Washing My Hands of God

To say that this year has been difficult is a woeful understatement. It has been seven long and painful months since Abbott died tragically on an unseasonably warm and inviting February night.

The devastating impact of his death, while reverberating deeply within our town on so many levels, knocked our smaller community back on our heels and then to our knees. Our house church, of which Abbott and his family have been an integral part over the last decade, is still completely broken.

But each week, we gather back together and hold each other and try to pick up the fragmented pieces as best we can.

How does a person even take a step forward in so much pain and suffering?

How does a group of friends walk through this pain and suffering together?

How do people hold one another in woundedness, in anger, in frustration, and in doubt?

This is all new territory.

I have to admit, for as often as I believe that I have the right words to say, the right perspective to offer, or the appropriate wisdom to counsel, I have realized that I have absolutely nothing that can remedy or alleviate the pain, or the heart ache. It is a place I rarely find myself. A place of complete helplessness.

And then, there are all of the impossibly difficult faith questions about the purpose of life, why we are here, what this life is all about, and then God’s seeming distance and indifference toward our lives in the pain and suffering.

Last year, reflecting on suffering, I wrote the following words, not knowing how prescient and true they would be for me and my friends, as we walk together in our collective grief.

“Suffering breaks us down into insufferable little parts where we can either self-destruct or cry out helplessly to God, because we are in a place where we have seemingly lost all control. Our sense of self has been shattered. Our identity has been obliterated. And it is in our place of pain through suffering where we can choose whether we make it our final destination or a transformative passageway.

That is the profound mystery of suffering.

Suffering strips away any and all control we believed we have had over people and situations. And it is in this place, our place of pain through suffering, the place where we have lost all control, where our hearts and minds can either be closed off or opened to the healing and transformative love of God.”

But it is a place where the choice doesn’t seem so easy. It’s a place where one can easily be pushed to the end of faith. It is a place where it seems like the most logical conclusion is to wash our hands of a God who has abandoned us in our sufferings, who has left us lost and alone.

That is the place where my friend Jackie, Abbott’s mom, was a couple of months ago, as she was preparing for a backpacking trip to the Pacific Northwest with a couple of her friends.

While she did not share with us everything she was thinking as the trip approached, one thing she did share was that she needed to go out into nature and just breathe and decompress and find peace and stillness. Unbeknownst to us, she was also giving God her pain and asking for a sign to know that God is with her in this place of pain, to know that God has not abandoned her.

Being that she was going to be in one of the most rainy regions of the United States, she simply asked God to give her a rainbow as a sign that she is not alone and that God is with her in this.

On the last rainy evening, utterly dejected, not having seen a rainbow over the three previous days, Jackie said that she “had words with God,” and that, in her brokenness, she was “washing her hands of God.”

She poured out her heart and soul to God in agony. She broke herself open in real and raw emotion to God by saying, “I have lost my son and I am broken and in so much pain… and the least you could do is give me a sign that you are with me in this. But you can’t even do that. I am (expletive) done with you.”

The next morning, as the sun came up against a promising blue morning sky, the ladies broke camp and were met by a husband and wife team who would be shuttling them back to the ferry. They loaded their gear into the flatbed truck and took their spots amongst the gear.

As the truck barreled down the road, Jackie, who had recently gotten a couple of tattoos after Abbott died, noticed that the lady in the passenger seat had a tattoo on her forearm, but couldn’t quite make out what is was or what it said. It wasn’t long before the truck drove onto the ferry for the short ride out of the National Park.

As they reached the other side and began to unload their gear, the man, whom they affectionately referred to as “Standing Rock,” because of his imposing stature, and his wife got out of the truck and joined the ladies at the back of the truck to help with the gear.

Jackie noticed that Standing Rock had a tattoo of baby’s foot on the back of his leg with a date just below the tattoo.

It was Abbott’s birthday.

July 9th.

Shocked and taken aback that he had a tattoo with Abbott’s exact birth date on his leg, Jackie pointed it out to her friends.

Among the surprise and chatter, Standing Rock’s wife explained that their newborn baby boy died on that date, so they each got a tattoo to commemorate his life. Moved by their story of loss, Jackie told them that Abbott died four months earlier and the date of their tattoos was Abbott’s birthday.

July 9th.

And that’s when the lady walked up to Jackie and turned her arm over to show Jackie her tattoo.

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There is a rainbow
of hope at the end
of every storm
7-9-16

There are just no words.

The rainbow.
The date.
The promise.

Never will I leave you.
Never will I forsake you.

I AM here.

I have to admit that I don’t fully understand this life, or why it has to be so full of tragedy, pain, and loss. Further, I don’t understand the mysteries of God or how all of this will fully resolve as one of the greatest stories ever told.

I really don’t.
But I do know this.

Even in our darkest hour, God does not leave us, does not abandon us.

God’s love and compassion, amidst the pain and suffering, still surrounds us and holds us.

