Saturday, September 10, 2011

On Being Kingdom Culverts When All Others Have Crumbled

"Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on the world, yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good, and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now." 
-- St. Teresa of Avila 

Yesterday the NY Times printed an interview with a few of the victims from this weeks' devastating floods in my hometown of Binghamton, NY.  One of the women interviewed, commented on the proverbial "100 year" and "500 year" floods in 2005 and 2006, wondering what label would be given the 2011 flood.
From our experience, the 2005 flood my family barely noticed.  

In 2006, we were airlifted to safety in a Chinook helicopter.  We spent the rest of the summer working together with friends and neighbors to mud out the town.   The sheer physical effort to clean out the stagnant stench of hundreds of houses exhausted our bodies, but the very same work bound our hearts together in deep, meaningful ways.  Even still, our little town spent years recovering damaged homes, parks, businesses.  A new job moved us out that town in 2008 but every time we drove back through, we still mourned the vacant lots where condemned homes once stood.  And, if we looked carefully, we could still spy the chalked red X's dotting the vinyl-sided homes.  Markings that reminded us of those who'd been evacuated to safety.  
Conklin, NY 2006
 This week, September 7, 2011, the entire Greater Binghamton area went under water.  From what I can tell watching news reports every valley, every dip in the road, every cracked crevice is now covered with muddy water overflowed from the rivers, streams, and creekbeds that weave all our little villages, neighborhoods, and cities together. It's a good question that homeless victim asks, but I'm not sure what the old proverb-maker, wherever he dwells,  will call this flood.

In God's curious sovereignty, our family pre-evacuated town by moving to Texas one month ago.  Frankly, even though we moved in during one of the worst droughts ever in Austin and are forty miles away from horrific wildfires, part of me is a little bit relieved to not have to experience the flooding again.  Still I am heart-broken for the people, neighborhoods, towns, schools, churches, cities that we love.  I haven't known how to say the words over the phone to friends and family, but this natural disaster signals an almost-certain timeline of years of recovery for an already economically depressed area.  I don't know how to say those words without sounding morbid.  

Today I talked with a friend who brought up the subject first.  People aren't saying it but we're all thinking it.  How are we ever going to recover from this disaster?  Could this actually do us in for good?  

I don't know.  I know that individuals will find new ways to live and move and have their being, but what about commerce, schools with dwindling districts, industries already sitting on the brink of closing their doors or, at the very least, laying off major percentages of their local workforce?  What about churches who lose members of their congregation forced to move out of the area for new work?  These are hard questions with answers that only time will tell.

I do know that God masters the work of redemption.  He is almost always most visible to us in the transformation of ugly to beautiful, broken to whole, devastated to dignified.  He overcomes darkness with light.  He binds up wounds, offers living water to the thirsty, shelter to the lost and families for the lonely.  He almost never does this work as miraculous, supernatural out-of-the-blue rescues.  He almost always does this work through the ordinary men and women walking around, living out their everyday lives together in ordinary ways.  Ordinary men and women rescued by the supernatural, extraordinary birth, life, death and resurrection of the God-man Jesus.   That extraordinary, miraculous work of incarnation gives us the power to be human sons and daughters of God.  Jesus is the firstborn of all creation and gives us daily glimpses of a new way to be human in the here and now, before the Edenic not-yet.

In my non-denominational church upbringing I've often felt we teach the Cross well but not the resurrection. Our long years creating sermons, stories and songs  about sin and blood and forgiveness far outweigh our work at re-telling resurrection.  

Perhaps this long, muddy season in my beloved hometown will be a catalyst for remembering the ways Jesus gives us to be new humans in an old, broken earth.  I can only hope.  I think those with eyes to see and ears to hear will be overwhelmed by the acts of resurrection taking place. I imagine this will look like an infusion of Spirit-inspired creative energy streaming through those communities willing to innovate, to dream up new ways of thinking, serving, creating, doing business, learning, teaching, giving, healing and being.  

May it be so.
"God is groaning too, present within the church at the place where the world is in pain. God the Spirit groans within us, calling in prayer to God the Father. The Christian vocation is to be in prayer, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, and as we embrace that vocation, we discover it to be the way of following Christ, shaped according to his messianic vocation to the cross, with arms outstretched, holding on simultaneously to the pain of the world and to the love of God." 
-- N.T Wright, The Challenge of Easter

I love the descriptive phrase my friend Brett shared with me not long ago:  kingdom culverts.   He uses this description of those who follow Christ in such a way that the kingdom of God flows through them, unobstructed.  I thought about that phrase again talking to my friend on the phone today.  She said, The damage is so widespread that it seems like every little road with a culvert is wiped out. And I thought about the kingdom culverts I know and pray they would bear up under the weight of suffering these next weeks, months and years.  Not only bear up but find clear and sturdy channels for fresh ways of thinking, serving, creating, working, playing.  That they would be conduits for new ways of being human that will stream the beautiful Holy Spirit-truth of our future resurrection into the ugly mess of the here and now.

*thank you, Stephanie Cosme, for the photos you took in 2006.
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