I saw this today after going to a seminar on becoming a clinical social worker. For me, that looks like possibly helping disabled veterans transition back to lives as civilians. Regardless of your opinions on The United States’ current wars, I think you’ll find this photo both gut-wrenching and inspiring.
17 Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of each other. I am the Lord your God.
I hate bullies, even though sometimes I am one. I can think of no more infuriating thing than the knowledge that I am at the complete and total mercy of someone else. Maybe that’s one of the things that makes The Gospel so hard for some people to accept. They know the unbelievable pain of being forced to beg for mercy from someone who didn’t give it to them. And now the phrases that Christians like me use to describe the message of Jesus such as “a debt you can’t repay on your own” or “eternal torment” just conjure up images of that annoying creditor that keeps calling, or much, much worse.
I am no longer ashamed to admit that my bullies were mostly female growing up. I could disarm young men who aimed to be cruel to me with fart jokes or our mutual curiosities about girls. However, when it came to disarming young women I had no such tools to use. There were a few other factors too. For instance, when I came across a boy who would not be appeased by my simple wit or attempts to find common ground with him I was vigorously defended by those boys who had become my friends through such means. But even the cohort of boys which I grew up with was powerless to stop the ways of a cruel woman. Like good gentlemen they had been taught to not use their strength against a lady, even when she wasn’t acting like one.
Also, I believe cruel women sought me out because they were being hurt by strong men. My disability did not take away the appearance of maleness from my body, but it did take away the threat of misused, abusive, physical strength. In essence I became a perfect target for several women to wound in retaliation for the wounds twisted and perverse masculinity had given them . It’s not unlike when the oppressed colonialists of The future United States burned effigies of tyrannical English figures during The American Revolution because it was easier than killing the actual person.
But being an effigy for twisted, broken masculinity hurts tremendously, even though I often was not innocent in terms of the crimes I was being punished for. Even worse, is the fact that I often retaliate against soiled femininity in the same way. I’m twenty-five years old as I write this. These issues feel like something I should have left behind in middle school, but if evil has a capital city in my life it’s called “Feeling Emasculated.” I don’t know why, but when I try to envision such a city Tolkien’s land of Mordor comes to mind, and I see distinctly feminine-looking orcs repeatedly kicking me in the privates.
Unfortunately, last week I returned to that dreadful city in a manor of speaking, that familiar rage coursed through my veins after a conversation with a close female friend. In that moment I had two consecutive thoughts. The first:
I want you to know that I could crush you like a worm, but I don’t have any desire to because I care for you so deeply.
Aaron, you egotistical little [expletive]. You can’t even crush a worm like a worm, and you castrate The Lord Almighty all the time.
Let me explain.
As I went home that night I started thinking about The Crucifixion. I had pictured the beautiful elements of it before, and the horrendously dark elements before; but I don’t remember ever thinking of the death of Jesus as an emasculating event. I don’t know how I missed it. How could it not have been? Look at what Jesus says to one of his students, probably Peter, (according to The Gospel of John) after he tries to physically defend Jesus from being arrested and cuts of a guy’s ear off.
52 “Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. 53 Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? 54 But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?”
As Jesus is mocked, tortured and murdered for the sins of the world I wonder if he ever had a thought similar to mine toward his emasculators .
I want you to know that I could crush you like a worm, but I don’t have any desire to because I care for you so deeply.
And when I blatantly abuse his grace without a second thought the message remains the same.
Awhile back I had a student in juvenile hall ask me if he should be afraid of God. I told him that was a great question, and that the answer was no as long as he remembered that God was not a tamed lion. He looked at me puzzled, and I told him of Mr. Tumnis’ notion in the Chronicles of Narnia. He describes Aslan, The allegorical Christ-like figure, with the phrase He is not safe, but he is good. I hope someday my tombstone will have that expression on it, because I want to be like Jesus.
Count it the greatest sin to prefer life to honor, and for the sake of living to lose what makes life worth living. -Juvenal, Roman Poet
Hebrews 13:3 (The Message) Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you.
