The blog has taken on an entirely different flavour since writing to you daily. Although it's only been 5 days — 5 simple entries — I feel like I've drawn closer to you than in the past 7 months. The Underground Railroad seems like more of a meeting place now for me, rather than just a report column or an opinion page. Maybe that's a part of living compassion and justice against the darkness of the world.
I just finished Ragamuffin: The True Story of Rich Mullins.
Did you know Rich? He ran with Brennan Manning. And since I like to believe that you and Brennan would have bonded like glue, you would have collided with Rich at least once.
And you would have liked him.
Now I've been highly critical of "Christian" films in the past — poor writing, poor cinematography, poor acting, poor direction, myopic messages (beat-you-over-the-head-messages), too much evangelism to swallow, and a major reliance on stereotypes/emotional punches to manipulate what really are important truths. Furthermore, like music, movies can't be in relationship with God… can't dine with God… can't be reconclied with God. They are *things*, not people. I'm not demanding perfection, but I do believe we are capable of a brilliant excellence of imagination and storytelling.
Perhaps this was one of the reasons why the movie drew me in: Rich Mullins never wanted his music to be caricatured as 'Christian' either; neither did the makers of the film. One conservative review mentioned that the movie has "salty language". HA! Oh someone says "damn" a few times. Salty language… oh I chuckle.
Basically the story is about a guy who is passionately in love with Jesus, but… darkness, abandonment, booze, loneliness, anger keep that gap between him and God and others wide open and infected… you've heard this story before. Here's a guy who's maybe matched my own church attendance, who maybe has gone to Sunday School only a couple more times than I have, who perhaps has memorized Scripture more than myself. And yet all throughout his fame and success he was lonely, searching, alcohol-soaked, and felt worthless.
“The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world—free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless…. I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.” -H.Nouwen
Sometimes I think one of the greatest facades the church has maintain is that of perfection.
"Here we are! We are saved! We are redeemed! Amen! Hallelujah!"
But for some of us… life's dark. It doesn't just fall into place, Henri. We aren't neat or tidy or put together. But we're scared to be honest because the church might judge us, the world will laugh at us wondering why the hell we'd even try on Jesus to begin with, or that we ourselves will hate ourselves that much.
Words like 'grace' get thrown around glibly… joy gets twisted into happiness… and while our desire for grace and joy is not diminished, it gets pushed further and further away when we seem to have landed on it. The squishy things slip out from under us and shoot off into the bushes. Slugs.
I know people talk about you being "the gay priest".
That must have been hard.
I can't speak for you, but I'd imagine that with so many taboos on sex in both religious and secular worlds, trying to justify to yourself that staying celibate was a great choice would have been like having a daily root canal.
Just what did you want your friends to know? Your family? God? Yourself? Or haven't I read that far into your works yet?
If there were things I wanted people to know about me, they would sound something like this:
- I'm a Christian, but I'm not perfect. I know you know that, but when I screw up and you throw perfectionism back at me, you aren't addressing the real me or the real Jesus. Real believers — real ragamuffins — are fully aware of our selfishness, our flaws, our pettiness, our weaknessess, our anger, our hate, our lust, and our greed. We know we're too broken to get rid of them alone. Sometimes the world expects that we do away with all these vices with magical flair and a Joel Osteen smile. The truth is: we can't.
- Someone tore me apart on Facebook last night. I made a small mistake, but this man spoke harsh words and took out his anger on me. I've learned to grow some thicker skin, but it's not THAT thick. My stomach instantly knotted, my breath shortened, my skin paled, and I became afraid. Confrontation terrifies the crap out of me, justified or not.
- Like Rich Mullins, I seem to have been born with a rebellious spirit. I will argue almost anything to the ground. Part of it is refusing to submit to the system, the world, the institution, or the person in front of me. Part of it is my genuine curiousity screaming to get out, unsatiated until it's wrestled with all sides of an issue.
- I get lonely. A lot. Loneliness drive people to do crazy things, and answers like "if you don't like it, change it", or "it's all illusion anyway", or "let the Spirit fill that God-shaped hole" don't help. Your presence might help a lot, but pithy answers are a dime a dozen (okay, maybe a dollar a dozen with inflation).
- I wish I could walk away from the darkness in my own life. I don't know why days turn into weeks, which turn into months where getting out of bed is my champion achievement for the day. I have no answer.
- I don't believe I have any special skills. Rich had his music, Brennan had his preaching, you had your ministry… some have technical capacity, others are artists; some can farm, while others plan city blocks. I am none of these. I'm simply… here. Struggling with that reality is a part of my walk. To doubt my love for Jesus because I struggle with reality is blind.
- I know I'm here in Lac La Biche because God put me here. Believe me, I would never have come on my own steam. I have been given a word to speak, a silence to live, a vision to pursue. I.Am.Here.
I just need people to see honest ragamuffins still struggle with booze… drugs… medicating ourselves before bedtime so we can get some sleep. We still know darkness, pain, loneliness, doubt, fear and self-hatred. We want the visions, we want the miracles, we want the big signs that we're loved just as much as anyone else does. I know I do.
So in the quietness of tonight, I hope you don't mind if we spend some silence together sipping away at some tea. We both need Abba to come to us tonight, in our presence together.
Until next time,
PS. I chose this song not just because I'm clinging to it tonight, but because, as Rich says, "This is a song I wrote in Amsterdam. And everything's legal in Amsterdam". It's a song thousands in the sex trade are singing; definitely a Song from the Underground.
Hold Me Jesus – Rich Mullins
Well, sometimes my life
Just don't make sense at all
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small
So hold me Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won't You be my Prince of Peace
And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It's so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart
Surrender don't come natural to me
I'd rather fight You for something
I don't really want
Than to take what You give that I need
And I've beat my head against so many walls
Now I'm falling down, I'm falling on my knees
And this Salvation Army band
Is playing this hymn
And Your grace rings out so deep
It makes my resistance seem so thin
You have been King of my glory
Won't You be my Prince of Peace