Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Fresh Sort of Start?

My wife and I don’t own a television – we aren’t a part of some ultra “religious” cult and we aren’t overly dogmatic about it (i.e. if you own a television, we’ll still eat with you and think you’re swell and what bit), we just choose not to own one. It’s sort of like preferring Coke over Pepsi.

However, we have still somehow become addicted to the show "Lost" (I think it airs on ABC, check your local listings!). We’ve watched the entire first season through a wonderful blessing called Netflix. One of the salient points that shows up in so many episodes is the fact that everyone on this mysterious island has a unique opportunity to “start over.” It’s a mantra that the main characters tend to quote from time to time.

Still yet, while these castaways are living tan-less and remarkably clean shaven on this remote island in the south pacific, many of them carry some pretty heavy baggage. It’s a wonderful promise without much of a wonderful premise – that is, the idea of a fresh start.

Theologically, I get it. In practice, I usually don’t.

See, it’s been a wonderful and rough year. Two and one half weeks ago a good friend died. Eric was 26 – less than a year older than I am – and he died of a sort of lymphoma that decided to ravage his body even though the doctors promised (in the beginning) that they’d be able to beat it. On May 5th, I was at my mother’s house cooking for some of the folks in her church congregation – we were observing the one year anniversary of my father’s unexpected death. Two weeks before that, my sister informed me that her hope was that I would die during my trip from Huntsville, AL to Birmingham (I had spent the week in Huntsville doing odd jobs for my mother).

But things have been wonderful too, I promise! On January 8, my wife and I celebrated our one year anniversary. I’ve been moved to a new position at work that allows me to travel to Chicago for a week of training. I’ve been given the opportunity to teach a portion of a quarter in our Sunday school this summer. In a little over a week, my wife and I will be in California with two people who have played a larger part in our spiritual lives than they might ever guess or know.

So there’s the wonderful and rough. And through it all, I carry the baggage of the rough because I just can’t figure out how Jesus can make my burdens light. Through it all, I carry the baggage of pride in the things that are wonderful because I don’t know how to make myself less.

When C.S. Lewis’ wife died, he seemed to wallow in a misery of life without her and anger at God (see A Grief Observed). This small tome is not the sort of Christian philosophy and meat that you’d pull from Mere Christianity, but a froth-mouthed response of a man who is seemingly vehement in anger towards his Creator. More than that, you see a very human side of someone whose depth of words and thought has proceeded him through generations. You see the heart of a man being changed through grace. I think that’s sort of interesting.

If it makes any sense, I believe that I can and do have wrong thoughts about a variety of issues and points, but I also believe that the state that we’re in might not be necessarily thought of as “wrong,” in the eyes of God. As a Christian, He takes us an molds us to be more like Christ via a process of refinement. Refining, if you’re familiar with it, takes time, and pressure, and heat – sometimes it takes a hefty beating too. So if I look back to how simple and narrow my thoughts of God were and I think, “Gee, that was stupid,” then I really miss grace altogether. If I don’t see how the mercies of God are shaping us through His process, then I don’t respond with the fruit of the Spirit in patience and kindness.

So where does this all lead?

I used to write more, before my dad died. Sometimes I think that I might have been happier. My relationship with him was just getting better, and I think being married had some to do with that. I dreamt of what it would be like to go home with my wife and children (when we have them), and to prayerfully exemplify what having faith like a child is like. I hoped for my dad’s soul to be taken by the indelible and manifest grace of God in this. But, by God’s providence, we were never given an opportunity to see my father’s heart of stone turned to flesh.

I hope I don’t sound cold about this, because even as I write it my chest tightens and I forget to breath. There’s a remorse look on my face in thinking of how my sister is following down his same path – that of an uncertain and ambiguous sense of eternity. I think about how unsuspecting (or uncommunicative) my mom is about her and about him.

I don’t think that my dad believed much in forgiveness. I think that there were things that he did in his life that he could never forgive himself for. In a sort of manner, he believed his sin was deeper than the grace of God. He told me so.

Up to now, I think I’ve lived in more of a fashion that tends to dictate that silence is better than release. There really aren’t fresh starts, not in my mind (apart from maybe amnesia). There are people who have been affected by pain. There are people who either become hardened by their wounds, or who decide to seek to help others who are also wounded.

So I can ignore the pain, right?

Yes. I can. But when I do, then life becomes less precious and death so much more of an uncertain variable to the fa├žade of a harmonious world. When I ignore the pain (or if I am consumed by it), then there’s not much mercy for me to seek, is there?

The pain reminds me that I’m sick. It reminds me that the world, as it is, remains to be in an unnatural state. It reminds me that I need to be healed just as much as my sister does and just as much as my father did. It reminds me that even though he’s gone, I can be made whole just like Eric. As an elderly woman from Locust Fork told me with a smile this past Sunday, “We are the ones who have been left to suffer.” I don’t believe my father is in paradise. I believe Eric is. And it’s okay for me to cry about that.

Not so much of a fresh start. Just a different one.