Sunday, October 29, 2006

darkness and light

I begin with thanks to Mark Heybo for pointing me to some of Frederick Buechner’s words:

The world floods in on all of us. The world can be kind and it can be cruel. It can be beatiful and it can be appalling. It can give us good reason to hope and good reason to give up all hope. It can strengthen our faith in a loving God and it can decimate our faith. In our lives in the world, the temptation is always to go where the world takes us, to drift with whatever current happens to be running the stongest. When good things happen, we rise to heaven; when bad things happen, we descend to hell. When the world strikes out at us, we strike back and when one way or another the world blesses us, our spirits roar. I know how just the weather can effect my whole state of mind for good or ill, how just getting stuck in a traffic jam can ruin an afternoon that in every other way is so beautiful that it dazzles the heart. We are in constant danger of being not actors in the drama of our own lives but reactors. The fragmentary nature of our experience shatters us into fragments. Instead of being whole, most of the time we are in pieces, and we see the world in pieces, full of darkness at one moment and full of light the next.
In church today, Ginger baptized Harrison, a wonderful, globe-headed, chubby-cheeked kid who seemed completely taken with the whole experience. Baptism in our church is full of energy. All of the children come down to the front and gather round while Ginger leads us all – parents, godparents, congregation – in the promises we make to God to bring up our new family member to follow Christ. When I became a part of the UCC, many years ago now, “infant baptism” (as I learned to call it growing up Baptist) was unfamiliar. To me baptism meant going all the way under. I’ve come to see that we use one word for two different things. I’ve also come to find deep meaning in the watermark we place on our children as they begin their journey with God.

After the baptism Ginger carried Harrison up and down the aisles so we all could see him up close and personal – another one of my favorite parts of the service. Today something new and incredible happened. Heather, our new minister of Christian Education, who was with the kids at the front, caught the kids’ attention just as Harrison was drawing near to them and said, “Ready?” Together all the children said, “Welcome, Harrison!”

The kids were all over church today. They not only read the Gospel lesson – as a dramatic reading, but also sponsored Coffee Hour with a wonderful assortment of cheeses, cookies, and candy corn. It was not too many years back that we spent some time in Church Council worrying about what to do with the children during Coffee Hour; today they served us. I like that.

In the midst of such wonder came a request for prayer from one of our members who is a nurse in Boston. She told us about one of her patients, a young Haitian girl who came to this country with her mother and siblings after being granted asylum. As a five year old, she witnessed some sort of “police” come into her house in Haiti and hack off her mother’s legs. Once they got to the States, they learned that everyone in the family was HIV positive. The little girl is now in the hospital and very ill.

Darkness and light smashed one against the other. How do I make wholeness out of these fragments?

The distance between Charlestown High School and Winchester High is about seven miles. My last year in Charlestown, I taught all the seniors, which added up to about 140 students. About half of them were girls. Of those seventy or so, over thirty of them had children. When I got to Winchester, I had no mothers in any of my classes. One day, some of the students brought bags of flour into class as a part of a mock parenting exercise for a Marriage and Family class. What was fiction to them was real life for people their age just seven miles away. Such is the power of geography.

Part of the reason Harrison was welcomed today is because he wasn’t born in Haiti or India or Zambia. For the same reason, he will get to grow up and dream about his life and have a shot at seeing those dreams come true. The little girl from Haiti is one of a much larger number of children who will never know what that feels like.

Darkness and light smashed one against the other. How do I make wholeness out of these fragments?

One of the ways I’ve heard people try and cope with such disparity is to say, "There but for the grace of God, go I.” I’ve said it, too. I don’t want to say it anymore because that’s not what I want to say about God’s grace. I don’t see a possibility for wholeness if my perspective begins with, “Thank God that’s not me.” That only heightens the fragmentation of our existence. Grace is not a reprieve from hardship and the realities of life. Grace calls us into the pain, not to give thanks that we weren’t the ones who got hit by the train.

“We are in constant danger of being not actors in the drama of our own lives but reactors,” Buechner says. Life in our time feels too much like being in a batting cage with seven or twelve or twenty pitching machines throwing all at once. One of the powerful things about the sacrament of baptism is we are not reacting; we are intentionally dedicating one of our own to God and saying, “Welcome,” even as the pitches whiz past our ears. But for the grace of God, we would not have a chance for such a moment.

By the grace of God, we are called to carry what light we have into the darkness shouting, “Welcome” all the way.

Peace,
Milton

3 comments:

John Brashier said...

MBC,

So, let me see if I can simplify this for a guy is Mississippi...and a music lover...it is the darkness and light found LOVING the new Mellencamp song, "Our Country"...feeling how much I do love my country as the song evokes chills in my soul but saddness at the darkness, such as that of Bartimaeus, that our counrty's leaders seem to live in as they spout our religious jargon while loving themselves more than the country...

peace,
JB

beth said...

Beautifully written and powerfully convicting.

Rafter said...

Amen. Amazing.

Light and darkness, moments of confusion and scaredness. Those are moments that make God more real to me. Even if I can't tell.

Joe