Sleepless Apathy

Waking in the middle of the night at about 3am, in the middle of what sounded akin to a hurricane outside, was not pleasant. Even worse, however, was the struggle to get back to sleep as my mind turned to and remembered the events of the evening before. Christmas shopping in town, I’d passed by a homeless man bedded down for the night in a window crevice behind Tesco Metro. I’d then walked quickly on, putting the event to the back of my mind; ignorance always is bliss, they say, and spares a guilty conscience. After a coffee up the street I’d totally forgotten about the rough sleeper.

Now, waking at 3am, all I could think about was him. Him, sleeping out in the blowing wind, the biting cold, the driving rain. How can he be living in this, while I tuck in bed? Or rather, should I ask, why do I allow this to happen? Have I lived in that ignorance too long? It is always easier to ignore justice, move on and get the next coffee.

Maybe it’s time we said, “Not on my watch will this happen.” It’s time to reject apathy and take up arms against day by day injustices. ‘True religion’ this  Christmas, is not a few carol services. No; true religion is lived out radically in a broken, painful world. True religion steps out and houses the homeless, cares for the orphan and widow, feeds the hungry.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matt. 25:37-40

 

Living on the Outside

Are we setting our hearts ablaze,

Just to burn out like a wick?

Casting light, but burning low,

When the shadows cling anew.

 

Putting on that dark black mask

I’m foundering on the brink,

Of discovery, or maybe disaster, as I

Sell out my heart just to buy it back

With blood.

 

Who am I? Who I thought I was;

Strong from strength to strength?

But that old song’s sung no more

When the wind blows the weather vane.

 

Shrouded in worn out clothes of Pharisees,

But in fact I’m a sinner whitewashed,

It all hinges on that bedrock.

And crashes,

Down

Down

Down.

 

So bleach white my bones,

And buy me back again, with

Just one more act of Grace.

Cos’ bones just turn to dust again

When Duty masks love lost.

 

Let me cast down those forsaken clothes

The age old crown of gold

To tramp them into grains of sand

And live in freedom fresh.

 

Freedom found in love alone

Where Duty demands his due no more;

Where I stand out here in open glade,

Casting off inmates clothes, to find me

Running home.

 

The Facade

How are you getting on?

“I’m good thanks.” I’m not good.

“Getting on really well.” I’m falling apart.

“Life’s great right now.” How can I go on?

etcetera.

Day by day, we wake to put on the mask, hold up the smile for the crowds around. Anything to hold it together, this persona you’ve created for them. Suppress the reality, because you neither want to show them what’s real, nor do they want to see it.

So we open our drawers to garb ourselves in clothes of faked happiness, pulling on the pleasant exterior. Clothes we wear so the world won’t see what’s beneath; clothes to fit in, remain in subterfuge, remain under the cover. Clothes that hide the raw naked pain beneath.

But a collapsing structure daubed in fresh paint to provide exterior beauty is no less doomed to fall on account of its facade. You can dress up the bricks, show them that its safe and stable, but the unseen cracks will always keep opening. Eroding. Goodbye, and so long. The final ruin will just be all the more startling to the passerby who didn’t see it coming.

Slaves to the pain, but never wanting them to see the truth. Them? Those people who we do life with, the people we love and are loved by? We don’t want to show them the landfill of darkness beneath, because that isn’t what we want to be defined by. It always was much easier to be the outgoing, happy one who was holding it altogether, than the weak vessel falling apart.

I didn’t mind giving ear to the problems of others. But when its me falling apart? That’s when I run and hide. That’s when I put up the barriers and paint the walls. That’s when I put on the mask, anything to show them nothing’s wrong, nothing of what’s real.

But that’s not true. The pain was real. The darkness was tangible. And the collapse came. Unsustainable.

The truth is, you might have it all, yet have nothing. You might have every reason for joy, yet be pierced with spears of  doubt, delusion and darkness. And it comes suddenly, like a rushing tide; and like the tide, you soon drown if you can’t swim.

So I didn’t see it coming.

But now I know – that illusion of strength, it was unsustainable. I needed a hand up and a lifeboat to jump into, but I didn’t comprehend that. But those things were all around me, in people I loved and a God who is always dependable. Always. I wanted to be strong, but only in admitting my overwhelming flaws and failures, only by being real, did I escape. I didn’t want to be the guy collapsing, depending on others, but that’s where I found myself. But by being made low, I learnt just the deep wells of love around me.

