Tuesday, December 9, 2008

my sincere apologies

Growing up, I was naïve. The knowledge of some things came too early, but on most issues, I was ignorantly blissful. Even now, my husband has the role of explaining things to me (like why I can’t wear that borrowed maternity MILF shirt out in public). Racism was one of those issues in which my perceived reality was not at all connected with the world’s reality.

I was born and raised in southern California, self-proclaimed capital of tolerance. In school, when we studied this country’s sordid history it was assumed that everyone felt the same way—racism was ignorant, unacceptable, and what’s more—sooo old-school. I sincerely believed that racism was a thing of the past.

Until I moved to Florida. Perhaps the geography, just being south of “the South,” has influenced the culture more than most will admit. Whatever the reason, racism is alive and well in this lovely sunshine state. I was appalled by remarks I heard fellow students make in the halls of my high school. Disappointed when friends of parents cracked race jokes. Disillusioned when I finally accepted that 50 years of time between the Civil Rights era and today were simply not enough.

Since I first learned of white people enslaving black people in this country, I’ve been grappling with what I’ll call “white guilt.” In fifth grade, I wrote a story about a privileged white girl, Victoria, who helped a black girl, Tawny, escape her father’s plantation. I vicariously lived through Victoria and her valiant efforts. All five foot 4 of me would yell at the hicks in my high school whenever I heard them use the “n” word. To this day, when I met a black person and her accent reveals that she is from “the Islands,” I feel a sense of relief. “Good,” I think, “you probably don’t hate me. My ancestors didn’t mistreat your ancestors. You might have beef with the French, Spanish, or the Dutch, but not me.”

During my freshman year of college at Florida State in Tallahassee, I got to know the city by running it. From my dorm, I would run east to the downtown government buildings, west to Jim N Milt’s, north to Lake Ella, but rarely south. On one run in particular, I was tracking the south side of downtown and was bored with the sights already seen. So, I turned right, excited to spot a bridge ahead. I kept to the sidewalk and soon realized that the bridge crossed railroad tracks, not water. It was dusk and I knew I shouldn’t stray that far from familiar territory, but my curiosity spurred me on. The phrase flashed through my mind “crossing the tracks,” words I had heard in reference to the separation of the black and white sides of town. I figured that Tallahassee was an old town and that it was possible for those words to apply here. The bridge had now spilled me out onto the road and I became aware of the signs and shops I ran by. Sure enough, the complexions of passengers in cars passing by started darkening and restaurant signs changed to more “soul-ish” foods.

I kept my pace up and then I passed a brick entrance to FAMU—a traditional black college I knew existed in town, but had never seen. I turned right and guessed my way towards the center of campus. It was an uphill jaunt, but I flew. The campus was situated on a hill, giving it a unique vantage point of the city. Dusk had been faithful with its promise, and it was now nearly dark. The darkness brought attention to the light of a burning torch, situated on the greens in the center of campus.

I can’t exactly tell you why, but in that moment, the cloud of my white guilt seemed to lift just a little. I hadn’t spoken to a soul, made eye contact with another student, or even whispered a prayer for reconciliation between the races. But right there, in the center of FAMU’s campus, without breaking pace, my conscience was relieved and I breathed freely. I was an unannounced visitor in a center of black culture and it was okay that I was there. No one welcomed and no one protested. No one even noticed. And I guess that’s what I needed.

I wish I could stand on the top of the world and apologize to African Americans on behalf of European Americans. I wish I could witness reconciliation, forgiveness and healing between both peoples. I wish every expression of culture could be honored and celebrated together. Scripture speaks of a day when every tribe, tongue and nation will worship together on equal footing before the throne of God, and I earnestly long for that day.

For now, though, I’ll have to wait. I’ll write fiction books, I’ll run through black campuses and I’ll pray. I’ll speak with sensitivity, I’ll teach my students our history, and I’ll forgive and accept forgiveness. And maybe, between today and peace consummated, I’ll be surprised. Maybe curiosity, or a misstep or two, will find me standing before a burning torch, breathless. Maybe there is some peace to be had here on earth.

*I'm really nervous in posting this, so please receive it with sensitivity and, if needed, grant me the benefit of a doubt. I recognize that race is a highly controversial subject. This is just my personal expression of my experiences.

