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born like this
into these carefully mad wars
into the sight of broken factory windows of emptiness
into bars where people no longer speak to each other
into fist fights that end at shootings and knifings
born into this
into hospitals that are so expensive that its cheaper to die
into lawyers that charge so much its cheaper to plead guilty
into a country where the jails are full and the madhouses closed
into a place where the masses elevate fools into rich heroes”
- Charles Bukowski (found in the local newspaper, The Telegraph)
How long must we wait for you, God?
How many more wars? How many more people have to die? How long will evil reign? How long will death and suffering haunt our existence?
Tonight was a rough night. I am struggling with the realities of life. Injustice reigns throughout the world, in our governments, in our systems. But it’s not just “them,” it is in our very own hearts. The brokenness of this world is wrecking me and I can’t seem to wrap my mind around it. How can I? How can we? And I’ve been to Bible School. I know all the answers I’m supposed to have. But they all seem to fall short tonight and I look to my God and ask Him, “How long must we wait?”
My mind wanders… I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for Jesus to walk this earth. To see the world He created and walk among the fruits of the path that we, humanity, had chosen for ourselves – the hurt, the struggle, the pain that has existed throughout history since the beginning of time and continues to this very day. The atrocities that have been committed, the lives that have been lost, the desolation of a beautiful creation…
And as I’m dwelling on all of this, the story of Jesus walking up on a large funeral procession comes to my mind (Luke 7:11-16). He sees the only son of a local widow being carried out of the city gate. He hears the weeping and wailing; he looks on at the broken hearts. He sees the mother who just lost her only son and grasps the anguish that has shattered her as she walks alongside him. Jesus cannot just let this pass. He is moved in the depths of his being to action:
And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” (ESV)
After I read that, more and more of the stories of Jesus’ life flooded my mind- all the times He was moved with “compassion” or “pity” and even how He “wept.” It was like with every word He was speaking, every miracle He was doing, He was showing us the very heart of God poured out on the earth. He sees what I see now, and He was, and still is, moved with compassion. He hates evil and all it’s faces, and He gave His life to defeat it.
His hope met my despair and I am grateful.
I’ve come to realize that to be a Christian in this world is not to just go to your local church on Sunday mornings. Father, have mercy on us! It can’t be only that. It is a call to change, a call to action- to be moved with compassion and to stand against Evil itself, not only in the world, but in ourselves. To choose to live in direct contrast to it everyday, by the power of the One who overcame the world! And the desire of our hearts as His followers must be to seek the redemption of His creation, the restoration of all things, whatever the cost, till He returns…
Life is hard. If you watch the news enough, it’s hard not to get depressed. We may not be able to fix all the world’s problems. We may not be able to raise the dead. But my prayer is that the followers of Jesus, all over the world, would lay down their lives for their neighbor, and show the world that God has not abandoned us…
Till He returns,
It was the final days before my family and I were getting ready to leave. We were meeting with all the family and friends we had time for. We weren’t leaving on the best of terms. For many reasons (and most of them totally justified from a practical standpoint), many members of my family didn’t understand why I was leaving my steady job, our home, our stability and comfort, and most of all, leaving them and taking our kids to the other side of the world.
At some point in many of our conversations, I would inevitably hear the words, “I hope you find what you’re looking for.” I can still think back and remember how much these words stung. I felt so misunderstood. Here I was making the hardest, probably also the most beautiful, decision of my life, and it felt like those closest to me thought this was just some selfish quest for self-discovery. What was I looking for? Prosperity? Fulfillment? Happiness? Success? In many ways, in the years leading up to this point of my life, those were absolutely the things that I was seeking. But something had changed in me and I couldn’t explain it (or explain it well for that matter). My family and I would go round and round looking at the same facts and always end up at opposite ends of the looking glass… Why? Why would I choose to do this? How could we leave them? Why would we risk so much?
I can’t really tell you the why. I can’t explain why God saw fit to reach out to a 20-year-old, self-consumed punk, drunk or high half the time, wandering through life the best he knew how. Why He radically changed me and my life in a way that made me want to give up everything for Him. Why He brought me to a place in my life where I had everything I could have wanted and yet I knew something wasn’t right. It wasn’t that I needed something new, or that I needed to “find” something. What I needed to do was begin living out of the Truth and Love that I had already found. And this wasn’t something that could be controlled or manipulated to my liking. It looked a lot more like a reckless abandonment to a radical Christ, and to seeing His kingdom come on this earth, all in the midst of a flurry of unknowing, doubt, and fear. My wife, Sarah, and I had no idea what the future would hold, but together we opened up our lives and asked God to use us however He saw fit – whatever, whenever, wherever. Our hope and prayer, for us and our children, is not to find something that will fulfill us or make us happy, but to give up our rights and our lives to share the life-changing Love that has already found us.
