French sociologist Jacques Ellul wrote, “One thing, however, is sure: unless Christians fulfill their prophetic role, unless they become the advocates and defenders of the truly poor, witness to their misery, then, infallibly, violence will suddenly break out. In one way or other ‘their blood cries to heaven,’ and violence will seem the only way out. It will be too late to try to calm them and create harmony.”

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Prophetic Witness

Posted in Living Peacefully, The Autism Gospel

Beautiful, Peaceful Feet

I knew that it was likely to happen one day, but Noah had never mentioned it. Naively, I assumed that maybe he just stayed under the radar of kids who would bully him. I was wrong. Yesterday in the car I was lamenting how I saw a student make fun of another student today. Noah, in a very matter-of-fact way, replied, “Yeah, kids make fun of my shoes.” I felt like someone punched me in the gut.

I wanted to ask a million questions at once…Who is this punk and where does he live? Did you tell a teacher? Did he do anything else to you? Did you feel physically threatened? Why didn’t you tell me? I would have bought you new shoes! Great shoes! Awesome shoes! Way better shoes than he has…[continue Psycho-Mom rant here]

I managed to swallow back all of my fear and anger and ask instead, “What did you do?” Noah calmly replied, “Oh, nothing. This stuff just happens.” I asked if he would like new shoes. Looking out the window as we pulled into our neighborhood, Noah replied, “No, I’ll get new shoes when I outgrow my old ones. We don’t buy new shoes because of that.”

Henri Nouwen , in Adam, tells the story of Adam Arnett, his “friend, teacher and my guide”[1] at L’Arche Daybreak community in Toronto. Nouwen served as Adam’s caregiver and, after Adam’s death, felt compelled to write how “Like that of the first Adam, our Adam represents every human person and thus more easily raises the question: ‘Who is your Adam who speaks to you about God.’”[2]

noahyardshoes

I suppose Noah, in all of his autistic mystery, has spoken to me about God more than anyone I have ever known. His calm response was more than just an indicator that he doesn’t feel social pressures due to his challenges. Something in the tone of his reply let me know that he had just completely seen through an uncomfortable encounter with humanity. While it took me a few moments to grasp a Christ-like response, his insight was immediate. Nouwen wrote about the aptitude people with disabilities show in displaying better responses to the world and it’s pressures.

He was a person, who by his very life announced the marvelous mystery of our God: I am precious, beloved, whole and born of God. Adam bore silent witness to his mystery, which has nothing to do with whether or not he could speak, walk, or express himself, whether or not he made money, had a job, was fashionable, famous, married or single. It had to do with his being. He was and is a beloved child of God. It is the same news that Jesus came to announce, and it is the news that all those who are poor keep proclaiming in and through their very weakness.

Unfortunately, there is a very loud, consistent, and powerful message coming to us from our world that leads us to believe that we must prove our belovedness by how we look, by what we have, and by what we can accomplish…We need to hear the message announced and see the message embodied, over and over again. Only then do we find the courage to claim it and to live from it.[3]

Noah reminds me there is a better way to live and respond to the world, a Third Way. Often times, for his brain, this different way is his default and I am left wondering which of us is really “disabled.”

How beautiful upon the mountains

are the feet of him who brings good tidings,

who publishes peace,

who brings good tidings of good,

who publishes salvation,

who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

(Isaiah 52:7)

[1] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Adam, God’s Beloved (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1997), 15.

[2] Ibid. 17.

[3] Ibid. 36-37.

Twentieth-century novelist Georges Bernarnos said, “Every particle of Christ’s divine charity is today more precious for your security — for your security, I say — than all the atom bombs in all the stockpiles.”

Common Prayer, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals p.258

National Security

1 Peter 4:12-14

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Posted in Living Peacefully

Surrounded

I’ve had a week filled with questions about a lot of things. Things concerning the future and things about what happened in the past. At some point though, we just have to start moving forward as best we can without a plan. Making that happen when surrounded by paralyzing doubt is easier said than done – even when we’d really like it to happen.

I’m not new to uncertainty. I embrace it so well on a philosophical level sometimes that my peers fear I am overly dark or pessimistic. I’m not a negative person; I’ve just accepted a reality where God has allowed free will, which creates a degree of openness and chaos from which we don’t always benefit.

But the feeling of not knowing how to move forward, or which direction would cause the least amount of potential damage has been like holding my breath for months. I’ve felt surrounded by doubt, fear, failure, loss, and grief. Struggle as I might, I’ve been unable to swim to the surface.

