In the shadow of loss

Saturday night a student at the high school I teach at killed herself.  I hope you’ll join me in praying for the whole school community as we struggle to understand this action.  I didn’t know the young girl.  It’s funny how actions of people you’ve never met can end up impacting you.

The school has this really amazing response to this sort of event.  They put this big giant sheet of paper (do they still call it butcher paper) up along the wall.  At the top, in large letters, are the words “What we remember.” Kids are allowed, even welcomed, to not only write memories, thoughts, feelings up on the paper.  And more than that, they stay there for a little while… sometimes a long while.

I was moved by the scene.  Kids crying, trying to laugh, kids holding hands, hugging.  If you work with adolescents, you know that sexuality just drips off of everything they do, think, and say.  Yet in this place, it was like the hormones just got turned off.  I saw them holding each other close, rubbing each others backs, just there, fully physically present, but it wasn’t like there was some PG-13 rating to the whole deal.

It was almost holy.  I guess that these things strip away our pretenses and anhilate the insignifcant.  They burn away our delusions about things that seemed so important just a few days before.

What it reminded me of, as much as anything, is what I know about the wailing wall, the last remnants of the second temple in Jerusalem.  I tried to express all these ideas in the poem you can find here.  I wanted to express these ideas in prose, though, too, because I know that people can sometimes tune out poetry, and this was just so powerful, and holy, and sad… I wanted to share it.

The messages ran the gamut.  There was the cliched, and sentiments that felt rehashed and rehearsed.  There was the brutally raw.  Their was profound observations, and there was ramblings that just didn’t make any sense.  There was incredible stuff, sweet and kind and tender.  

But the piece of paper… it was just a piece of paper.  And the things were written on it, they were just writing.  For me, this was sort-of a decoy, almost an amazing, wonderful, Godly bait-and-switch.

This community was created in the shadow of the loss.  That was the point.  That was the amazing part, that was what the kids needed, and that’s what they got. 


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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