a song for the prodigals

Arise, cry out in the night,
At the beginning of the watches;
Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord.
Lift your hands toward Him
For the life of your young children,
Who faint from hunger at the head of every street.
(Lamentations 2:19)

We are living in a time of unimagined and unimaginable change.

For countless numbers of young people, their inner self, that person created in the image of the Shining One, has never completely known full release, or surrender, or free joyful connection. It has always been dogged and pursued by a clinging to desire in the infantile crying for indulgence.

There is in every person a longing to be cherished, so that we might be free to express the glory that throbs within us, that exists because we are each an echo of a magnificent, originating Proclamation. We all, with force and gentle fury of tears, and aching longing, stretch and reach for truth, truth unfettered, the real Truth, Truth that reaches to me and tells me I can be free, that I can shake off the clinging accoutrements of flesh tainted by the world and thoughts corrupted by the customs and rituals of a world that has been twisted and tainted.

We try to make sense of our lives and our world through the stories we hear, the stories we tell, the stories we have lived and hope to live. We try, often without success, to listen to each other’s stories, because to hear stories that are true, stories that expose the grit and gristle underneath our skin, is to be alive and connected and aware and comprehending. Through comprehension comes compassion—the “suffering with”—and the opportunity to love.

And so, in our attempts to understand we reach for beauty and goodness and justice, and we are surprised to find that beneath our grasping is a Voice. What is this inner Voice that silences loud clamor in its quietude; that is more powerful than bitterness in its gentleness, that lays claim to me in its respectful wooing, that is undeniably insistent in its profound patience? My heart tears, and burns, and weeps for the purity offered even as other parts of me launch out, or lash out, in confusion and desire that has been twisted into self-satisfaction. And in that is the struggle, and the shame, and the opportunity for overcoming. In that is the invitation into intimacy, which is holiness. In that is the call to follow and surrender.

Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

I always thought the surrender had to proceed the follow: a sort of entry into the deeper paths of discipleship, (or even the primary, introductory path, if truth be known). But I have come to learn that the “follow” precedes the “surrender.” I don’t mean that we must retain our independence until we determine if we are willing to belong to our Creator. I simply mean that there are standards we simply cannot meet; there is a call we simply cannot attain to; there is a love required that we are insufficient to give; there is a commitment and a holiness that we are woefully unprepared for and unable to even desire, until we have made the decision to simply trust and follow. He, the Shepherd, can be trusted. He can be believed. He can be obeyed, and because we are watching him, seeing where he goes, listening to the Voice, he has promised that he will, in truth, be available to the deep caverns within each of us where our little egos and fragile identities curl and hide, then stretch and preen and posture, and then in sudden terror pull back and curl again. We are turtles retreating into shells of pity, of remorse, of shame and guilt and fear.

We pretend to have genuine complaints against all the world and all its evil, but we are actually aware that the evil comes mainly from within; it is simply easier to condemn and to convict all the others out there  for wickedness that begins with me. But anguish of soul, the sweet and aching pain of a promise that I can dimly perceive, but never quite attain, is the force and the enticement that draws me on the path I wish to follow, even as other tattered and smelly enticements beckon and even capture for a time. And once again, the ugliness of pig’s food brings me to my senses, and I declare that I will return again to my Father’s house, where there is rich food to spare. The promise of that home, and the recognition of a beauty that I truly desire, is why I return again, and again, and again. Selfishness seeks regency; but the more I turn back and follow yet again, and relinquish my grasp on my own desires, seeking to live under the care of the One greater than all the stars, and be led into green pastures beside still waters, then I am able to look and see what my heart has always longed for. Then I behold the face that is always fully beholding me, though I only perceive dimly even as I run other comforts, behaving as if I were a madman.

But he beckons again, and calls again, “Follow Me.” And that is enough.

land of the free, home of the brave

Except in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Today I read the story about Ramin Parsa, a former Muslim who fled his native Iran after he became a Christian. Parsa now lives and works as a pastor in Los Angeles. Last August, while visiting in Minnesota, his hosts took him to see “the biggest mall in North America.” While there, the pastor randomly encountered a couple of Somalis and as their conversation progressed, Parsa was asked if he was Muslim. At that point he shared his Christian convictions with them, but was promptly ordered by mall security guards to cease talking about that, and shortly thereafter he was arrested and treated abusively. 

You see, the Mall of America is a private, not public space, and it has rules against “solicitation.” So, along with not being able to pester people for money, or offer your services as a prostitute, at the Mall of America you also cannot have a private, polite conversation about anyone’s spiritual welfare. 

Surprise, surprise: Mr. Parsa’s story has been conveniently overlooked by many media outlets, including even some in Minnesota. 

Now, I am not a legal expert or a Constitutional scholar, but in my understanding–and I’m sure in the understanding of most rational-thinking Americans–First Amendment free speech INCLUDES the right to freely explain one’s religious or political beliefs or opinions. 

Except, apparently, in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Through my life, both professionally and privately, I have known and worked with thousands of different types of persons and personalities. They all had their own beliefs and opinions and likes and dislikes and food cravings and sexual desires. Some people have been utterly fascinating; others I found mind-numbingly boring. With some individuals I have been able to establish immediate rapport and even friendship, while other people so thoroughly “rubbed me the wrong way” that  I found myself wishing for the power of invisibility so I could disappear  whenever I caught sight of them.

But always, as a Christian, I have attempted to respect each person as an image-bearer of God. And always, as an American, I have attempted to respect each person as someone with a right to their opinion (no matter how repellant or stupid). Because in the United States of America, we celebrate the right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Except, apparently, in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

I like malls and I like shopping, although I get burned out rather quickly (unless, of course I discover a bookstore–or a cool hardware store). I have always enjoyed the bustle and interaction of people and the general hum of activity and fun, especially this holiday time of year, despite the excess of rampant materialism. In general, malls have historically been places for people to hang out and enjoy themselves and possibly even sometimes find out something new.

Except, apparently, in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

That place needs to have “America” stripped from its name. Maybe change it to “Mall of Totalitarianism.”