Sunday at church, I read a hymn that gave me another alternative. In addition to the doubts and fears, I can also have “Christ be with Me.”

 

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me,

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.[1]

 

If I believe Christ-following means taking up my cross (which I do) then I can anticipate that loss and grief will be reflected in my Way. I am following in the steps, after all, of Christ before me on his cross. But I can also know that comfort and restoration surround me as well – in both quiet and danger.

This week I am listening for his voice in the “mouth of friend and stranger,” searching for the strength and hope to move forward. Still surrounded, on all sides.

 

[1] Hymnal: A Worship Book (Elgin, Ill.: Brethren u.a., 1992), 442.

Psalm 119

Psalm 119:105  8, 111  12

Your word is a lantern to my feet : and a light upon my path.

I have sworn and am determined : to keep your righteous judgments.

I am deeply troubled : preserve my life, O Lord, according to your word.

Accept, O Lord, the willing tribute of my lips : and teach me your judgments.

Your decrees are my inheritance for ever : truly, they are the joy of my heart.

I have applied my heart to fulfill your statutes : for ever and to the end.

Perfect Joy

Francis of Assisi, a twelfth-century mendicant preacher, said, “Above all the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit, which Christ grants to His friends, is that of self-conquest and of willingly bearing sufferings, injuries and reproaches and discomforts for the love of Christ. If we shall bear all these things patiently and with cheerfulness, thinking on the suffering of Christ the blessed, which we ought to bear patiently for His love, O Brother Leo, write that here and in this is perfect joy.”

Psalm 107:1  3, 8  9

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good : and his mercy endures for ever.

Let all those whom the Lord has redeemed proclaim : that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.

He gathered them out of the lands : from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy : and the wonders he does for his children.

For he satisfies the thirsty : and fills the hungry with good things.

Let the Redeemed Proclaim

Every Folding of the Heart

A theologian and poet of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, François Fenelon wrote, “We must have faith during the period of our grief. We think that our afflictions will be greater than we can bear, but we do not know the strength of our own hearts, nor the power of God. He knows all. He knows every folding of the heart and also the extent of the sorrow that he inflicts. What we think will overwhelm us entirely only subdues and conquers our pride. Our renewed spirit rises from its subjugation with a celestial strength and consolation.” (Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals, April 20)

Posted in Living Peacefully, The Autism Gospel

Going Forth

Everyone asks, “So aren’t you thrilled to be back in Atlanta?” I know the expected answer is a resounding “YES!” This is, after all, my hometown. No one is asking for an interpreter when I speak in public, and I can buy Dukes Mayonnaise at my local grocery store instead of having it “imported” by friends. But re-integrating ourselves has been challenging. Everything is comfortingly the same and disconcertingly different all at once. As our little family has healed, this is one of the things we have had to come to terms with.

I have been comforted by how present and faithful God has been to Noah during this transition. I can’t imagine how absurdly difficult the past nine months have been for him. Autism makes us far less portable than the typical family. There is just no escaping this fact. His entire life is one amalgamation of sensory experiences that provide anxiety on some level. To one degree or another, he spends most of his day working to cope with his environment. At times, it is clearly painful for him yet the disquiet of reorientation is part of his daily experience.

We’re at a new church home that we are very excited about. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more about them, but know that this kingdom outpost has already embraced Noah with enthusiasm. But that didn’t stop me from reverting to old habits a few Sundays ago when we entered only to find rhythm instruments placed throughout our worship room. I immediately began an exit strategy for Noah’s eventual meltdown due to the over-stimulation during worship.

Soon, our worship leader encouraged us to pick up an instrument and join in a song. Jason and I didn’t move, afraid to set off panic in Noah. I don’t know if we were hoping he wouldn’t notice what was happening, or if we were just too tired at the moment to do anything but rest and hope that everyone would understand when Noah became distressed. Much to our surprise, neither thing happened. Instead, Noah began to search for the nearest instrument he could find and, grabbing a tambourine, played along in perfect rhythm.

Astonishment doesn’t begin to describe our reaction. Even though we are new there, everyone who stood as witness to Noah’s act of praise was surprised.

We have come out of a wilderness not of our own making. Some of you may understand better than others. More than ever before, I feel enveloped by an everlasting love that has been faithful to us. Maybe Noah does too, and he just had to rattle a tambourine – despite the discomfort the noise causes his brain.

And me, well, I wanted to dance along.

 Thus says the Lord:

“The people who survived the sword

found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from afar. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel!

Again you shall adorn yourself with timbrels,

and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.” [1]

 

[1] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Je 31:2–4.