods. He wants to be loved, but he can't open himself up to it. As a result, we see him regularly and share in his suffering, but our efforts at reaching into his life are resisted.
Few of the kids in the neighborhood have stable families. We hear stories of imprisoned or deported parents, divorces, affairs, estranged siblings, and all forms of abuse.
My friend and hero Ernesto, who helped guide my early explorations in film and literature, moved from his home in Michigan to work for the Church in India. He and his wife recently lost a child that was about to be born. His wife teetered on the edge of death herself due to related complications, and as soon as she was on the mend, the Indian government drove them out of the country, cutting them off from the work they had given the last few years of their lives to.
Haiti is in chaos, and my friend Ed, a Haitian immigrant is in Locust Grove, GA, trying to keep everyone in the loop, mourning friends and family, eagerly searching for opportunities to reach out to his homeland and to the wealthy suburban community around him.
Then there are the global things which I somehow feel very personally. The worldwide carnage perpetuated and incited by the companies that fuel my car. The tribal wars, the rapes, the massacres by tribesmen armed with American weapons. The people groups being squeezed out.
We're born into a collapsing world. We're born into nations ruled by corruption, hatred, and lust. This is a truth that comes at me hard these days, that knocks me off my comfortable cushion, that makes it difficult to talk, to listen, to write.
I felt as a younger person that I was called to be a prophet of pain. Maybe I was the voice to challenge the Church to stare suffering in the face, to understand the skin split and the blood shed, the stolen childhoods, the dark clouds of despair. I don't understand how Jesus' message means anything to us if we don't see the misery he came to address, the suffering he spoke into.
But I don't think that's the end of what I'm meant to say. Speaking to pain is only half the call.
I consider myself an optimist at heart. I'm not a "let's pretend the empty glass is half-full" type optimist, though. I believe that we must look the shadow in the face, that it must overwhelm us, that it must take us beyond what we can understand, and that under its cover we will dig for the truth of things, which I believe is held in the heart of God, which I believe is a great hidden light, which you can't see unless you recognize the shadow it penetrates.