Wow, is Jesus upset or what? “I come to bring fire.” “Households will be divided.” “Like the changing weather, I have been showing you signs of change, of upheaval and you just will not pay attention!” He is so frustrated with us that He is almost sputtering, almost can’t complete full sentences.
Have you ever been at that place? That place where, you see the signs that someone you love is slipping into dangerous territory and you keep pleading and warning and finally resort to yelling to get their attention. But they don’t listen and fall into the danger you had feared. Then, also as you had feared, you are left with: remorse, guilt, and profound sadness. “Why wouldn’t they listen to me?” “Why didn’t I do more?”
Last weekend I went to the wedding in the sands on the Long Beach peninsula, of a wonderful young man that I helped raise. Many years ago, Katie and I became good, life-long friends with two women in college. Eventually they married and we incorporated their spouses into our various activities. Every Friday night we got together for a serious poker game that usually went on until the wee hours of the morning.
Those poker games and our lives endured great upheaval when, Adam, the first child, now the young man beaming at his bride, arrived. We tried to keep the tradition of Friday night poker, but urgent baby cries interrupted.
Panties needed changing. Bottles needed preparation. The baby needed holding. Gradually, we didn’t drink or smoke so much. By the time number two boy appeared at poker night, we all became domesticated, responsible adult parents. Eventually, four boys arrived in all, and responsible adult activities revolved around their lives and schedules, and not poker pots.
Sadly, one dad died young, and shortly thereafter the other dad ran away. This time great upheaval dragged behind it profound despair. That left us four women to raise the four boys.
The run away dad, to his great credit, eventually returned to the picture, but it was not without years of bitterness, and distrust, and pain before a shaky peace was made.
It was a household torn apart. Father against son. Mother against father. Children against parents. Then finally, at this wedding, after years of stumbling through the family mess, it was clear that what was torn apart was finally made a ragged whole. Sins, if they really were sins, were mostly forgiven by everyone.
Two of the four boys, brothers, stood out in stark contrast to Adam and his brother. These two boys were sons of the father who died young. For some reason, they never fully got traction in this world. They chose to close off their pain and responsibility by drinking.
At this wedding it became glaringly clear to us, who raised and loved them, that they were roaring alcoholics.
Oh yes, we saw signs along the way. Oh yes, we prophesied that they were traveling a dangerous road. Oh yes, we gently suggested they not drink so much. Oh yes, we didn’t serve alcohol at get togethers. Oh yes, they denied all our accusations about their deterioration. But now we could not longer deny nor excuse away the liars, barely standing up before us.
We parental figures gathered and spoke plainly, for the first time together, that there was no getting around it. Those babies, those boys, these men were alcoholics.
In our discussion, each of us told our stories of dealing with alcohol in our lives. After all, we had been just as rowdy at their age, and we turned out fine. But we each hit a wall, a crisis point, a decision place that demanded we pay attention to the signs of havoc in our life course.
One of us would be drug tested and wouldn’t be able to work. Another of us ended up in rehab. Two had children and that ended their alcohol and drug use. Now the children were adults. Somehow they would have their own awakening, just like we did.
Then two of us told stories of alcoholic parents, who never hit their crisis change point and wreaked destruction on their lives and the lives of everyone in their path. No, we had to do something to help move these young men to change. Intervention. That’s what we would do, and that is where we left it.
On the day before the wedding, I walked a part of the Long Beach Lewis & Clark Discovery Trail. They have stations along the way that offer entries from the Exposition journal that describe the flora and fauna of the landscape.
One of the first stations describes the basalt formations seen along the Columbia River. Millions of years ago, huge underwater volcanic eruptions pushed hot lava to the top of the water. The water cooled and shaped it. Opposites of hot and cold formed our land. For millions of years this continuing land and water interaction proceeded until a crisis point. Then land above became too heavy for the land below. One day the land below slipped out from under the land above and covered it.
