I feel stuck today.
I have work to do, manuscripts to edit filled with words by authors who have done their best to make meaning out of faith and life in these days, and I feel like I am treading molasses, doing all I can to keep from drowning.
Toni Morrison died yesterday. She did things with the English language no one else had done or, perhaps, could do. Madeleine L’Engle said our vocabulary shrinks during wartime. Since we appear to be a nation who has chosen to be perpetually at war, we run the risk of losing words that matter the way we are losing species due to climate change; now we have lost one of our vocabulary generators—one of our peacemakers. In the wake of three mass shootings in a week, her death highlights my struggle to find words of my own.
I have been silent in this space since Lent ended. I suppose another way to say that is since Easter, but any sense of resurrection is hard to come by. I have posted poems and articles on Facebook and watched as some of those have flamed up as people have made assumptions beyond my words, or quickly divided into us and them. The volume level of the vitriol makes me feel like I trapped between floors in an elevator blasting death metal.
A couple of weeks ago, I preached using the lectionary texts for the day, which told of Abraham’s bargaining with God over finding a few good people in Sodom and Jesus’ parable of the friend at midnight. The Genesis account says God was fed up with the sins of Sodom. One Jewish commentator explains:
The prophet’s description combined with what the Torah reveals to us gives us the following picture: the people of Sodom insisted on preserving their high quality of living to such an extent that they established a principle not to let the poor and homeless reside in their city. Consequently, when a destitute person would come seeking help, they would revoke his right to any welfare–-public or private! By doing this they figured they would preserve an elite upper class community who would monopolize the profits that the bountiful land offers without having to distribute any revenues to a “lower class” of people.
It sounds way too familiar. Abraham started by asking if God would see the city as redeemable if he could find fifty people who were seeking justice. Almost as soon as he had asked, Abraham started renegotiating, and kept at it until his plea with God was that even five righteous people in the city of Sodom made it redeemable and was enough reason to have hope that things could change. God agreed.
I’m not sure I can think of a time in human history when the forces of justice appeared to be in the majority, and yet justice rolls down like water—like a tenacious river.
In the parable, Jesus describes someone who is surprised by a traveler and goes to a friend’s house to ask for food. It’s the middle of the night. The whole neighborhood is asleep. He bangs on the door and the friend refuses to get up, but the man is unrelenting. Most translations say he was persistent, but a better word is shameless. He didn’t care how he looked. He had someone to feed, he needed food to meet that need, and he knew who had food to share. Reputation or appearances didn’t matter.
I’ve mostly heard this story presented as an analogy, but it is as parable. It is not as simple as saying we keep knocking until God answers—which is also problematic theologically. The story has come alive for me in these days if I see God as the shameless one who is crying, “Sleeper awake!” And I am the sleeper.
The living of these days calls us all to examine what we have to offer a relentlessly compassionate God and a hurting world. The answers are multiple and disquieting. We have to be willing to look at changing how we speak, spend, and share. We have to let the common good matter more than individual privilege, comfort, or—dare I say it—rights.
Before I break into too much of a sermon, I want to get back to my purpose in this post. One of the things I have to offer is my writing. In the early years of this blog, my goal was to write every day. I wanted to feel like a writer. I wanted to be a writer. A writer writes. The reasons why I have not been as consistent are layered; I have mostly kept my promise to myself to write daily during Advent and Lent, as a spiritual practice. My sense of stagnation calls me to do what I know will wake my heart, and that is to write daily.
I will push beyond the debilitating cacophony of the culture. I will push beyond my sense that what I have to say is only heard by a handful. I will write something every day, as both my way of waking up to God’s tenacious abandon and to also join in God’s shameless knocking.
As I try to figure out how to end this post, an old lyric of mine comes to mind.
will you find me?
will you find me in the dying of the day
and remind me what I have to keep and what to throw away
the words that I can lean on when there’s nothing left to say
will you find me in the dying of the day
will you find me in the darkness and the doubt
and remind me what I have to hold as I feel tossed about
show me what flickers in the shadows that never will go out
won’t you find me in the darkness and the doubt
lord have mercy
christ have mercy
can we still sing if hope is ground to dust
lord have mercy
christ have mercy
I’m not looking for dead certain
I only need to trust
that you’ll find me when the battle has been lost
and remind me I am on your side no matter what the cost
stoke the fire that burns inside my heart to stand the killing frost
will you find me when the battle has been lost
oh, will you find me . . .
I’ve missed you here.
Thank you, Milton.
Thanks, Milton! Keep writing.
Let’s be brave together!
You are so wise, Milton. Thank you for your message.
This is so honest and perhaps you have give words to what I am struggling to define. Thank you. Thank you for continuing to choose live, to choose peace.
You have such a gift. Please continue to share it with us.
There’s a clip making the rounds today of Toni Morrison talking to Oprah about how important it is for children to have people in their lives who are happy to see them. I think we all need that, no matter our age. So I wish you could have seen my face light up when your post arrived in my inbox. I’m happy to see you, Milton! Your writing makes me think and gives me hope and often brings unexpected tears to my eyes. (Sometimes I get so busy thinking that I forget to comment and tell you that, but I’m out here, reading your posts and thanking God that you’re out there writing them.)
Wishing you ease from the stuckness and struggle.
Thank you, Jane, for saying what I was feeling….
This is how I feel as well and I suspect so many others. Thankful for your words.
Hey, Milton! Thank you for your thoughts and words! Powerful! I am new to your blog group. Found you because I am the other associate who has been on staff with Jake at Plymouth out here in CO. We are so thrilled for him and his new work with First Church. Your name was so familiar to me when he told us about you and Ginger. I finally realized that I was in college with your brother Miller. Small world. Would love to hear about your journey from Baptist roots into the UCC since I have made the same journey. Thank you for this blog!! We are out here listening!
What a great connection.
You listen to the world you live in and the world that lives in you; and you are wise! Thank you, Milty. -kenny
For the record, I’m counting on the fact God would spare a nation hostile to travelers if even only one righteous person remained – and, yet, what would like be like in that land? I hope God sparing it for even one righteous person means no place is ever beyond hope.
I hear you. Peace for us, I pray. Love you.
Waiting for the stamps machine at the P.O. Sunday, saw an elderly woman with a brace on one leg, working her way out the door, murmuring “God is good, all the time…” and had to say Amen. What a blessing she was and is, just wish I’d caught up & told her so & hugged her.
That’s what your writing does for me. So, please continue.
I hear you.
The comments ay it all. I was wondering “where” you had been. I.too, look for you, With love, Maggie
Thank you, friend. I love you and your reflections always.
I will tell you the story of Hart who was told by his musical mentor, Bob Burroughs, that if he wanted to be a good composer he should sit down and write music everyday. Hart began that practice. After a time and a commission to write a song for a friend’s wedding, someone came to him at the wedding and asked what inspired him to write. He said, “I write each day. Sometimes the songs write themselves, others I craft. It is because of my daily practice of composing that when the inspiration comes, my skills are honed and I am ready to put it to paper.” I think that describes a good template for the Christian life: daily staying in touch with the Lord so that when He calls on us we are ready to go, to help, to pray, to share and to love. Glad to have you back.
This helps me.