Tuesday, March 18, 2014

With unveiled faces

Because I read 2 Corinthians 3 today, and it was too beautiful not to share.

You’d think I’d kind of “get” the Bible by now. Not all of it, I mean, the bits about prophecy, or free will and the sovereignty of God, those mysteries we only expect to really understand to a certain point. But, then there are bits like 2 Corinthians 3.

At first glance, it seems pretty straightforward: new covenant vs. old, and ok, that’s cool, thank you Jesus I don’t have to kill sheep anymore (because really, yuck!). I never looked deeper than this. But oh, I missed the point to such an incredible extent!

Today I read it again, and I found it, the buried (but not really, I just wasn’t blowing the dust away) treasure. It’s about transparency. Seriously, that’s what it’s about. It’s about being so confidant in your sufficiency in Christ, that you can finally expose your heart. It’s about not having to hide anymore, not having to be afraid of what people will see when they look at you. It’s about freedom.

Do you remember, in the Old Testament, when Moses came down from meeting God on the mountain and covered his face with a veil? Do you know why he did that? It was so that no one would see the glow of the glory of God fading away.

He wore the veil to hide his insufficiency.

I am still wearing a veil. I hide my brokenness, I hide my failings, the awkward, unfortunate bits of my personality. I hide it all, and in doing so, I hide what God is doing in my heart; I hide the beautiful things too. Why do I do this? Why don’t I believe everything God has said, about how He is my sufficiency now, about how he has and is changing me, bringing me from glory to greater glory?

Why don’t I believe that?

Why do I hide my heart and try to fake my own righteousness, instead of exposing it and trusting that people will see the good things that God has, and continually is, putting there? Why don’t I believe that’s enough?

2 Corinthians says my heart is a letter, and God is writing it. And it’s not really for me. He’s writing it for the world he loves. But I’m holding it back, securing it away behind a veil, because I'm scared; I don’t really believe what God has said.

And that isn't fair.

Even my weaknesses are fair game for God to write through. He wants people to watch as all my petty weaknesses are overwhelmed by the greatness of Christ in me. He wants them to see, because He wants that joy for them too.

He died to bring us that; a life of freedom out from behind the veil.

There was another veil (but really, in all the ways that matter, the same veil) in the old temple. It’s purpose was to keep people and the glory of God separate from each other. When Jesus died, in the midst of the darkness and the earthquake and the dead walking, that veil, it tore, top to bottom--higher than any human hand could reach.

And here I stand, 2000 years later, clutching the torn edges closed like a fool.

In the words of our favorite Disney movie, “Let it go”.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

After three years, these are the things I find myself holding.

Flowers in Empty Places                                    

It’s not that I forget, but after a while the tragedy of it all starts to slip between heartbeats. There are building foundations laying empty at my feet. Shattered glass and bits of lives glint all around in the dirt and weeds between them, but I’m on my way to work. To my right, painted flower petals on pieces of broken pottery blend into the real flowers growing out of the ruins of someone’s bathtub. 

At the volunteer center I laugh with the team of young people who’ve come to work with us for the week. As I show them what to load into the vans, we talk about how to act with the survivors we’re going to meet. They hardly blink as they listen, all strung-taught excitement and solemnness. It’s sweet to see, but I realize I can’t remember their names. Since the first year, the flow of volunteers has slowed to a trickle, but there have been so many of them. I can’t seem to keep the current names floating on the surface anymore.

It’s a cold day, fall closing in from the ocean. I shiver as we make our way through the straight, utilitarian rows of the temporary housing complex to the meeting room. There’s a cluster of curly gray heads waiting for us inside. I take a seat next to one of the old women, and she smiles at me, her head nodding in a polite little bow. I introduce myself in my awkward Japanese, and she gives me her name in return. It slips down to pool with the rest before I can remember to hold on to it. She tells me she’s from a town called Rikuzen-takata. Her old eyes are small between folds of sun and sea-salt worn skin. There’s a deepness in them though, filled with black water and bones when she says the name of that place. She blinks them back down and smiles. 

I don’t manage to follow the conversation for long. The elderly are always hard to understand, with thick, countryside accents and archaic vocabulary. As she tells me a story, her cloudy eyes distant, mine wander to craft projects tacked to the wall behind her. Next to them are pictures of school buildings behind crowds of smiling children, and flashing festival colors--snapshots of daily life before the tsunami came. High in a corner above them, a wide, photo-edited smile beams down from an autographed poster of some obscure singer. Under her name and the white gleam of her teeth, she’d written “you can do it!” in a cheerful, looping scrawl. 

There’s the skeleton of a sports gym still standing in Rikuzen-takata. A memorial, ringed in wilting flowers, mourns silently outside the front doors. The building had been a designated evacuation center, but it wasn’t far enough from the ocean. Gaping holes with jagged, twisted edges mar the walls, and inky mud covers everything. It stains the jumbles of clothes, books and photographs pushed in piles against the walls. There’s a car, half-buried and crumpled, in the middle of the court, surrounded by an audience of empty, mud-encrusted seats. Survivors say the water rose so high inside, people were holding onto the rafters in the ceiling. 

I’ve heard it was the younger people who were caught in evacuation centers. The older generations ran to the mountains instead. From the largest hole in the stadium wall, where the car was swept inside, you can see a school, listing and broken against the hills. It wasn’t back far enough either. I don’t know if that’s why we meet so many elderly people in these places, and so few of their children and grandchildren. We’re not supposed to ask though. As the woman beside me finishes her story, I re-fill her coffee cup instead, counting the minutes of the passing hour until it’s time to pack everything back into the van and move on.

 As we leave, she is the only spot of color in the gray afternoon. The clouds loom heavy and ominous in the sky, and behind the gray walls of the temporary housing units, the ocean mirrors them. They evened out the ground with gravel, and the pavement that winds between the straight lines of the compound is just this side of black. As the van pulls away from the parking lot, she follows, waving. Her shirt and smile are small and bright, like a children’s song. The gray looms around her; the walls and the clouds and the sea all bending hungrily around her graying head. She can’t see me through the tinted glass around the back seat of the van, but I wave and smile too, because it feels like she shouldn’t be alone in the middle of all that.

We take the team to another town, tromping over its bones to a furrow in the ground that used to be a train station. The team gathers on the old platform, cameras clicking, voices a little hushed in the broken emptiness of the place. I find myself down in the furrow between the platforms, dodging the spiders that have made the place their home. Small and bright, flowers at my feet catch my eye. Kneeling down, I wipe the dirt away from painted red petals and sunshine-yellow swirls as they trace the edge of a shattered bowl. I set it back down with a strange reverence, the flowers tilted up toward the gray sky. There are blue flowers, half buried a few steps away, and beyond them the curving tail of a tiny dragon hidden in the weeds. They seem too precious to leave, but there are far too many of them to carry away in my pockets. I pick up one sunny piece and steel myself to leave the rest. When I stand up, there’s an aching hollow place my chest. I tighten my grip on the jagged edges in my palm until I can feel my heartbeat against them.

Just a not about the pictures: These are mostly representational. For example, the woman in the picture below the 
description of the woman from RikuzenTakata is not the same woman. Also, photo credit to Deborah Quek, The Butterfly Project (Burton Sue) and Lina Oshio's iphone.