Suspenders

suspendersSometime in my early teen years, I just had to have a pair of rainbow colored suspenders. I begged my parents for this article of clothing until someone finally broke down and got them.

Did I need them because I didn’t like to wear belts? No. Did I need them to keep my pants up? Not really…I usually wore a belt anyway. Why did I need them, then?

Because Mork from Ork wore them.

For those who are not old enough to remember or for the select few who didn’t watch television in the late seventies, Mork and Mindy was a television show about an alien from the planet Ork who somehow ended up living in the suburbs of Denver. And unless Mork had on clothing from his native planet, he almost always wore rainbow colored suspenders. And just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, Mork was played by Robin Williams, an actor who recently lost a battle with depression and ended his life. (As a side note, I try to avoid using the word suicide. I don’t like it for many reasons but you can read more about that on my blog if you really want to do so.)

Robin Williams was one of my earliest role models and heroes. He made people laugh and I found that making people laugh was not only fun to do, it gave an otherwise short and awkward teenager a way to be noticed amongst his peers and even by some adults. For several years I had the very unrealistic dream of becoming a stand-up comic.

That dream led me to do both community and school theater. That dream gave me the drive to actually be employed professionally as an actor – ONCE. That dream of standing in front of people, telling stories and jokes and hearing them respond with laughter is one that kept me going through much of my high school years. Even after I retired the suspenders (but didn’t throw them away, mind you) and had quit idolizing Robin Williams for some other comic I can’t even remember now, I still held on to the dream of making a livelihood out of comedy.

But a lot of life happened between that early dream and where I am today. I consider myself fortunate, very fortunate indeed that at some point in time I realized that there was a different plan for my life. Although I cannot paint a picture of the long road I took to get there in this article, I can at least say with a great deal of certainty that I ended up where I was supposed to be headed all along – in pastoral ministry.

In some ways, I still get to live part of that early dream – I stand up in front up people on a regular basis and I get to tell stories. However, they often are not funny ones and even when they are funny I hope that they point to something else. I hope they point to the God who loves us all enough to send his Son to die for us.

I get a little sad each and every time I hear of someone losing a battle with depression that ends in death. As far as I am concerned, the disease rids people of their ability to make good and rational choices. Instead, they just want the hopelessness to end and can really only see one way out of that hopelessness – to be present with God.

We worship an incredible and awesome Savior. Jesus was, is and always will be part of the Trinity known as God. When Jesus walked among us, he was fully human and fully divine. His death would not have been a sacrifice on his part if he did not have the power to prevent it. Yet even with the power to prevent his own life from being taken, Jesus chose to give it up. Why? So that we could have life that is ever-lasting – both now and after our own deaths.

Sometimes, I am afraid, we concentrate so much on the gift of “life after death” that is a promise of the sacrifice of Jesus that we forget about ever-lasting life that is available to us now. Please don’t jump to conclusions here…I am not talking about people with mental illness forgetting that promise, I am talking about perfectly normal and mentally healthy people forgetting it.

That, to me, is why it is so tragic when someone loses their life to a battle with mental illness. There are so many of us around who have life to spare, who drink from wells that never run dry, who walk on paths made smooth by the grace of God, who have hope beyond measure that we should be able to at least talk about mental illness in such a way that it would offer life and hope to others around us.

I am not offering any grand solution here. Now am I asking you to find some way to be in ministry with those who are mentally ill.

I am asking that we all take a moment and thank God for the life and hope that we have because of Jesus. And maybe in that thankfulness, we will be just a bit more cognizant of those around us who are struggling and we can show them a new way to hope…a different way to be close to God. One sacrificed his own life so that we could all have life abundant! In being thankful, we are in the position to help those who can’t be thankful because of mental illness.

I can’t say that this will work every time, but I won’t stop hoping that it does.

Nanu…Nanu.

A Cross Between Two Thieves

Not my will, but yours…

    I know that I have heard these words hundreds, if not thousands of times in my life in the church. They are words of Jesus as he prays before being arrested. They are words of Jesus as his closest disciples fall asleep. However, most of the time that these words hammer through the noise of my brain, I hear them as words of surrender and resignation on the part of Jesus. Today, for whatever reason, I heard the deep seated struggle of will that is inherit in these words.

    Jesus, really, really struggled to let go of his own will and follow the will of God.

I am thinking about this not so much because of some struggle of will that I have in my personal life as a member of the Jesus Revolution. I have those struggles and I probably always will but they don’t upset me all that much. Today I was struck with these words as they described the relationship between two parts of the Triune God and what that could mean for Christian unity today. In my mind, there are few things more broken in our world than the idea of Christian unity. We simply suck at getting along with one another.

I get the sense from so many people that “being one, as the Father and I are one” – the very prayer Jesus had for his followers – is something that should be simple and easy for us to accomplish. I get that sense from those who say, “Just follow the Bible and we can have unity” as well as from those who say, “Just love like Jesus loved” and we will have the unity for which Jesus prayed. I think both groups – and I can be found lurking around in either from time to time – totally miss the real struggle the Son had with the Father over this picture of unity.

What if the unity found between Father and Son, between Jesus and the God-Head, is more akin to struggle than it is to a sense of peace. (Images of Jacob wrestling in the night for a blessing come to mind.) I know that we all want peace, but that is not what Jesus infers in the Garden, on the cross or even to us. Yes, he leaves us a “peace that is not like the world gives” but perhaps that peace is what we find when we allow grace to abound with ourselves (as we struggle in ourselves) and what we find when we allow grace to abound amidst the struggles we have with those whose idea of God’s will bumps up against a difference in our hearts.

Listen…I know that this is not a completely fleshed out, well-thought bit of theology I am espousing today. It is a start to say the very least. Perhaps you can add to the discussion. Perhaps I can capture it better in another use of language too:

 

The battle of will
is a thumping of the heart,
a throbbing of the mind,
and a bleeding of the soul.

Or so it seems. Or so it seems.

It is a battle, a battle among thieves:
One who steals freedom in the name of holiness
And
One who steals holiness in the name of freedom.

But maybe, perhaps maybe…
On those days when the battle wages
within and without
with an intensity that hurls invective and certainty
like arrows into the always soft flesh of the gut –
Perhaps, just maybe,
There is another war cry
A cry that is heard
among the wounded,
the stilted,
and even on the lips on the silent
as they breath with Spirit Sound
the truest cry of unity.

Grace.

Grace for self. Grace for others.
Grace like that offered by a Savior,
A Savior between two thieves.

 

©2014, Scott Sears