And this was probably one of the most important lessons of my life. An anguished mind is a very real thing, the pain so very tangible, and the escape perceptibly difficult. You can’t do it yourself.

And this isn’t something that the rare few face. It’s common to both the weak and strong, the poor and rich, the joyful and mourning. And whoever you are, you can’t escape it alone. You need Love.

Such Love is so very present all around. Its in the people you walk with. It’s in Creator God. We’re just so very blind to it when the darkness presses in and becomes reality. Withdrawing within always is easier than admitting that you can’t go on, than reaching out to what you need.

This isn’t a sympathy cry, but a plea; a plea for all the bruised, hurting, and pained, to reach out. Love is there to be grasped, and Love heals.

Friend, you need to know this: become vulnerable and seek love. You can’t go on yourself, for no person was made invulnerable to the darkness. Only in falling face first in surrender will Love pick you up.  And know one truth; that Love always wins the day, no matter what. Pressing darkness cannot be held in by the painted facade when Love draws close.

Cast down your crown of mourning, and lay down your mask. Expose the flaws and tragedies, for they are what make you. That is the reality into which Love steps, and Love always wins.

 

A Holy Discontent

Contentment.

I look for her among the ruins of this fading city, but she is not there. In the dreams of days to come and the memories of times past; but in those old books she will not be found. In the childhood fairytales I weave from my imagination – fairytales of love, and prosperity, and happily-ever-after – but there she eludes me.

Surely she is our goal, step by step up this mountain, the pinnacle for our existence and striving, to dwell under the roof of Contentment? Yet I cannot find her here, wherever I search or in whatever I do on this Earth.

Not in the metropolitan monuments of our making, nor in the forests of our romances. Neither in the caves of gold carved in our attics, nor the plunders of our long-fought wars.

Contentment, found in this world, fled to the winds in ages past. Upon the pilgrimage to find her here, in the flesh, I found nothing. This was all – simply clutching at the breeze in some vain hope of catching her passing. To look for Contentment found in things here is a hopeless attempt at crystalising the air that rushes past.

Our romances, who promise shelter from discontent, when becoming our sole desire always produce fresh tragedies to haunt our sickening hearts. Financial gain, though promising a life of security and pleasured bliss, will leave the hungry heart starving for more, gain upon gain but losing all. For every shekel you lay hold of, there are a million more that the mind will want and the heart will never get; for every love in paradise, a fallen god that can never truly give you all.

Contentment, as she has come to be known, is this: the promise of something more that can never be acquired; the pinnacle of a mountain that can never be climbed. Our schools, our politicians; they tell us one thing, one thing above all: work, strive, toil; only then will you be contented, searching for bliss that cannot be found.

The great tragedy of seeking Contentment is that she always leaves us discontent.

But there is another way.

Contentment comes to those who take hold of what they have, and see that it cannot satisfy, not in itself. For what can be gained from having the whole world, yet at a loss to all in it? When you have food on the table and shelter over your head, what more can be said than that you are a great deal more privileged than the crying billions in our backyard global neighbourhood?

I believe that true contentment doesn’t come to those who work their whole lives to gain everything and lose it all. It comes to those, who, in taking arms with what they have, learn to love with all they’ve got, all they’ve been given. You can gain the world, and lose love itself; you can lose all you’ve got, yet, in loving, have everything you need. Contentment.

True contentment is found in that place of vulnerability, in love. And true love, friend, will always produce something like discontent.

But this is not a bad discontent. No, rather, this is a holy discontent. A wholesome longing. Finding contentment with the little you’ve been given, and, in looking out, longing to use it for good, for love, not gain. In seeing the orphan, to provide a home; to the beggar, shelter; to the thief, forgiveness. To the unloved, love; to the poor, a friend.

You have in your hands the materials for Contentment, and she wants to make a home in your heart. And when you let her in, she will produce in you something new. A holy discontent. A commission to draw up arms in a good fight.

To gain the world is to lose everything. To gain Contentment, is to hold loosely what little you have, but find all you need. A place where love is found in a dark dying world, and a light that can defeat it. And we, friends and family, can take up these burning brands and make the bleeding darkness a little less dark.

