As is my habit, I’m reflecting on a life event from a hopeful perspective.
I couldn’t find a great title for this post, but it’s at least descriptive.
The story starts with Kaile leaving early this Thanksgiving morning for a sunrise service – a religious gathering honoring indigenous people and their experience in the Americas. Taking Silas out of his bed early, they drove to San Francisco and, to Silas’s absolute joy and three-year-old delight, boarded a ferry for Alcatraz Island.
They watched as the dancers and worshipers sang and prayed, honoring this beautiful culture with their presence and curiosity. In their prayers and dances they confronted their painful history of displacement and genocide with a desire for harmony and newness.
Those traumas live on in the lives of all of us, in the form of our personal narratives, whether it’s a trauma related to our personhood, our faith, our sexuality, or our possessions. The traumas live on in our ethnic narratives. They exist in our family cultures, whether or not we’re willing to take note.
Sometimes our pain leads us to seek some kind of hope that is larger than us. Other times we try to drown it out with chemicals injected into whatever vein we can find, or melt it away with alcohol.
I can be reasonably sure someone’s personal tragedy, which led to addictions, led them to smash our Volvo’s rear hatch this morning, searching for something of worth to steal. It’s getting toward the end of the month, so money was probably running low. I surmise the added pain of missing family members or feeling the weight of homelessness surely drove them back to their substances of choice – and that substance has a price tag.
They did indeed find something: my beloved guitar, which I’ve played for the past twelve years on a weekly and often daily basis, was under the tan tonneau cover. Kaile left around 3:30am for the city, not realizing it was in there because I had practiced with it at my office. Even so, in that two hour window of time, someone targeted our tired old Volvo for a smash-and-grab steal.
I’m not sure exactly how my guitar was worth in dollars, but it’s worth a whole lot sentimentally. It has been mine over countless campfires, worship gatherings, weddings, and even memorial gatherings. Through tears I reflected with Kaile how angry, sad, and tired of crime I’ve become.
It’s a mad world.
Happy thanksgiving, everyone!
Sorry, that was my cynicism speaking.
I’m reminded of how a few months ago I lost a precious bicycle to theft. It’s exhausting, this journey of life. All those feelings of helplessness crept back up for me, threatening to steal this festive day’s joy entirely.
Going back to the event itself, I cannot help but wonder how all of this is connected. Do I have some ancestor or numerous forbears who were complicit in acts of genocide toward native peoples? If I do, I hope to someday have the time to find out those stories. And I hope to lament, and examine how those stories may have affected me.
The one story I am aware of comes from my paternal grandmother, Ellen, who is currently visiting with my parents and brothers in Big Rapids, Michigan. Ellen grew up on a farm, and early in her life they had an unexpected visitor, someone they called the “Indian boy.” He was from a local tribe, maybe Ottavans or Chippewas.
They fed him a simple meal, and he stayed in their home a few nights over a short stretch of weeks or months, but as could be expected his situation changed and he moved on in the realm of challenging life circumstances for him. For us he lives in the realm of folklore, an old woman’s story about a childhood event and its impression on her.
Isn’t that how stories work?
It’s less the sum of the actual events than it is a measure of their effect on our lives. We remember not the month or day, most of us anyway, but we remember the face maybe, or the expression, or the attempt at conversation, or the affect of the person, their demeanor. We remember emotions, though sometimes that memory is locked away in our bodies and it floods back only at the prompting of a certain smell or atmospheric shift, maybe humidity or a chilly breeze.
The narrative I am piecing together when it comes to my experiences in California can lead me in two directions, it seems, two “cycles”:
- The cycle of cynicism.
- The cycle of hope.
The cycle of cynicism is easiest to explain. Here, my spiritual enemy speaks to me saying,
“you don’t belong here. you’re a fool to think you’re doing the right thing living in California. look! your bike was stolen, you get sick more often, you’re far from your family and long-term friends, there’s toxic smoke in the air from countless wildfires, you won’t ever succeed here physically, spiritually, or otherwise! do I need to remind you that you’ll never have enough money to feel like you have access to what other people have?”
In the cycle of cynicism, the enemy* pieces together a story that destroy confidence in other people and isolates me from others, God, and even myself. Each new piece of information, whether good or bad, is somehow twisted into a narrative that is devoid of hope.
Conversely, the cycle of hope comes to me from my Lord, through the Spirit. Instead of a murderous, haunting cackle, it’s a gentle whisper:
“you’re my child, and I love you. even more than you love your little ones, I love you and I loved you even before you were born. I’m so sorry about what you’re experiencing, and I lament with you this loss. I know you want Kaile to feel safer, and I know there are some real challenges. and yet, I still give you strength every day for the goals and purposes I’ve called you toward. stay the course, my dear one! I’m on your side; I’ve got you. You don’t need to know all the answers right now, you just need to know you’re enough.”
The cycle of hope keeps me grounded in a narrative that is larger than my present circumstances, frustrating as some things may be. New events that unfold become opportunities for celebration at best, or lament and righteous anger at worst. In turn, that frustration can lead to a meaningful desire for justice and a dependence on community.
The cycle of hope is supported by daily practices of gratitude, for the big joys of life and for even the smallest things.
Speaking of which, within minutes of sharing this news in a social media post, a dear friend offered to let me borrow his guitar indefinitely. I was humbled, reminded of grace and of the powerful support of my beloved church community.
As tempting as it can be to tune into the voice that bespeaks a cycle cynicism, I want to actively choose the cycle of hope.
Hope can’t thrive without trust, and once we opt to trust we are on track to live into the greatest virtue: love.
Jesus teaches us that love for God, for our fellow person, and yes-even for our enemy, is the greatest law. Of course this particular law is written in Scripture, but also on our souls. We know, deeply, that we are meant to love, for this is how we are created. We can suppress that deep knowledge or hide from it, but eventually it’ll creep back into our consciousness again, tempting and teasing us to live as we are truly meant to live.
God help me keep choosing the cycle of hope.
And may the cycle of hope lead to renewed love for all people, even those who feel like enemies.
Oh God, I can’t write this.. okay, yes I can.. Though I’m still angry and lamenting, may the cycle of hope lead me to love even the person who cost me $289 for a new glass hatch and took my beloved guitar.
*I speak as a Christian, so I am referring to unseen yet deeply felt powers that be.