Even our earth, even in it’s formation, operates on a pendulum of opposites, until a crisis point when chaos and change happens on a grand scale. Then everything has to be rearranged, re-evaluated, and reformed. We are now a species of that reformation and are living out our roles in the grand re-making of the world.
Our lives, in every aspect, are designed for this pattern, from the formation of the world millions of years ago, to the life of a single human being today, there is collapse then change. As Carl Jung writes, “the greatest and most important problems in life are all in a certain sense insoluble. They must be so because they express the necessary polarity inherent in every self-regulating system. They can never be solved, but only outgrown.”
Can you really ever change someone until they are ready? As young adults each of us found our own motivation for change, but it wasn’t the motivation our friend’s experienced, nor could it have been because we were different people, from different up-bringings, headed in different directions. It seems that prophetic warnings are only helpful in retrospect. It seems we all have to walk life’s tightrope of choices that keep us forever in tension. Whether we want to fully participate or not, there will be tension and there will be change.
There are so many places in the Gospels where Jesus shows us His human side and today is one of them. He is so frustrated with explaining and prophesying to the disciples that his death is looming. He needs these men to pay attention to him because Jesus feels the fate, the salvation of mankind will soon be removed from his hands and into theirs. When will they understand the signs and warnings as he does? Never.
We each have to experience our own crisis point. We each have to swing wildly around our own center cord that vibrates our tension. We are creatures made of dark stuff and light stuff. Both are needed to bring us to our Via Media, our own true connection with the wonderful, unpredictable Spirit of God.
Often, no mostly, our crisis point means we fail. We fall down so hard that we crack apart everything we’ve known. Our bottom shelves slide over our topsides and a new terrain with a new direction rises to the top.
Richard Rohr tells us that “Most of us need to have the status quo shaken now and then, leaving us off balance and askew, feeling alienated for a while from our usual unquestioned loyalties. In the uncomfortable space, we can finally recognize the much larger kingdom of God.”
He further says, “This pattern of temporary falling apart precedes every transition to a new level of faith, hope, and love. If one is not prepared to live in temporary chaos and hold the necessary anxiety that chaos entails, one never moves into a Bigger World.”
But you know what, we – you and I don’t get to judge what that Bigger World is for each person. Faith means we trust in God’s direction. We don’t know that the free will a person exercises, that results in a choice we don’t agree with, is against God’s will. Maybe it is perfectly in alignment with God and our judgement is askew.
Maybe it’s a good thing that we don’t head the warnings shouted at us, because we might not find our greatest happiness, for being overcautious. Maybe instead of fearing these falls, and railing against our misfortune when they happen, we should trust God and even be thankful.
I think Alanis Morrisette had it right in her song, “Thank U.” Her lyrics say: Thank you terror. Thank you disillusionment. Thank you frailty. Thank you consequence. Thank you silence. How bout remembering your divinity. How bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out. How bout not equating death with stopping.”
Most certainly we should share prophesies and wisdom we have acquired from our years of failing and thriving. Parts of our path may make a safer, clearer way for others. But, as Jesus illustrates today, despite all our love and warnings and pleading each person has to fall to rise. And not just fall once but many times.
Our job as parents, friends, Christians is to stand by them, and as the BCP guides us in Birthday Prayer #51: “strengthen them when they stand, comfort them when discouraged or sorrowful, raise them up when they fall.” If we ask God to do those things, we better be ready to help out as God’s hands and feet on this earth.
And we should not forget the strength that Jesus offers us in the Eucharist. He knows our journey is difficult. He knows we will ignore our prophets and that the world will yank sure footing out from under us.
But in the remembrance of His life at this table, and in the gift of his body and blood, there is strength and comfort. Here is the promised peace that passes understanding. Here is our center mast that remains planted firm and can withstand all the storms of the world that send us spinning from from despair to hope, from child to elder and even, and most surely, and most blessedly, from the greatest pendulum swing – all of us will experience – from death to life.