A Lego Paradise

“And you could have it all , my empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt.” Johnny Cash

In years gone by, I would wile away the hours among toy bricks, inventing from my imagination buildings, cities and civilisations to preside over. Days could pass as I worked on my own little towns, designing each detail just how I wanted, legislating as the ruler and president over my own fictitious reality. This was my childhood joy, to build for myself civilisation, but more than that; civilisation over which I had total control. Scenarios that I played out from my mind in those toy villages were scenarios that I had supreme command over; toy soldiers predestined to run at my will.

Lego always was the perfect medium from which to play deity.

Isn’t this a condition common to us all?

For we are young, and in our young years we have many victories ahead of us, and we are free. We want our own slice of heaven, and we want it on our own terms. We work, we play, and one day, maybe, we’ll take a bite out of this salvation we’ve been pressing on for. Paradise, to our modern minds, is our own vision of happiness, of pleasure, of goodness.

We want our own slice of heaven, and we want it on our own terms.

And we look to the sky and laugh at God, or the Deity, or the Being, or whatever else our forefathers believed, in the face. For what good did the laws of old do for them? Any laws that a Judge above gives are surely put there as a stumbling block. They won’t help us on our journey to our heaven. They will simply hold us back. So you turn your back on God, take matters into your own hands. Building out of the Lego bricks the empire of your paradise.

In years time, your goals will finally have manifested themselves as fruit. The work will have paid off, and you’ll be eating out of your slice of heaven. The perfect family, a perfect wife and two beautiful kids in the medium-sized home of your dreams. A nice little carving of the stock market. Friends with people at the top.

And the beautiful thing? You made that empire, and you didn’t need to follow anyone else’s rules to get there.

And you could have it all , my empire of dirt.

But to what purpose? You’ve reached heaven, you’ve built the empire, perhaps somewhere in your middle-age. You have it all. But empires decay, hard fought victories always lose their sweetness. Bullies will always vandalise your Lego houses. Being god over your little paradise always comes with a high price. For gods made in Earth’s time are forgotten in eternity.

Tragic, is it not? That that slice of heaven, which you control, will always fall stale. My empire of dirt.

Playing god will always let you down, it will always make you hurt. I truly believe man was not made to be god, for to be god places so much power in a flesh that withers so quickly. The fruits of paradise look like squalor when the price paid is so high.

This isn’t  a game, that if you play right, you’ll get the goods. Whatever law you follow, whatever rules in the game you obey, it isn’t going to give to you paradise in its entirety. Whether one plays the game of pleasure or one legalistically obeys all the moral laws, their slice of heaven will never satisfy. So what? Surely this life cannot be gratuitous?

Grace. I believe man was not made to depend on himself as god, but on another. Another who dwells in the eternal. The prize of eternity founded on grace, freely given. Those who obey the moral laws as an end won’t inherit it, because that puts salvation in their hands. Eternity, for those who want it, is dependant on another.

Grace is the unattractive option, because the emphasis of our salvation, of our paradise, of Heaven, is no longer in our hands. We cannot be gods and hope to get eternity. For the fading glories of the world’s prizes are the counterfeit reward for playing god. Eternity is so unattractive for the modern mind because freely given grace is not in our hands, and we can’t be god. It takes humility.

But isn’t it so much better? When you make yourself god, all you get is an empire of dirt, and it will leave you hurt. We try to make it so complicated, that we somehow need to build and work and strive to get paradise. Humility, for me, takes that out of our hands.

Man was not made to be god. Man was made for grace, a beautiful exchange with a Saviour. A Saviour who loves infinitely, desires not our works, but simply His people.

Humility, then, will never let you down, and will never leave you hurt. It will leave you in the Arms of Grace, for all who will accept Him.

 

A Kingdom Called Melody

If your life consisted of one song to sing, what would it be? If it were but one word in a great play, how would you say it? If it were a single note in a great melody, how would you play it?

If your life consisted of naught else but this, how would you sing?

Imagine your whole life was spent confined to just one room; you, alone, but for a lone piano to furnish the space, as well as a few sparse instructional manuals. You have no purpose, then, but to play, to learn, to master. One single commitment as you can see nothing beyond the confines of this small existence.

Then, after the passing of the years, you are released. You know nothing but black and white keys, octave by octave of your only friend, know no voice but the hammer against strings to produce something of a symphony. Upon release, you are given one commissioning.

To play. To play before the peoples, your song, your life’s song.