**Also, I intentionally did not use the term "African Americans" for most of the post. When totally honest, not many differentiate between the origin of one's ancestors. My feelings, and I believe this topic as a whole, revolve around the color of skin, so that's why I chose to use the words "black" and "white." It's unfair to make such generalizations, but for the sake of simplicity, I did. Please tell me if there's offense to be taken, so I can learn how to proceed in future writings.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Justice, Jesus and Denzel Washington

I love Denzel Washington. He’s just so believable. I wish I could take his character out of film and unleash him, in all his crime-fighting-glory, on the real oppressors of our day. Last night, Neal and I watched Denzel kick butt in a movie called Inside Man. In this movie, one of the characters, we’ll call him “the banker,” is a man who made a fortune dealing with the Nazis during World War II. He’s spent the rest of his life doing humanitarian work to cover the blood on his hands. Dalton, the thief of the movie, says:

I was stealing from a man who traded his [soul] away for a few dollars. And then he tried to wash away his guilt. Drown it in a lifetime of good deeds and a sea of respectability.

The banker had the power at one time to protect his Jewish friends. Instead, he literally sold them out, amassing a fortune. While his safe deposit boxes inherited diamonds and treasures, the former owners of those gems smoldered in concentration camps.

I heard Elie Wiesel speak once on the Holocaust.

If evil were to ever show itself in an objective, raw form, the atrocities that marked the Holocaust would be its purest manifestation. Elie argued that discussions of absolute truth, morality and right versus wrong should find their starting point with the Holocaust. If the world can unanimously define (apart from some foolish bigots) the Holocaust as wrong, then philosophers, teachers, and everyday thinkers can then begin to define what is right. As an elementary teacher, I gingerly touched on themes from that era of history. In our discussions, the children could barely comprehend the concept of racism—genocide was something they would have to grapple with later.

Back to the movie, Inside Man. As I watched Dalton, the self-righteous thief, reflect on the banker’s plight, I questioned what hope a man like that might have. If one did participate in the genocide of a nation for personal profit, once the thrill of worldly success could no longer silence the conscience’s screams of guilt, what could one do? Without knowledge of the forgiveness of Christ, it only makes sense to attempt to “drown it in a lifetime of good deeds.” The banker confessed, “I sold my soul to the devil and I’ve been trying to buy it back ever since.” Dalton exposes the banker’s efforts as futile and what’s more, hypocritical. And, in a sense, they are.

The characterization of a man who sold Jews to the Nazis challenges my present belief in the gospel. I live, preach and breathe the truth that my evil is not only covered, but forgotten by a God-Man’s sacrifice. I look at this dying world through a lens of hope that it, too, might entrust its own evil to this God-Man, and thereby find true freedom and cleansing forgiveness. Humanitarian works are important, but they can never absolve one’s soul. Only an act of substitution can justify—my evil, which merits death, for the life of a Perfect One.

That is the gospel I believe. And, it all sounds good. Everything I’ve come across in my life, in observing this world, fits into this narrative. The Penthouse model I talked to at a bar in Tallahassee—yeah, she fits. She can find freedom, cleansing and new life in Christ. My favorite childhood artist whose marriage dissolved in front of the world—yeah, she fits. Again, forgiveness, cleansing, freedom.

But… the banker. Does he fit?

Let’s get theoretical. Let’s enter the movie Inside Man with a little creative license. Because I love Denzel so much, he’s gonna be the token Christ-follower. In the last scene, while he’s confronting the banker about his past, Denzel explains to the Banker how he has personally found freedom and a new lease on life through Jesus. Denzel then challenges the banker, with that wily smirk on his face, to surrender his life to God and the banker breaks down in tears. They pray together and share in a manly embrace.

Last scene of our theoretical movie—the banker calls for a press conference in which he confesses his participation in the annihilation of the Jews. He renounces all of his humanitarian awards because they were given in false pretense. He voluntarily submits himself to the authorities and asks for everyone’s forgiveness. He demonstrates, in all possible ways, the actions of true repentance.

My gospel says the banker is forgiven. My gospel says that on the Day of Judgment, when he stands before the throne of God, Jesus will stand up and tell the Father, “He’s covered. He can enter into our Kingdom forever.” (Don’t get all seminary on me—the details may be off.)

Really? Really. What about the victims? What about the hundreds of innocent people who met an inconceivable death at his hands? I may sound calloused and self-righteous, but I have to cry—where is the Justice? Where is the accountability?

It’s at this point in my imagined scene (which really will take place, the only difference being the names), that I go to the two most certain things I know of my God—Justice and Mercy. I can acknowledge his Mercy in forgiving the banker. But Justice has to fit in somewhere. In my Sunday School upbringing, I was taught that Jesus “paid the price” for our sin while on the cross. Scripture says that God poured out his wrath onto his Son in those excruciating moments. That Jesus literally "became sin."