It was never an easy decision. It still isn’t an easy decision. God has chosen for us to leave behind the people who matter most to us in our lives in order to do His will. He’s chosen for us to leave behind all that we knew and held dear and to step out into the unknown and trust Him. To become like little babes again, walk a new, strange road, and lay down our lives for our God and our neighbor.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I am thankful that I serve a God who blazed this trail long ago and chose to do the same for us…
“…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men… he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
(Phil 2:6-8, ESV)
The people can get to you. The staggeringly warm hospitality, open homes, hot food, generous smiles and generous portions (“No, no. You must take more.”) In all the places I’ve been in the wide world, the Bengali people I’ve encountered (and Indians) have been some of the most generous and hospitable I’ve ever met. A few folks and I met recently at the house of an Indian couple I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a bit over the last month, soaking up their wisdom and eating their food. The spread for dinner was absolutely fantastic: lentil stew, dhal, rice with nuts and garnish, fresh vegetables, roti, chicken, fish, and ice cream for dessert. She had spent literally all day cooking for that evening, and that after a long week of visiting and helping an impoverished young woman through the delivery of her first baby. “Yes, it’s very tiring being a mother to so many people,” she said offhandedly. Would a foreigner, only in the country for a few months, be welcomed so warmly, so genuinely in the U.S. I wonder? In my own church? By my own friends and family? They set the bar high.
The Bangla language can get to you.
“Shorkari chuti” means “government holiday.” “Torkari chuti,” while easy to mix up, means “vegetable holiday.” This, as it turns out, does not make sense, but results in a lot of laughter from the Bengali staff.
The sentence structure is completely different from any kind of Western sentence structure I’ve ever seen. It worse my in English writing may make.
“Shobdo” can mean either “word” or “loud.”
Quite often I am unable to remember the Bangla word for “I forget.”
I counted 42 different words specifying the relatives we, in English, would call “Father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, uncle, aunt, niece, and nephew.” Where, in English, we might say “that’s my uncle.” In Bangla there are different words specifying your father’s sister’s husband – and then two different versions, depending on whether a Muslim or Hindu is in question.
I expressed my consternation at this arrangement, declaring that in English there are much fewer words, and it’s much less confusing.
“But then,” begins my teacher, looking genuinely concerned. “If I ask you: ‘Who is that?’ and you say ‘My uncle,’ how will I know if it is your father’s brother or your mother’s brother, or your mother’s sister’s husband?”
I open my mouth, and then shut it again.
The newspapers can get to you. Mixed in with the cricket scores and a beautiful arts page are typeface and ink reminders of just how cheap life comes here, suffering and injustice delivered to your front door for your convenience seven days a week in two languages.
The gritty stories spare no expense on vivid detail. A murder victim found by the railroad tracks, throat cut with a wire. Assistant sub-secretaries of some committee of some political party bound and beaten at a university riot.
Every week it seems I read another story about another rape that ends the same way – the perpetrator gets off with a fine, while the victim, often a young girl, is either forced out her village because of the shame or forced to marry her rapist. She is “tainted” now. “The victim was found hanging by the neck from a scarf, having committed suicide,” the stories end.
But while it’s all raw and real, it’s not just tales of carnage, corruption, and injustice. There’s also the highlights of the people feeding the poor, profiles of local artists capturing beauty in the streets and the beautiful faces of a beautiful people, rags to riches stories and poetry reviews and calls for reasonable dialogue.
That’s when the beauty can get to you. The wonder. Unexpected. Takes you by surprise.
I was at the gym lifting weights, a daily ritual that keeps me sane and sleeping well with the physical challenge and exhaustion, when outside the rain came pouring down like a sudden flood into an ash bin.
After the storm I walk back as the sun is setting, and the light is seems trapped, pressed down under the swollen honey clouds. Rays ricochet between the skyscrapers and the puddles ‘til it seems the very atmosphere is glowing. A creaking rickshaw wheel dashes the light from a puddle in front of me, and then I wait and watch as the water settles and the picture reforms: a clear, still, honey-gold reflection of the trees overhanging the road. For a few moments, before the all that glow escapes out of the gray, there’s poetry on this road, in this city – and its very elusiveness, its very transience, makes it worth the chase.