Thursday, July 12, 2012

Subtle & Epic

"Why do you speak of your people that way?" the young African asked. He stood among a group of men and women from different tribes of sworn enemies, his face earnest and shining.

"My father killed my class mate's father in a tribal war," he went on, looking at his colleague, another young person with a peaceful, glowing countenance.  "But we do not speak of each other or our people with disdain because of their failures, because of the past. We speak vision and hope and reconciliation to our people, that the dark continent would instead be a continent of light."

It was a prophetic voice, a loving word of conviction from a student at a university in Kenya to a group of U.S. Christians who had used disparaging language about "Americans."

Do not abandon your people, he seemed to say. Do not disown and ridicule them. Speak light to them, that they might be light. Speak hope to them, that they might be a people of hope.

I will never forget the testimony that young man offered us, a testimony about what it means to be called to a people. For the 14+ hour flight home from Africa, I sat listening to the Holy Spirit speaking to me through the words of a young African. They were echoed in a book titled "Waking the Dead" and in the scripture God led me to that day. They began to take shape so that, when the plane finally descended, it wasn't Atlanta that I saw below; it wasn't even the U.S. I gazed through a tiny window across the aisle out at a land, a people, shrouded as if in a fog, unable to see one another, unable to connect for the cloud that was lowered over their eyes and hearts, a veil that blinded them to their own need and to their calling.

In Africa, God gave me a vision of and for his people here; God called me to his mission here.

Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.

(Note: Be careful about inviting the Spirit of God to move in your life; he brings adventure in subtly epic proportions.  That's right: Subtle and Epic.)

It has taken several years but I have come to understand that I am here to call a people, that they might awaken to "the world pulled over their eyes" and see their own brokenness, that they might learn a different way, a way of intimacy and connection with God and others, a way of hope and reconciliation, a way out of the bondage they do not even know they are in.

God is not content to leave us in Egypt, even when we have made slavery our home.

Church, God has not asked us to serve those people, as if need and bondage and disconnect is somewhere out there. God has called us to open our eyes to our brokenness right here. God has called us to recover, to be reconciled to him; only then do we have life and light and hope to offer, that the world might be reconciled to him, too. How can we lead anyone down a path we have not tread ourselves?

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Unless we are sick, we have no need of Christ, we have no need of recovery, of reconciliation, and we have nothing to offer the world. But if we are willing to have our eyes opened to our sickness, then the doctor can can begin to form us in a new way, a way of life that brings life and serves all from a place of being made whole ourselves.

God has been leading me down this path of recovery, of being reconciled to intimacy with him and others, for 9 years now. It has been painful, humbling, grueling even. Just last night the path led me to share things I would have preferred not to share and I walked away from that conversation feeling very alone and more than a little ashamed. I fought back tears all day today over my story, my failures and my weaknesses, the sorrows of my heart, and the alienation and rejection that these seem to bring. Then the path led me to a meeting in which, for some strange reason, right in the middle of a business discussion God whispered to me: My story is not something about which others should be warned or for which I should apologize. It is something to be cherished and celebrated and shared with great honor as one shares a special and dear secret.

That is the path. That is the path to which I call others. It is a path of vulnerability.  It is a path of making mistakes and making amends. It is a path of sharing truth.  It is a path of intimacy and wholeness and healing. It is scary as all get-out but it is good.

I watched a movie the other night called House of Flying Daggers. In it, the main character is given a monumental and life-threatening mission for the greater good of China. It is an honor for her to be tasked thusly, not just because it is a remarkable act of self-sacrifice and daring that will perhaps esteem her in the eyes of history, but because it is her unparalleled skill as a warrior, her unrivaled spirit and beauty, her unprecedented cunning and commitment that uniquely qualify her for the venture. Further, it is her brilliant subtlety that pull all the pieces together for the success of her quest.

I would never in a million years think that this subtly epic warrior should apologize to anyone for her gifts, her experience, her mission, or her calling. Over the course of her journey, she is not only in constant danger, she is repetitively used and betrayed. Moreover she ends up bringing a great deal of pain to those who are really the most precious to her, and even to herself. But not once did I ever think that she should be ashamed of her prowess, her beauty, her cunning, or her mission, that she should apologize for any of it or the mantle it placed on her life.

When the movie was over, a friend turned to me and told me that I was like the main character in that film.

Of course, I thought he was crazy at first, but as I thought about it, I did have to admit that, though I am no war-provoking beauty, no breath-catching artisan, no great warrior, I have been given a mission and I am every bit as passionate about it as she proved to be in her iconic way. Yet I genuinely walk around broken-hearted over the very things that uniquely qualify me for my mission.


In fact, as I reflect on my experience in Africa, I realize that I am guilty of speaking of myself the way my American friends disparaged their own culture.

Why do you speak of your people that way?

May I take the words of a friend and the testimony of an iconic warrior to heart!  There will be no apologies from me anymore for my story or my calling. May I stand, instead, ready and waiting for those who will join the cause, for those who would allow their pain to be made their honor, their experiences to be made a story of redemption, their weakness to be made their calling and offering of hope to the world.  And may all the dark places of my story be made testimonies of light.

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