As you might have noticed, we were born in America. We come from families with a long history of working hard to beat the odds, of excelling in all kinds of jobs—or not, as the case may be. We have drinkers and pirates and politicians and scalawags, artists, creators, teachers, and pastors lining up in our DNA. Some were noble. Some were despicable. Some were heroes and some victims (like as not, those two qualities combined.) They are the stuff of legend.
As for our family, we’ve enjoyed a modest happiness, sheltered from much harm, sleepy with blessings and hopeful with dreams. We’ve visited wide sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, fields full of sunflowers, mountains that scrape the sky. We have sung around campfires and feasted on turkey every Thanksgiving. We are no one special, except that by the grace of God, we are loved.
We are not special. We are loved.
There are in this wide country a great many people who tell a different story. Oh, their families, too, have high points and low, moments of love, moments of hate. Maybe they don’t expect breakfast most mornings, maybe they’ve never seen much beyond a boarded-up window. But people are people, dreamers and drifters, lovers and loved. We all laugh easy when we go to bed warm and full, when we wake up hopeful. We all come into the world wired for friendship and meaningful days.
It isn’t too hard to see where hate starts, where, if you were bent on it, you could rip a flag along fraying seams. Envy, mostly, pride, or thoughts of revenge, fulcrums that pivot us toward dark places. We all want justice for our enemies and mercy for ourselves. We all die a little with the death of a dream or a door slammed. It’s easier to be hard than tender. It’s certainly easier to hold a grudge than forgive. Sustain enough injuries, and scar tissue grows up, cording thick around our hearts, squeezing out grace.
A long enough drought and it only takes a spark to burn a million acres.
Our country is dry right now, really dry. Hearts are hard from hurts and words spark angry like flint striking stone. There is no logic than can forestall a forest fire. Only water, only love.
I pray for you. You scamper through dry woods, while clouds thick with static gather overhead.
What will come?
I want to immunize you against the taking sides, the never-ending, unforgiving duels. Capulets and Montagues fling arrows, bruised and outraged egos bristle back, cycles claim another generation.
Here child, fill your bucket, pour it down over your own head. Fill it, fill it, let it run in streams around you, a circle of safety, damp with tears. Turn your anger into weeping, turn your eyes to heaven, turn your bruised and fragile cheek. Bend your sword into a shovel, dig up your unplowed ground, plant thickets of mercy.
Let justice roll down like mighty waters.
It is easier to despair some days than hope, easier to choose apathy than passion. And hope that lands in disappointment can risk your heart. The whisper, Where is God? becomes a scream. Your faith must be as strong as your ego is vulnerable.
I remember a poem I learned years ago, a word for the misery of our times. It’s “Dover Beach,” by Matthew Arnold, melancholy, wistful, the sound of losing faith. And yet he ends with hope—albeit a battered and a mournful one. You are yet too young to grasp these words, I think, but someday when your heart is low, maybe you will hear them. They are partly true.
The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
I wish I could sit down with Matthew Arnold, ask him if he’d lost faith or only lamented the general loss of faith in the world. I, too, lament, but there we part. I stake my life on this: where all is lost and broken, there is hope, hope in the person of One who bled to water the thirsty ground, hope in the One who watched hate win, only to rise again above it, triumph of meekness over might.
If this bone-dry world, sweet kids, is all there is, then we are “here as on a darkling plain”—Charlottesville, Hitler, and slavery is all there is. Hate wins. But if this world is just the hard-cracked shell of a seed that must first break to burst out again in life, well, then, we wait.
I pray for you to hold fast to faith. Take courage. Risk everything you have to love. And drive your roots down deep, so that on a scorching day you won’t dry out.
Yours while we wait,
“He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” –Jeremiah 17:8