And it is in this place where we can close off, shut down, and make our suffering a final destination, or the place where we can trust that God is truly with us and not against us, trust that God is breaking with us and is with us even in our suffering, trust that God has not left us or abandoned us or forsaken us, and trust that God’s love is always with us and enveloping us and holding us… even when our hearts are broken.

Peace and always love…

Brandon

Awakening to All That is Good

It was an early fourth morning at Hance Creek, one of the few lush, vibrant ecosystems in the heart of the dry, arid, and unforgiving Grand Canyon. We had been on the trail-less Escalante Route the three previous days, hugging the mighty Colorado River in complete isolation, far from the usual touristy stops along the south rim and well beyond the maintained and frequented hiker trails that ascend and descend in and out of the canyon. We were in the rarely travelled backcountry of the Grand Canyon.

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Our last ascent from Hance Creek would take us up a couple thousand feet to the visually stunning Horseshoe Mesa and then another thousand or so feet to our end destination at Grandview Point.

As we broke camp and steadily trekked toward the base of Horseshoe Mesa, there was a palpable and shared sense of excitement and trepidation. Excitement that we were conquering yet another highly-prized backpacking bucket list adventure that would add serious cred to our growing resume’, but trepidation in knowing what kind of climb still stood between us and our exit.

The sun was already blazing in the near cloudless early morning sky and there was all but a single, lowly shade tree as we approached the towering mesa. We thought it would be the perfect spot for a quick drink and a temporary reprieve from the sun before our big climb.

As we stood there in our short respite, one of the guys asked if I had any music on my phone. Usually I clear everything off of it in order to make room for all of the pictures I take during the trip, but to my surprise, there was one single song waiting in the queue.

As I pressed play, we all quickly quieted.

In that one anticipatory moment, Passing Afternoon by Iron and Wine sweetly greeted us, and, to be honest, it felt as if I had never heard a song before.

There was an overwhelming intimacy I had never fully experienced through a song.

There was an acuteness to every sound, to every word sung. There was a simple, yet profound appreciation for every note, every melody, every harmony. There was a resonance in the depths of my soul that made this moment one of the most memorable of my life.

For four days the only sounds we heard were of nature- the blowing winds, the rushing waters, the melodious singing of birds, and each other’s voices.

And in finding that space, it was nothing short of a peaceful and calm bliss.

For the sounds of busyness and distraction had been silenced. Every tendency toward consumption had been vacated. An easing stillness cleansed and refreshed our souls.

And it was there where my appreciation was renewed.

I wasn’t listening to a song as a means to distract or as one trying to fill the void of an uncomfortable silence or as one simply consuming to consume, I was fully present and listening, as if for the first time, with deep appreciation.

Let me tell you.

There is something renewing and refreshing about purposefully removing oneself to find refuge in the stillness and quiet, or intentionally abstaining and then slowing reuniting. It is an essential discipline undertaken to be continually reminded of the resident goodness and simple beauty of all that we can all too easily take for granted.

And it is in this kind of intentionality, of seeking the refuge of stillness and quiet, of purposefully escaping the incessant activity, busyness, and noise of life, that moves us from a place of endless addiction, mindless consumption, and taking what we have for granted, to a place of simplicity and beauty, to a place of experiencing and appreciating all things anew.

I had this same experience and depth of appreciation when I fasted for a week a few years ago. When I met with my brothers with whom I had been fasting over that week, we took the warm, homemade molasses and honey communion bread with a cup of deep, red earthy wine together to break our fast. There was an intensity and complexity in what I could smell and an explosion of diversity in what I could taste.

In that moment, I was thoroughly appreciative and truly thankful.

We live in an age in which stimulation and consumption are all too normal in our lives. 

The culture we have created keeps us constantly seeking more and more stimulation, and we are never quite satisfied or at peace in stillness or solitude, let alone finding the essential refreshing of our souls in that space.

The culture in which we live and participate keeps us consuming and discarding, and we never quite find the satisfaction in what we have, let alone appreciating or finding beauty in it.

For it’s not in seeking more and more stimulation or consumption in which we find greater depths in this life. It is only in a regular rhythm of sacrificial discipline where the Spirit can awaken our senses to discover and appreciate, moment by moment, all that we take for granted.

We were a few hundred feet from the highest point in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney. We had traversed 110-miles over eight arduous days through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, in areas too remote for even the strongest cellular signal.

It wasn’t the first weeklong backpacking trip we had taken in which we were not able to communicate with our families. And it is always a surreal experience to be so remote, so off the grid that one has no way of hearing the voices of their loved ones, of knowing what is going on in the world, or knowing what kind of world one is walking back into.


But as we finally reached the 14,500 foot summit of Whitney, something unexpected happened. Our phones began to vibrate and ring continuously at different intervals, almost as if we were each receiving our own unique Morse Code messages, as they connected to service. As I looked down at the screen and began to read my text messages and then listen to my voicemails from my wife, my kids, and my mom and dad, tears began to stream down my face.