If that is true, then I have to expand my understanding of what really went on at Golgotha. If Mercy means that God forgives the banker, and Justice means that God unleashed the banker’s punishment on His Son, then I’ve really had no clue as to the depth of Jesus’ suffering in the passion.

I’ve been clueless.

In the past, I’ve meditated on Jesus empathizing with the pain I would experience in my lifetime. I’ve pondered Jesus absorbing my sin into his body and soul. But I’ve never before truly considered the Justice of God being poured onto that cross.

All that I experience when I think of the effects of the banker’s actions—anger, horror, repulsion—it was all accounted for on the cross. In my finite mind, it doesn’t seem possible. Forgive the heresy, but it doesn’t seem enough. Did the cross really cover the Holocaust? Does Jesus' blood really answer for those who shed the blood of 6 million Jews? Does the crucifixion satisfy the vengeance of God against humanity's worst offenders?

The God of my gospel says yes.

Moral of the story? You don’t want to watch movies with me—hot, black guys become Christians, Nazis repent, and the meaning of cross is exponentially expanded. Next time, I’ll just watch.

someone else's better-worded thoughts

So, I just have to share some excerpts from a book I'm reading, Total Church, by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.

On the topic of apologetics:

"What will commend the gospel are lives lived in obedience to the gospel and a community life that reflects God's triune community of love. People will not believe until they are genuinely open to exploring the truth about God. They become open as they see that it is good to know God. And they see that it is good to know God as they see the love of the Christian community.

As Francis Schaffer said, 'Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful. Christian community is the ultimate apologetic.'"

Mmm...good stuff.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Glory of Dying

I’m sitting on the patio of my grand-in-laws’ country house, overlooking a lake and acres upon acres of Georgian woods. It’s November, and all non-floridians know what that means. Color. Crimson, hues of orange, burnt yellow and baby chick yellow, purple and stubborn green. These, and so many other colors, flank tall, gangly trees as they submit to the changing of the seasons. Some trees emanate an orange-red, as electric as a Las Vegas sign. Others have soft yellows that only glow when rays of sunlight shine through them. Over the past few days my husband and I have been eagerly scanning the trees for the most glorious, the most ostentatious displays of color.

Yesterday morning, as my husband and I sat on a fallen log near the lake, the irony hit me. The beauty in which we delighted was an outward sign of the tree’s death. The healthy trees, which had maintained the process of photosynthesis, were still green and we took no note of them. The leaves whose life was slowly seeping out of them caught our attention and earned our admiration. As the life of the tree escapes through its leaves, it announces its death to the world. The leaf is never more glorious than right before it dies and falls to the ground.

We were in awe of death.

I wonder if this is what Jesus intended for those who would follow Him. Before Christ, we had a death grip on life as we knew it. The cares, pleasures, and worries of this world consumed our thoughts and lives. We were like every other person, indistinguishable from the history of humanity that has preceded us. When Christ took hold of us, he told us to let go. He said that those who seek life in this world would lose it and those who lose their lives would find true life in Him. We let go of this life and submit to Christ’s death, symbolically, in baptism. As we’re raised from the water, we take part in a sacred ritual that represents the resurrected life.

Our lives should reflect the mystery of the Georgian trees. When we submit to dying to ourselves and this worlds’ agenda, our plans, ambitions, identities and passions seep out of our hearts and away from our souls. We begin to echo Paul’s words, “this life I live is not my own,” and we begin to identify with Christ and the losses he incurred while living here. It’s only then that we take on a glory we could never attain on our own. Radiant color emits from our beings as we announce to the word our death.

I’ve never before thought of death as beautiful. Baptism is celebrated because of the new life it represents. Easter is celebrated because of the resurrection. But right now, I think nature is speaking. I think that God is whispering a secret truth—that we don’t have to wait for perfection, we don’t have to wait for His return or our own resurrection to celebrate what is now transpiring.

Our daily choices to die to ourselves and thereby find life in Christ, separates us from the masses, from those indistinguishable evergreen trees. When we pass on the job promotion due to where God’s calling us, when we share God with our friend at the risk of losing the friendship, when we forgo dining out to be able to share our resources with the poor, these are the marks of life in Christ. The job opportunity may never come back around, the friend may reject you and God together, and the home cooked chicken may never get that craving fulfilled. The glory of these choices is that they speak to something beyond today, beyond this world. They challenge the world’s obsession with self and now. They demand a pause, and maybe even a thought, directed towards God.

