Today was going to be a day to get some stuff done around the house, but the cold I’ve been fighting for most of the week set me down for the better part of the day – well, the cold and the Theraflu. As I dozed in and out, I caught up on a week of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, thanks to the magic of our DVR. His segments on the financial crisis and the Conservative Convention took me back to a sentence I read in Living Gently in a Violent World that has both stuck with and unsettled me. Hauerwas wrote:
It seems to me that democracies want to produce people who do not need to rely on trusting one another. (51)
I’m unsettled because the sentence is difficult to refute, based on the way we treat one another as Americans. Sharing with and caring for one another are not our strong suits. His statement was in the middle of a chapter talking about what it meant to be peacemakers. I got to his last chapter tonight – it’s a short book – and he had something else to say:
Long story short: we don’t get to make our lives up. We get to receive our lives as gifts. The story that says we should have no story except the story we chose when we had no story is a lie . . . Christian discipleship is about learning to receive our lives as gifts without regret. And that has the deepest political implications. Much of modern political theory and practice is about creating a society where we do not nave to acknowledge that our lives are gifts we receive from one another. (92-93)
I heard this week from an old college friend with whom I’ve had mostly incidental contact over the years. He wrote,
I wanted to let you know I’ve been reading your blog every day now for maybe a week or so. It has come to mean so much to me, to read your words and reconnect with you through them, knowing you as I have for all these years, and missing your presence.
The sentence was a gift all by itself because I don’t think I’m particularly good at keeping up the ties that bind. Most of my college friends are still in Texas and I moved away. In fact, moving away – or at least moving – has been the archetypal direction of my life. To have him reach across the years and not only find me, but recognize me was gift indeed. I’m working to take Hauerwas’ words to heart about receiving the gift without regret and respond in gratitude that miles and years have not broken a tie that binds, or at least retied it.
At the risk of using too many borrowed words, I’m going to lean into an old Rich Mullins song that could serve as soundtrack to Hauerwas’ thoughts:
Hello old friends
There’s really nothing new to say
But the old, old story bears repeating
And the plain old truth grows dearer every day
When you find something worth believing
Well, that’s a joy that nothing could take away
And so we meet again
After all these many years
Did we sow the seeds we’re reaping
Now that the harvest calls us here
It seems that love blooms out of season
And much joy can blossom from many tears
So old friends you must forget what you had to forgive
And let love be stronger than the feelings
That rage and run beneath the bridge
Knowing morning follows evening
Makes each new day come as a gift
Today, through various channels, I heard from college friends, got news about my 35th high school reunion this summer, got a note from someone in the church where I was youth minister in the 80s, a friend I went to grad school with in Boston, and someone I knew in Africa. Also, today, as Ginger and I took Ella out for an afternoon walk, we talked about the growing possibility that we are going to need to move her parents here with us as her dad’s Alzheimer’s worsens. The move is not imminent at this point, but we feel as though it is a gift we need to be prepared to give. The story of my life is one of connections flowing back and forth across time, conduits of love and grace that remind me I am much more givee than giver when it comes to love and grace.
The first visual image that comes to my mind, as I think about all of the connections that tell my story, is one of an old time switchboard with all the wires coming out and going every which way, each one with a familiar voice on the other end of the line. The glorious tangle of wires is a wonderful picture of how a life gets put together, as well as how lives are tied together.
The second is the credit roll at the end of a movie. Both Ginger and I are both in the habit of sitting in the theater until the last name scrolls by and the screen goes dark because we feel like it’s our little way of honoring everyone’s work on the film. The credit roll at the end of my life will take years. I share my story with many, many co-writers.
That is a joy that nothing can take away.