And you play. Would you play only a half-hearted mustering, some lacklustre attempt at your life’s only pursuit? Or would you play some melodious sonnet, something beautiful, something to be remembered throughout eternal ages?

Friends, brothers and sisters, you have been given one song. One word in a play in its writing. One note in a celestial orchestra.  One word can shake mountains; one song can move nations; one note can break the darkness.

In your mouth, there is some jewel of song that no other man can bring to this symphonic offering. Are you going to let your song be muffled? Sing out of key for earthly idols that are fading? Forget your one word in this  great play?

Turn your ears outward. Hear the world in disarrayed cacophony. Hear that crying. These sons and daughters who sing a song of wailing so mournful because they are confined to the worst orchestra devised in history. This is the orchestra called Desperation, conducted by Poverty and Injustice and Lies. Will you stand to let your song be quenched by her? Or will we rise in a dawn of song that breaks the Night upon her back?

Brother, sister, let us gather as one. We each have a song in our mouth, and the ability to sing it well or waste it. One chance, one short stint, one life. One song, one word, one note. When wailing disparity clouds the atmosphere, our song is defeated. But I hear joy coming, I hear the atmosphere changing.

I hear the sons and daughters of man rising with one song in their mouth, one song rising from the ashes and signalling the dawn. A song he and she will spend there lives singing, for there one small part in the act. I can start to hear the notes, even amidst the present distress. Notes called Mercy, Justice, Love.

Friend, will you join us in our song, a song to drown out Desperation? Will you sing out, and let the skies erupt with a new kingdom of melody? Will you spend yourself making our intent loud, that Injustice shall not reign?

We have one song, one word, one note. And but one life to sing it. So, will you stand on the edge of eternity, open your ears, and hear an atmosphere more tinted by love and joy than when you started?

Will you sing your song, and sing it loud?

All Of Me, Daddy

I don’t know why I never got it, why I thought you were a monster from up on high,

Judging me and watching and waiting, just for me to stumble.

Why did I believe those lies?

Those lies whispered in my ear,

When all those years I couldn’t cry “I love you, daddy,”

You cried over your child here below,

Cried just to see his face.

Cried for him just to turn once more, and step into your arms.

Goodness knows the pain You felt, or the clothes torn on my behalf,

To see me open Your door and step on through

Into the love story with you, with you.

All those years I lived a prodigal,

A reckless boy in a foreign land,

Missing my Father who loved me recklessly more.

I waited too long, too long in shame spent up,

But now I see You whole, all Your love.

As I give You all You want, all of me.

 

While I cried here below, 

I didn’t feel the tears You poured on me,

Just to see me smile at You, 

And smile at Your song.

And my deafness could not contain,

The depth of Your longing call,

As You contended for my heart.

You tore Your curtains on my behalf, You tore them right in half.

 

This is my belonging and my undoing,

As I look upon Your face,

For You are not angry for who I am,

Or spiteful for what I did.

All that time I was lost at sea,

All You wanted was all of me.

All You wanted was all of me.

 

I thought You loved them more,

The Saints from of old, or the pious man up in his room,

I thought I had to earn it, or pay away the debt,

I thought this was a fight of tooth and claw,

I believed the lies.

The lies of that red dragon.

Because all the while You wanted me.

You longed and You waited and yearned to see,

Me running up Your path, to embrace Your love.

All You wanted was all of me.

 

And this is my homecoming, I sit at Your table again,

And I look across at children I thought You loved more,

And now I know, You don’t pick favourites.

You love me for all I am, more than I could know. 

And You smile and You laugh with me,

You love me through, all of me.

And all this I missed along,

All of You loving all of me.

 

So many days in seasons gone by I would wallow in shame, unable to get rid of that image of a monster Father waiting for His intolerable kids to mess up so He could judge them. I knew He loved, loved so much, but deep down I couldn’t believe it. So I would mourn and cry in the caverns of my heart, unable to look in the eyes of my Father.

And all the while He cried, cried for my false expectations and the lies I believed about Him.

Every day, He longed with tears for me to come to Him, to see Him for the loving daddy He is and to laugh with Him again. So this summer has been an undoing of everything I held before, from the guilt and the shame before a judging God. The walls came down, and through the ashes I saw a loving daddy who ran through the dirt to take me home, to take me to His table.

For grace is a collision on a prodigal road.