Just as the sky is most radiant right before the black of night, and the trees are most beautiful right before the dead of winter, a Christian’s life is most glorious as she releases it from herself.

In this, there is an announcement, a proclamation of submission to One greater than ourselves. We do look forward to heaven, to resurrection, and to all things being made right and new. But, for now, let’s acknowledge the strange splendor of our lives; let’s celebrate the irony of this death we daily live.

This is the glory of dying.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Very Long Abridged Version of My History with Women's History

My husband spoke last Sunday morning in front of 500 plus people in two different shoes. I didn’t even notice. When my mother-in-law jokingly said, “girl, you need to help that boy find his shoes!” I quickly retorted that I would certainly not help him find his shoes. “He’s 27 and fully capable of looking through the closet on his own!” After our conversation, Neal asked me why I had been so quick in my response. And I realized it. The chord of feminism had been struck again.

I grew up in southern California. I didn’t see ever Tom Cruise or Heather Locklear walking down the street, but I did refuse to buy leather products, raised money to save the rain forest, sponsored a whale and adopted a modified vegetarian diet. Needless to say, the culture and credos of “hippy California” (quoting someone who dresses in the dark) influenced my worldview. It’s no wonder, then, that I would have issues with the way history has devalued its women.

As I learned about world history in school, I was genuinely grieved that women as a whole have not played a bigger part. They’ve been treated as second-class citizens and relegated to subservient roles in every tribe, culture and nation. (If I’m wrong, please email me. I’d truly like to be corrected.) And while this bothered me, somehow I could reconcile these abuses with the fact that this world is fallen. I shouldn’t expect power-hungry men who have no fear of God to subscribe to some notion that men and women are equal in value.

My real problems began when I started reading the Bible. I was in 6th grade when I responded to a challenge of reading through the Bible in one year. It took me a year and a half, but I plugged away and eventually finished. There were times when I was captivated and truly saw a narrative of God’s love for man (or, should I say, humankind). Other times, though, I was ill-equipped to correctly understand what I was reading. I was amused as I stumbled through some strange stories. There was the lesson Ezekiel tried to teach by cooking his food over cow dung; the story of a defeated army walking back to its country with butts exposed; and the portrayal of the Noah who saved humanity getting drunk and passing out naked. All of these could have all made for some good SNL parodies.

As I read, though, I hit some less amusing obstacles. Men who had long been my childhood heroes, I learned had several wives. There were some commands that God spoke directly to Moses that seemed unfair with regard to women and girls. Further along, in letters that the apostles wrote to church plants, there were seemingly sexist directives concerning women and their roles in the family and in the church. Themes of quietness, submission and male leadership appeared to be in direct contradiction to the roles of leadership I had been operating in. I was confused about how I should participate in ministry, about what my future marriage might look like, and ultimately what my identity was in God’s eyes.

So, in an effort to clear things up, to give God a chance to explain himself, I wrote to an influential biblical authority in my life. Focus on the Family.* I included the most baffling scriptures in my letter and asked them to please explain to me what they really meant. They promptly replied: “We at Focus on the Family deal with family issues. We’re not biblical scholars. So, we’ve included a book to help answer your questions.” Forgive the sarcasm, but the role women play in family and the church—that doesn’t fall under “family issues?” And the book, while very informative on creation versus evolution, the veracity of the Bible and other apologetics, didn’t even hint at my questions.

I realized then that I would find no easy answers. This journey would last longer than I first expected. 14 years later, I am in a much better place. Many of those original scriptures have been made clear to me in an accurate and enlightening way (it’s all about the context). I now realize that God has chosen to work with imperfect humans and the grace that I afforded secular history I’m beginning to dole out to the players of biblical history. Just as He did not wait on me to get my act together before initiating relationship, neither did He wait on my childhood heroes. I’m married now and have been practicing the concept of submission, as taught in the Bible. I’ve never once felt degraded, limited or patronized. My husband honors and respects me and challenges me to greatness far more than I could ever push myself. And that ultimate question, the one of my identity before God, has been settled. God has intervened in my life, changing its destructive trajectory even though it cost him his Son. His presence has never failed me. The sacrifice he made just to be near me is enough. Questions may raise, more puzzles may present themselves, but I am secure in my value as defined by my God.

