Tag Archives: brokenness

Sojourner

Imagine you slept last night with the window cracked, and this morning as the sky grew light, you heard a persistent bird on a tree branch outside. It must have been a new bird in the neighborhood, because it was a tune you hadn’t heard, one haunting melody whistled again and again. Imagine you got up and showered, still with that simple tune floating around in your head, but as soon as you started the car and the radio came to life, there it was again: the exact same notes. Weird, right? But then imagine you arrived at work, and the person in the next cubicle was humming it. And then your neighbor’s phone. And a barista, whistling it three hours later. Twilight Zone, for sure.

Sometimes I have that sensation. Multiple conversations with different people revert back to the same theme. Online chatter swirls around it. Cultural events echo it once more.

Everything is connected.

This week my déjà vu comes in the haunting song of fractured identity. I hear it in individuals: in the broken heart of my young anorexic friend and the lament of an uprooted divorcé. I hear it across society: in the rampant gender wars, our pervasive dysphorias, the immigrant’s plight, and the perpetual segregation of our people. I hear it in the church—questions of vocation and purpose and roles. It’s everywhere.

Who am I? Who are you? How are we meant to live?

It seems to me so striking that our never-fully-answered howl goes up before a God who names himself simply, “I am.”

He alone is content with that plain statement, and does not wriggle under his own self-examination. He needs no qualifiers, no sentence-finishers. His name itself is complete. We get from two words a picture of God as content, confident, and wholly enough. He is not grasping, as we are, or ashamed, boastful or fractured. He just is.

God is so very different from us. We hate ourselves, compare ourselves, puff up, put down, distort, wear masks, deceive, exclude, reject, divide. Almost all of our national dysfunctions come down to our discontented, broken identity. Who are we? We have no idea.

I love that throughout the Bible God’s people identify themselves as “sojourners.” They are the wandering ones, far from home, but heading, always, to Zion. They’re quick on their feet, ready at a moment’s notice to pack it in and head out. They are the original RVers. Here are a people who might as well name themselves “Homesick,” whose primary attributes include longing and waiting. GoRVingLogo_11_203x153-2

They know: it is easier to cling to God when your hands are empty. It’s easier to be rich in love when you’re poor in spirit. It’s easier to resist the quicksand prejudices of culture when this world is not your home. They hold loosely; they travel light. And God, for His part, sojourns with them.

As Jen Pollock Michel points out, God’s first home among His people was not temple, but tabernacle. Think of it—God living in a Coleman tent. He gifts His people with His presence, a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night—and with them, He hits the road. He’s not afraid of wilderness; in fact, He almost seems to prefer it. (As any camper can tell you, in the wilderness you can really see the stars.)

Maybe the sojourner identity is the one great solution to our culture’s many woes. I am not, after all, Queen of the Castle. I am Child of the King. (And just like that, there go pettiness, scorn, self-centeredness and pride.)

I am Not Home Yet, therefore, I do not have more rights than you. (There go nativism, suspicion, hostility, and flotillas of homeless refugees.)

I am not Defined by my Past; I am Defined by my Father. Therefore, I don’t have to grovel like a worm, I can relax as Beloved. On the other hand, I am not In Search of a New and Better Self. I am Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. (And now we’re whole.)

Listen to the people around you speak. Do you hear that same tune piping over the loudspeaker of someone’s fractured heart?

“I’m the black sheep of my family.”

“I’m trying to find myself.”

“I just don’t fit anywhere.”

And then listen to David.

You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

 For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

 My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place,

when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

 Your eyes saw my unformed body;

all the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be.

 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!

How vast is the sum of them!

 Were I to count them,

they would outnumber the grains of sand—

when I awake, I am still with you….

Search me, God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

—Psalm 139

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The Sun Also Rises

It’s between the rock and the hard place.  Between the devil you know and the devil you don’t.  It’s at the crossroads of unanswered prayers and thwarted desires, deeply held but conflicting priorities, impending doom to the one side and catastrophes to the other.  It’s where ironies tumble one upon the next and paradox makes your head spin.  God is working the intersections.

Here where what you hoped for proves to be a nightmare, you might yet catch a glimpse of Him.  Or there, where the worst has happened and it seems to be strangely turning out for the best.

You’d think a benevolent God would show up with a third choice when you’re stuck between two equally abhorrent options.  So often He doesn’t.  Through the agonizing pros and cons, the Wise One teaches wisdom.  We learn to cry out for help when we stumble.  And the church always shines brightest, grows strongest, in the throes of persecution.

It shouldn’t surprise us.  After all, this is a God whose greatest moments seem to coincide with the ugliest history:  the drowning of an army, the murder of a king.  This is a God who gave us Job and Ecclesiastes, who doesn’t flinch at the hammer and anvil, but pounds out blessing with a weighty thump.

But this is also the God who, right from the beginning, spoke light into the darkness.  “And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day.”  Dawn, as it’s been said, always gets the last word.

This is no distant, clean hands God, but a born-in-a-barn God, a get-down-in-the-muck God.  He doesn’t dole out suffering nonchalantly, He is a weeping God, a longing God, God of passion and compassion.  Whatever else we know, we know He is Love.

It doesn’t do us any good to downplay the obstacles, to trade in fortitude for fluff.  But it’s not any better to sink under calamity like a broken boat in a storm.  Listen, if the only thing you know for certain is that God is good, and God is in control, that’s enough.  Hope will be an anchor for your soul.

Should CNN batter our hearts with relentless bad news, we can hang on to that hope, grip the ropes, ride the waves.  Healing follows pain, beauty’s born in ashes, grace always bends to meet us in our brokenness.

Maybe this will be a year for beatitudes.  Listen to Jesus’ words from Matthew 5.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

The Fray found God at the corner of 1st and Amistad.  I say we can find Him between a rock and a hard place, under the mercy, in the mystery.  And hey — what’s that gleaming in the shadows?  I’ll be darned.  Hope leads straight on to joy.

We’re not home yet, not by a long shot.  But one day soon(ish), the sun will rise and just keep on rising.  (There is evening, and there is morning, the Last Day.)  image