Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Four Books that Changed My Life, Episode 1:Lament for a Son

The past few months I have mentioned "Four Books that Changed my Life" in a variety of contexts. It seemed logical for me to take a minute to say a word or two (or four) about these books that have had such a profound impact on me.

The first book is the actually the last one that I read. Nicholas Wolterstorff's Lament for a Son.

I first discovered this text when Cindy was in graduate school at Truett Seminary in Waco. Wolterstorff is a brilliant thinker and has several compelling works on social justice, education, and even art. Lament for a Son, however, is a much more personal text. After losing his adult son in a climbing accident in Europe, Wolterstorff journalled his grief experience. A trained theologian and philosopher, Wolterstorff journalled his struggles with God and his struggles with humanity after the tragedy. That journal later became the basis for Lament for a Son.

It is a powerfully honest text. It is a text that reveals a father who is not in search of answers, but rather, in search of community. It is a text that shows a man who doesn't want practiced, well-rehearsed, canned, ministerial answers, but someone who will practice a ministry of presence.

I discovered in this book an honest quality of prayer that I too often lack and an honesty that is all to present in the Bible (I am always troubled when ideas that are so novel to me turn out to be so biblical). Practiced piety and rehearsed prayers are comfortable. In Wolterstorff, I found a man willing to take who he was was, where he was to the divine--even when "who he was" was angry, and "where he was" was a valley of deepest darkness--even when "who he was, where he was" was uncomfortable for those around.

Though certainly sad, Lament isn't hopeless. Like the laments of the psalms, Lament for a Son has its moments of hope. I found hope in two places. First, this book taught me that "lament" is worship. I shouldn't have been surprised by that. By some counts, half of the hymns of ancient Israel (in the book of Psalms) contain lament characteristics. Israel knew that life in this world will bring humanity to cry out, and those cries needed to be taken to the divine.

The second hopeful lesson from the book was Wolterstorff's willingness to authentically welcome us into his grief and his invitiation to join him as he continued to wrestle in grief. He is willing to lay his soul bear and invite ministry and community. His humility, his willingness to be low and accept ministry truly inspires me.

Its discussion of grief and faith goes beyond just the loss of a son. It speaks to grief in a number of settings. Everyone who has been sad and angry or confused should read this book.  I joke that this book has become a track for me. I recommend it, and I hand out my personal copies. I just received my 10-12th (lost count) copy in the mail last week.

It is short, deep, well-written, relevant...and it changed my life.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Return to Blogging: Debriefing Lawndale

It's funny. You always think you will blog more than you actually do. People have said, "To blog regularly, sometimes you need to have something to say, and sometimes you just have to say something." Personally, I just want to have something to say.
My plan was to blog a little about my Lawndale through the fall semester, but of course, life got in the way. So I thought I would make my first 2012 blog a debriefing about last semester.

Simply put: Lawndale was a transforming experience. I did enter into a different culture, but I found found brothers and sisters. I wondered if my jokes would work. They much as they work anytime. I wondered if my lectures would resonate. Boy did they. And like most good teaching experiences, I learned more than they did. It was a true intercultural experience. I shared from my culture. They shared from their varied culture. We shared with each other. It was affirming. It was challenging. It was the body of Christ.

What did I learn?

  1. People are People. Everywhere.
  2. People who live just 40 miles away from me, live in a completely different world.
  3. I discovered just how much energy I spend trying to get students to care. I discovered this because my Lawndale class cared so passionately and so deeply about everything we were talking about, I didn't have work very hard. The wanted to soak up any information I could give. The first night we went 15 minutes over as they continued to ask interpretive and clarifying questions. I finally said, "It's 10:15 PM! I have to go home!"
  4. I learned that I have brothers and sisters in Christ in a place I never knew about one year ago.
  5. Coach is shorter than I had pictured after hearing the stories.
  6. Lou Malnati's is the best pizza in Chicago.
  7. I learned how important the story of Job is to the African-American church.
  8. I learned that I have a lot to learn about the body of Christ.

Unfortunately, I still haven't had a chance to worship with them on Sundays. My interim responsibilities haven't allowed me to take a week off. But it won't last forever, and I look forward to worshipping with my new friends. Thank you, with all love, thank you: Phil, J.B., "Donny," Pat, Tyone, Joey, Linda, Jose, and Theresa. Thanks to Northern Seminary for giving me a chance to stretch myself. Thanks be to God for this oasis on the west side.

Oh, one more thing I forgot to mention that I learned: The "Lawndale Miracle" is real.

"I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now, my eyes have seen you."