But the shoes, the shoes, you might note-- obviously there are some unsettled issues. And there are. I still take offense too easily; I still aspire to be the next Condoleeza Rice** and I still am suspicious of some men. I’m working on it. For now, though, I’m satisfied with where I am. Even if it means sucking it up and helping someone find his shoes.

* I feel somewhat obligated to say that Focus on the Family is a good organization, yadayada...please don't be offended.
**For the record, there’s nothing wrong with admiring Condoleeza Rice; it just exemplifies my lust for power.
Last Disclaimer: To all the male readers of this post, I'm really not suspicious of you. I like you a lot, truly.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Red and Yellow, Black and White

Every night before I put my precious baby down to sleep we read Moo, Baa, LaLaLa and then we pray for all the babies in the world. We pray that they would have mommies and daddies to care for them, that they would have enough food to eat, a safe place to sleep, and most of all that they would know how much Jesus loves them. It’s a simple prayer, really. To one who overhears, it may strike him as cute or sweet. To a more critical listener, it may seem naïve and idealistic- as believable as a beauty pageant contestant sincerely declaring that her greatest wish is for “world peace.”

To me, there’s great irony in our prayer for the babies of this world. All that we ask for, Carter has. His every need, physical and emotional, is met. His world is simple and safe and beautiful right now. So, were he capable of understanding my words, he would think the prayer redundant. The reality is that as I breathe those words, holding him close to my chest, babies around the world aren’t doing too well. There are 6,200 babies in China that are hospitalized for kidney failure and liver damage. There are babies in Africa who are HIV positive. There are babies down the street whose siblings all have different last names and who will never know who Daddy is.

On January 9th, Carter’s birth date, I was stolen away from the superficial things of this world and entered the most peaceful chapter of my life yet. My soul is refreshed by Carter’s innocence and purity. I am renewed in my hope for things to change. And I am reminded of the way things should have been with the conception of mankind. When I pray with my son for the babies of this world, painfully aware that many lives are not like ours, I am not merely wishing. It’s not a Hail Mary pass, it’s not a tribute to John Lennon’s Imagine, it’s not due to a wistful imagination. Underneath each spoken word, I am asking that this unaware baby in my arms would grow up to conquer the giants of our time. Were I to be asked for my greatest wish, it would not be for the preservation of my son’s comfort and innocence. It would be that he’d engage with what is not and fight to return us to the place we have lost.

Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

This Beautiful Community

1143 Avenida de los Arboles, apt. 228. I wrote that address on the left hand corner of envelopes for 11 of my childhood years. While my mother loathed many aspects of apartment living, it was those very aspects that created the conditions for my imaginative childhood. I dreamt of mansions, Victorian ones, to be specific. I poured over my dad’s Architectural Digest magazines, clipping photos that would eventually become part of my designer home. I pleaded with my grandmother to describe for me, again, the New England estates in which she grew up. My fantasies consisted of spiral staircases, butler’s pantries and wrap-around sun porches. Two of my pre-adolescent birthdays were celebrated in renovated Victorian homes. The idea of a beautiful home had me captivated.

Years later, not much has changed. The aspirations have- I no longer dream to one day live in a Victorian mansion. The heart of the matter has not. I long for home. That yearning for comfort, to be settled somewhere familiar and safe- it is deep within me.

And I don’t think I’m alone. This idea of home is a defining factor in many people’s lives. It’s the reason my friend Katie quit after her freshman year at a great university that was 8 hours away from her mother. It’s why my former student’s mother, Shandann, couldn’t leave her destitute and dangerous ghetto to start over somewhere else. It’s why my cousin Tom will be stuck in the family business instead of truly excelling in his own passions. Comfort. Familiarity. Safety. It’s the default response to life.

The followers of The Way knew this yearning as well. Exciting things were happening in their day. Their Rabbi, who was crucified, had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven. Since then, his followers had a new boldness. Through their teaching and the subsequent community that sprung up, thousands were joining their ranks. They met in each others’ homes, they ate together, they worshipped together-- they did life together. No one had need- all were met through this new spiritual family.

My guess is that no one could have imagined that they were off by a degree or two. That sense of community felt too good, too right to be missing the mark. And yet, they were. Their Rabbi, Jesus, told them right before he left to expand this community. He didn’t want it to exist only in hometown Jerusalem. His dreams were bigger- “to the ends of earth”—he said. They hadn’t moved, though! Their holy huddle served them just fine right where they were. So, God broke up the party. Problems, big problems (think death, imprisonment) began to plague the Way. They finally dispersed and were scattered to neighboring countries and, eventually, to the ends of the earth. Their beautiful community was then extended to include people that were previously off the radar and beyond their scope of influence.

