Friday, July 23, 2010

Faith in Action

Steve came into my life at a time when I was first negotiating how to swim in adult waters. He could do lots of things I couldn’t – play sports really well, make adults uncomfortable with his questions, and most importantly – talk to girls – any girl. Steve has no social fear.

Not sure what made us friends – except a shared contempt for all forms of petty authority and false uses of power. We were way too smart for our pantsize and reveled in the trouble our mouths could get us into. No one can make me laugh til I lose body functions like Steve.

The other thing we shared – that was unique among the bonds that tied together the little band of Scarbro toughs we hung with – was faith. His grandfather was a successful Pentecostal pastor on the fringes of Toronto and Steve grew up in that milieu. My dad was a neighbourhood minister who fortunately (wisely) went into the non-profit sector as his children entered adolescence at the local high school.

I think Steve used to project a lot of his Pentecostal guilt onto me – holding me to a moral standard – as a Preacher’s Kid – that neither of us could come close to maintaining – even if we wanted to. After high school we split. He left to pursue a romance and a sales career and I left to explore the third world and academia. I hadn’t even spoken to him since – until he sent me an email last fall. He’d googled me and read all my blogs and wanted to re-connect.

This time around the main tie is faith. We still split our sides over the crazy scenarios we construct from our overly fertile imaginations. (One of our best things in public school was co-writing, directing, and acting in class plays.) We share a cynicism and still have that distaste of all things phony. We find ourselves in careers where it’s often hard to find the unadulterated truth. He’s a (M)adman and I’m a Preacher. He still tries to project his Pentecostal moral code onto my United Church ass but I’m much better at deflecting such arrows (or getting there).

This is all background. The story I want to tell you comes from Steve’s latest phone call. A few weeks ago he told me he’d finally given up the effort of constructing rational walls against GOD’s call on his life and finally admitted that his whole messy life was in the hands of the LORD - and not under the illusion of his own control.

I’d been telling him for a year what he already knew. That he had his grandfather’s “anointing” (as we say in Pentecostal circles). I know because I got “it” from my grandpa. I also know all about resisting, squirming, fighting, denying, dodging, and distracting myself from it.

Here’s an example. He calls me this week to tell me to get off my ass and write a blog. I ask him how his walk with the LORD is going? He tells me this story.

His wife Patty’s been volunteering as a camp nurse while their kids attend the program. Steve misses them so much he goes and insinuates himself into the camp as their new volunteer dishwasher. A little girl arrives at the camp. She’s lost her whole family just weeks ago in a plane crash. The camp – she attended last summer – is a safe refuge. Her story affects the whole camp.

The thing is – says Steve – this camp has no way of expressing heart & soul beyond hugs & happy thoughts. They are completely secular and have no way of sharing or expressing the pain that runs deeper than behavioral or social psychology can touch.

On Sunday mornings they go and sit in the woods and quietly observe nature. No words of spiritual aid or rituals of thanksgiving. Steve can’t stand it and jumps in his car and takes off looking for a church. The first church he comes to is a little country chapel with three cars parked outside. Having no idea when the service started, or what time it is, Steve walks in.

He finds seven people - three grayhaired couples and an elderly pastor. They all turn around and stand up when he comes in.
“Can we help you brother?” they ask. (“that’s what they called me – “brother” – Steve is incredulous.)
“I’m here to hear the sermon.” Steve tells them, sitting down.
But maybe they’ve heard the sermon before because instead of continuing with the service and pretending like things are normal they start asking him questions about who he is and why he’s there.

Steve spends the next twenty minutes telling them the story about the godless camp and the little girl who’s lost her family. He tells them how Patty had gone out and bought a little concrete angel from a local artist. How she had taken it and the girl out into the woods and created a place for her. How she’d explained that in the camp they don’t talk about God or angels or heaven - but that here, in this place, it was okay.

(Reader – you’ll have to trust that Patty’s not the kind of person to preach platitudes at the girl. But that - as a mother she just knows how to create safe places for children to ask those big questions and do what they do best – which is trust in protection unseen – even in the face of the world’s disastrous evidence.)

“Everyone in the church was crying.” says Steve. “Then they prayed for the girl and the camp and for me and Patty and our children. They prayed for like ten minutes. It was amazing.”

Then, Steve explained, the pastor said “Steve, the LORD has brought you here to us for a reason – and HE has provided you with this church for a purpose.”

Then, one of the couples invited him back home to share in their pork roast. He begged off – even though the thought of home cooking instead of camp food appealed to him – Steve couldn’t wait to tell Patty about how their lives had touched these people’s lives. How the spirit of GOD was at work in all things, in all places, in wondrous ways – just waiting for us to open our breaking hearts and share…and let the spirit make those heart connections that heal like nothing else.

To me, this is a powerful story of hope. How a church that from every outside look is dying, has no future, has internalized the gospel and shut out the world – was able to stop in their tracks – stop doing what they always do – and turn 180 degrees to recognize a GOD-moment in the making. How they were able to be the church. The true church. People without answers. People of pure and simple faith in the face of the world’s pain and meaningless suffering.

“What’s different for you now in your walk since you dropped those walls?” I ask Steve.
“I find that I can see and feel people’s pain like never before.” he replies without hesitation.
“Yeah” I say, my voice dripping with sarcasm “welcome to the Kingdom.”
“Shit” he says “I mean, if I could get into Nascar or something – I would.”
“Kind of shifts your focus doesn’t it?”
“Yup.”
“I know you know – that there’s also no greater joy than having the honour of walking with people thru it all – giving what the LORD’s given you to share with them. Discovering over and over again that just when you think you’ve got nothing to give in this situation – that the LORD provides what you can’t. Simply being a witness to that is the most powerful and hopeful thing we can share in a world where there is no end of suffering.”

“Preach it brother” he says.
“It’s what we do.” I tell him.

1st Corinthians 1: 21Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

Galatians 2: 20Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I am not going to go back on that.