There was a sweetness and tenderness in their voices that I had too often overlooked or had not fully appreciated.

The truth is that we can very easily miss the simple beauty of those things that we take for granted, those things we quickly discard so we can consume more. And so much so, that we may not even appreciate the richness of what we have right in front of us, whether it be listening to a song, eating a meal, or enjoying the company of those we love.

Check out my backpacking blog at http://ajoyfulprocession.wordpress.com

Peace…

Brandon

Parable of the New Car and Salvage Yard

A certain man was walking through a salvage yard and discovered an expensive, one-of-a-kind car sitting in a field of broken, busted, and forgotten cars.

The salvage yard manager approached the man, who was now inspecting the new car with intrigue and delight. “What are you looking for?” quizzed the manager.

Still mesmerized by such a conspicuous diamond-in-the-rough, the man hardly even heard the question but responded, “I have been searching for this exact car for years! Imagine my shock and surprise when I stumbled upon it in the least likely of locations!”

“It’s a real beauty and it runs like no other,” the manager retorted with his hands in his pockets and his chest puffed out, “but we’re using her for parts.”

Incredulous, the man immediately broke his gaze and sneered at the manager in disbelief.

“You’re doing what?!”

The manager continued, “Look it son, we’re a salvage yard. Everything around here is wrecked and discarded. It’s junk. Just look around. Honestly, I was thinking that when people walk through this broken mess looking for parts, it might be a nice thing to help the people out and give them a shiny, new part that they could put on their damaged cars. Make them feel good about themselves, if you know what I mean. So if you need a part yourself…”

Reeling in disbelief, the man interjected in a fit of rage, “But you don’t use a one-of-a-kind car, that’s hard to find, mind you, for only the parts! You just don’t do that! The parts, by themselves, are worthless on other cars! They won’t even fit any other car and they certainly won’t fix anyone’s problems!”

The manager stood there, hands still in his pockets, but now not so puffed up. In fact, he was quite deflated. He had invested so much time and money into this plan, for what he believed would be a nice gesture and benefit to others.

Almost under his breath, the manager whispered, “I could tell you all about the parts of this car, if you like.”

But the man, unrelenting, continued, now even more animated and exasperated, “This is one of the most ridiculous, cockamamie plans I have ever seen in my entire life. Who in the world will benefit from windshield wipers that are customized only for this car? Who will benefit from brakes that are uniquely made for only this car? Please tell me, who will benefit from this engine, this engine that was made specifically to fit only this car?”

The manager was utterly speechless.

For all of his good intentions, he realized the folly, the foolishness, of his plan.

The value of the car is not in it’s individual parts, but rather, in how the individuals parts come together to comprise something incredibly unique that is extraordinarily beautiful and invaluable.

And it is for this diamond-in-the-rough that one would be willing to sell everything in order to attain, not the individual parts, but the extraordinarily beautiful and invaluable whole.

For the Good News of the Kingdom of God is like an expensive, one-of-a-kind car in the broken and busted salvage yard of the world. And while there are so many in the world who are seeking and searching, there are those, like the manager, who have reduced the beautiful and invaluable whole of the Kingdom of God into individual parts that have no value when apart from the larger Good News message of the Kingdom of God.

Some “managers” give a sermon about the muffler this week or the windshield wiper another week. And, just about every week one can hear the engine of salvation message. But, week after week, maybe even year after year, those seeking and searching fail to hear how the individual parts fit together to comprise the beautiful and invaluable Good News message of the Kingdom of God.

Rather, the focus is on the muffler message of relationships, which is very important and needs to be taught, but it is an individual component of something so much larger, something so much deeper.

The focus is on the windshield wipers of worship, a fantastic individual component in which one can learn and participate, but there is a larger narrative that it fits within.

And most importantly, the focus is on the engine of salvation that so many obsess over in our churches, which is, “You are a sinner and need a Savior. Give your life to Jesus so your sins can be forgiven.”

And while the engine of salvation is an essential part, no one is talking about the beautiful, invaluable car in which this engine runs.

The Good News of the Kingdom of God has been dismantled and used for parts.

Again, the engine is extraordinarily important and makes the entire car run quite well, but it is still only one part of the larger whole. And, if we only talk about, and fixate on, any one component, like the engine, we will never discover the beauty and value of the larger car.

For the beauty and value of the Kingdom of God is not in individual parts, but rather, in how the individuals parts are embodied and expressed that make it extraordinarily beautiful and valuable.

The Good News of the Kingdom of God is not one of the many things.  It is the thing.

The Kingdom of God is the thing through which all things come together- all things in heaven and earth- and through which all things flow and manifest, first in Christ and then through each of us.

And it is for the Good News of the Kingdom of God that one would be willing to sell everything in order to attain, not the individual parts, but the beautiful and invaluable whole.

“I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.” – Jesus

Seeking first the Kingdom…

Brandon