Rabbi Jesus has commanded all believers to extend this beautiful community. For some, that means a literal move to another country. For others, and I would wager, for most, that means living right where you are. But it’s a different kind of living. It’s bucking the default drive to create perpetual comfort and to preserve all things familiar. It’s celebrating community with other believers while being intentional to invite others into it at the same time. It’s risk-taking, it’s sacrifice-offering, it’s self-denying.

This beautiful community is as close to heaven as we get here on earth. The irony is that, while we must drink deeply of its comfort and draw from its safety, these gifts serve to strengthen us as we seek to extend the community beyond ourselves. Once we settle, once we mistake this place as home we’ve missed the meaning of it all. It’s as deluded as an 8 year old girl clipping magazine photos, convinced that those papers are the real thing.

Pottery Barn

The September installment of let's-get-our-covet-on has arrived in my mailbox and now sits, unsuspectingly, on my coffee table. The innocent passer-by may glance at the cover, peruse through the glossy pages for a moment and then set it back down. A more seasoned veteran of home decor might sit in our recliner, adjust the chair to more comfortable angle, and then really study the catalog. Both readers' experiences with the catalog render no harm- they can successfully reenter the world of my-home-will-never-look-like-that. I, however, am a recovering coveter. That Pottery Barn magazine on my coffee table is akin to a Penthouse magazine on the floor of a frat house. It inspires sin.

I used to really beat myself up over this. When visiting missionaries spoke at church, I was one of the few who prayed, "God, just send me to Africa right now." I figured that being confined to a one-room mud hut with two outfits to my name would solve my coveting problems. It probably would have. But, alas! God, in his drive to conform my character to his Son's, elected that the character would come through my having to tame the wild beast of want in the midst of a dizzying variety of choices and desires. I would have to learn to make choices without simply demonizing purchases that don't feed the hungry and without justifying them with "I'm just so blessed."

So, that leaves me with guidelines but no easy formula. There are times when God surprises me. Several years back, I had my eye on some wall sconces (just say the word sconce- it's fun) and then painstakingly let them go when I couldn't find them. Last November, my mom found the exact pair at a garage sale- super low price and and still in their original box. Other times, though, I have to mentally rehearse the line, "I just don't need that." In those instances, when I want an item and can afford it, I have to flex those muscles of restraint. I have to recalibrate my system to the command of contentedness. Jesus said, "a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

I have a feeling that my battle against covetousness will span the rest of my life, but at least I know how it ends. I get to join Jesus in a reality that far surpasses this fading world and all of its catalogs. Plus, doesn't scripture say that He's gone ahead to prepare for us mansions?

I wonder if we'll have any say over the decor...

Black T-Shirt

On Friday, August 29th, a baby girl was discovered wrapped in a black t-shirt, lying motionless in a pile of weeds in a vacant Syracuse lot. Umbilical cord still attached, investigators estimated that she was born only a couple hours before being discovered there.

As a recent convert to motherhood, I cannot conceive what possible circumstances influenced this mother to abandon her baby. Perhaps it was poverty, drugs, abusive relationships, or mental illness. Regardless, a newborn baby, the most profound expression of helplessness, was cast into the streets. Abandoned.

One of my favorite stories of the Bible is that of the allegory between God and Israel in Ezekiel 16. God chooses to describe Israel as a baby, abandoned in an open field. Her cord was not cut, nor was she washed or wrapped in cloths. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. God passes by, sees Israel writhing in her own blood, picks her up and commands, “live!”

I was born in a sterile hospital room to two married, loving parents. My cord was cut and I was washed and weighed and wrapped in cloths. My mother held and nursed me and I contentedly rested in her arms. Physically, my birth experience was the furthest it could be from Israel’s. As I grew, though, I became increasingly aware that something was broken. My life, from an outsider’s perspective, was perfect. On the inside, I began to sense that I was truly writhing in my own blood. I heard God whisper “live” to my spirit and I began to consciously experience His courtship.

I believe that God chose to describe His people as an abandoned baby because that is what we are. We are all born into sin—our own sin with its great pull on our souls and into a world of people who are sinning. We experience the results of their sin as well. We are truly helpless; we cannot life ourselves from this pile of weeds; we cannot wash ourselves clean; we cannot “save our souls.” It is God, in His infinite mercy, who passes by us in our state and whispers “live!” God is the one who picks us up, cleanses our sins and heals our wounds.

He is the rescuer of the abandoned.