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Monday, June 10, 2013

We Are Not As Strong As We Think We Are...

If you are a Rich Mullins fan, you'll recognize the title of this post as the title of a song Rich did in the mid 90's, just prior to his death in 1997.
The song is one of my very favorite Mullins' tunes, and in true Rich Mullins form, it never made it onto any album. The story, if I remember it correctly, is that he intended it to go on the original Ragamuffin record (A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band) but simply forgot to include it. It didn't fit well with "Brother's Keeper" and so he left it off that one too, but it was included on his "Songs" record, and the set list for almost every show in the BK tour.
I saw Rich and the Rags at the Ryman Auditorium in November 1995. Rich performed the song and I fell in love with it.  The chorus is one of the most concise, complete descriptions of the human condition I have ever heard or read. It's everything a Ragamuffin really is:
"We are frail. We are fearfully and wonderfully made
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our Hells and our Heavens
So few inches apart
We must be awfully small, and not as strong as we think we are."
Once again...Rich got it.
Rich was honest enough to admit lyrically what we all knew in our hearts and what so many of us refuse to say out loud. That we are broken. That our hearts spend far more time in various stages of breaking and in subsequent pieces, than they do in joyous wholeness. Rich admitted, for everyone who would be truthful enough to permit him to speak for them, that they were tired of trying to deny their brokenness. That they were through with pretending. That they had grown so very weary of shifting the heavy suitcase from the right hand to the left, and back again...never finding rest. (Thank you Brennan for that eternally perfect visual)
This is the second time in five years that I find myself homeless. The first time lasted 3 1/2 years. This time is currently at the 4 1/2 month mark. But it feels longer. It hurts more than the first 3 1/2 years ever did. Because for 14 months I had a place to live, and work was going reasonably well, and I had begun "walking upright" again. (Shame and embarrassment will literally stoop your shoulders as it bends your spirit, thus I refer to living without shame as "walking upright")
Last night was torturous. I had a hockey game at 5:45. I play hockey with, hands-down, the best bunch of guys that anyone could ask for. Sunday night hockey has been my refuge. The place I can go for 3 hours a week and feel like I'm just one of the guys again. The men I play with are funny, sincere, caring, rough-around-the-edges, but under it all they want to see me bounce back. I think they instinctively know that their friendship and camaraderie are keeping me alive right now. They cheer my meager successes and look out for opportunities for me to get out of this mire. We had an early game last night, at 5:45. By the time we were done, and had showered and met up at the local restaurant for a bite to eat it was about 7:45. I had been blessed with the sale of a couple of books that morning, quite accidentally, and so I had a few dollars so I could join the boys for a while.
I went to the place I park my truck at 9:15. The sky was already flashing. Rain was coming. It had rained almost all day and another band of storms was heading for us. Sleeping in your car leaves you at the mercy of the weather. Last night was warm and muggy and as soon as the storms came in I had to roll the windows up. The truck was stifling within an hour. On top of that, I felt like I couldn't breathe. The air was still and stale and I tossed and turned all night. The rains never really let up until 4 AM. I slept maybe an hour so today I am a zombie.
It was enough to break me. This is a hard life and I am very weary of it.
I'm not as tough as I like to think I am or as people see me. This life is hard. This isn't the world we were built for.
Yesterday I got sucked back into an argument online that began three years ago. I defended someone back then who was a friend. In the interim, that relationship has...ummm...changed. (I don't wish to air this set of dirty laundry so this is all I'll say.) The guy I defended this "friend" against, somehow dragged me back into his continuing attack. I could care less. I wish to be left alone in this matter but the guy just won't stop.
He was describing me to some unknown Tweep last night around 1AM. He described me as "Angry, tortured and claiming that I hate him" Well first of all I don't think enough of him to hate him. He really is inconsequential to me, and to the rest of the world (as we all are). But something about him calling me "tortured" really struck a nerve. Not in anger but in a sense of relief. Yes of course I am, James (his name) we all are in some form. I responded to him:
"Well in that you are correct. I am tortured. Like Brennan Manning. We are irretrievably broken and frail held together by wisps of hope and desperate prayers in the wolf hour.  We seldom have it together. We shift the heavy suitcase from one hand to the next looking for relief. We read about God's love and desperately try to convince ourselves it's true. We measure ourselves against each other, hoping we come out okay. We carry the scars of life and limp to the finish line, and the only real "grace" we taste is the grace God gives us to take just one more step, to not quit because our kid needs us and our family needs us. We read about grace being "sufficient" and  then we find out that more often than not "sufficient" means "barely enough to survive" but enough. We walk each day in a world we weren't built for and we stumble and fall and it hurts being human. The difference between us, Jim, is that you find comfort in bashing everyone else for falling or even for disagreeing with you. It's how you make your life tolerable. Me...I see everyone as ragamuffins. Even you. The Philly Italian in me would hate you easily. But the failed, fractured, very broken and barely redeemed ragamuffin in me sees through you. I don't pity you, because you are to prideful for pity. But I see torture when I see you and how you act toward everyone else except those who hold you in awe."
That was my response to him last night. It's so true and as much as I dislike this man intensely, I wish he would read what I wrote and really grasp it. I wish he would grasp that he is as broken as any of the people he attacks for being broken. I wish he understood that his game isn't new. People have been doing this for eons. I have had four or five pastors in my life and I loved them all, but my favorite by far was Pastor Paul Walters at Praise Assembly. He is retired now but the six years I spent attending that church did more for my life as a Christian than any other period before or since. He was always ready with a bit of anecdotal wisdom that perfectly fit the situation. One time he was preaching a sermon about difficult people and he said something I'll never forget. He said "Remember, the hurters are the hurting".
Pastor Paul had been wounded deeply at a former church and he found it in his heart to be forgiving and gracious when anger would have been acceptable. "The hurters are the hurting". In every case, excepting maybe true sociopathic behavior, when someone attacks you and wounds you, it comes from the wounds they themselves carry. Most of the time, those wounds are found in something very similar to what they are attacking you for.
James, the man I mentioned above, is just another wounded, limping ragamuffin. He spent seven years or so attacking this guy who was once a friend of mine and proclaiming certain "sins" that he is also guilty of. In a mildly different form, mind you, but guilty nonetheless. Three years ago I hated this guy for it. Now I almost pity him. Five years of crushing disappointment has taught me many things. One of them is how to spot an angry, hurting man or woman. How to understand the difference between a dog that barks because it's vicious, and a dog that barks because it is scared. It's scared but it doesn't want you to know it is scared, so it bares it's teeth and comes after you like a wild animal. In truth, the dog is desperate to just lay down and rest. But maybe it was abused and it is too afraid to believe that rest can be found. So it barks instead. And in doing so it loses any chance of becoming a beloved member of the family, and  finds itself a stray.
We all do this. All of us. Even James...who offers the world a view of a guy with all the answers, a great plan and the relentless force to wear down anyone who tries to disagree or dissuade. The truth is that deep inside, there is the same weary ragamuffin that lives in us all. Because he is as fallen as I am. He is as broken and fractured and as wounded as I am. He'll probably never admit it, and that's sad. Admitting it doesn't mean it beat you. It doesn't mean you don't have faith. It doesn't mean you aren't as good as anyone else. It means you are honest and admit that sometimes...with all the prayers and Bible verses and hymns and books on still don't think you can make it. Sometimes life still doesn't go right. Sometimes you just can't paint a smiley face on your situation anymore. Sometimes your prayers become loud, desperate questions. Sometimes you claw at the ground and spit at the sky. Because we are frail. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are not as strong as we think we are. We are broken and will remain broken until Heaven. In the interim, we discover the Grace of a loving God. His grace is "sufficient". Sometimes that means overflowing and abundant and other times it is barely enough to hang on until daybreak.
We do much better when we admit this...when we grasp it and let it be the truth we tell. Because once I say "I am hurting...I need a friend...I want to quit"  Then we can stop shifting that suitcase from one had to the other and we can finally set it down. I prayed at moments throughout the night last night. I prayed and asked God to help me stop trying to be everything to everyone and stop trying to smile through this awful desert I find myself walking through. If I must suffer, let me suffer well. Suffering causes pain and saps your strength.
But I have set down the suitcase. I will be who I am. Not who James thinks I must be or who Williamson County Christendom says I should be. I am a hurting hurter...just like every soul alive on earth. I can't stop the hurt I feel but I keep trying to rein in the hurt I dish out. James...consider doing the same, because you have so much to offer.
"We are frail,
We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our Hells and our Heavens
So few inches apart
We must be awfully small
And not as strong as we think we are. "


Anonymous said...

Craig, wow...just wow. you are a gifted writer and a deep thinker. I will be keeping you in prayer. Blessings to you my brother.

Annie said...

So wonderful to read REAL words from a REAL person.....who 'get's it'! I stumbled upon this quite by accident, but now know it was God that lead me to it......God bless you brother!!!