“The Man in Black ” By Johnny Cash
Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.
I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he’s a victim of the times.
I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.
Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought ‘a be a Man In Black.
I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.
And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believin’ that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believin’ that we all were on their side.
Well, there’s things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin’ everywhere you go,
But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You’ll never see me wear a suit of white.
Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything’s OK,
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.
I have a new found fondness for plain black T-Shirts. They’re cheap. They’re comfortable, and they do everything a T-shirt is supposed to do without the pit stains and accidental nipple exposures that accompany their white counterparts, but that’s not what this essay is about.
As Johnny Cash’s hit The Man in Black came across the airwaves the other night, my clothing choice became less about comfort or being a tight wad, and more about echoing his sentiments regarding a struggle with darkness in the world.
His words tumbled through my brain for few days. Then I ran across this sermon on suffering from a church I’ve heard a lot of good things about lately called Redeemer Fellowship. Feelings of gratitude, inspiration and sorrow filled my soul as both Cash and Redeemer Fellowship’s messages intermingled in my mind. I started thinking about my “R-rated” personality. In truth, the hardest thing God has ever asked of me is to do is see some value in life’s “G-rated” things. Some of my resistance to innocence is sinful. When you see smiling children coming out of a Disney movie, and have to fight yourself not to shout “There are people suffering in this world! Can’t you see people are hurting?” You, like me, have something to talk to Jesus about. But over the same years that I’ve become aware of my “R-rated” personality, I also stated to see a vision for its uses.
In junior high I read this collection of stories produced by a ministry called The Voice of the Martyrs. It was my first exposure to some of the great men and women who gave their lives for their faith in Christ. Often these people died in prison after being tortured because they tried to spread Christianity in an area of the world that it was illegal to do so. Reading their stories was the first time I realized that people still suffer for the the cause of Christ. It’s not a thing of the past.
When I think about genuine Christian martyrs my complaints shrink. There is a sense of gratitude that comes from knowing how much pain I could be in, but more than that I’m fascinated by the way the Gospel spreads through a prison system. During my freshman year of college I went to a David Crowder Band concert, and during the intermission I got one of the greatest gifts God has ever given me. A man named Stuart McAllister spoke about being imprisoned for distributing Christian literature in Yugoslavia while it was under the Iron Curtain of perverse Communism. He also talked about his role as an apologist with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
McAllister was the first person I ever saw use reason and philosophy in his presentation of the Jesus’ message. In that moment I knew I wanted to advocate for the Gospel in dark and dangerous places using skills like his. I studied philosophy in college in part because of what I experienced that night, and my story would be forever changed.
I think part of the reason that imprisonment has always been fascinating to me is that growing up in a wheelchair can sometimes feel similar. I don’t mean to compare my life’s struggles to that of an inmate. They are very different, but both struggles attack freedom. Currently, I can’t drive, and the services that help disabled people with transportation are fickle at best. If it weren’t for the charity of my family and friends I would be under house arrest. So I’m thankful that I have compassionate people in my life. When loneliness and immobility do seem like burdens I can’t bear, I think about martyrs and the legacy they leave daily. In fact, I’ve made it a point to think about leaving my own legacy every time I brush my teeth. There’s nothing about brushing my teeth that makes this time special, except that I know I’ll do it twice a day. While brushing, I’ve realized that most of the people who are currently imprisoned for Christ do not have the luxuries of house arrest I do, nor did most of the people who were unjustly imprisoned in the past. Galileo Galilei was once put under house arrest for refusing to testify in accordance with the Catholic teaching that the Sun rotated around the Earth. History of course proved Galileo Galilei’s belief that the Earth rotated around the Sun correct, and the Catholic Church eventually changed their tune. But Galileo’s faith had very little to do with that matter. Like Galileo Galilei however, I spend a lot of time in my house wondering about the world outside of it.
One of the few trips I do make during the week is to a juvenile detention center that I’m not allowed to give you the name of. I’m not allowed to tell you much about it either. But I can tell you how I got there and why I continue to go. In October 2009, A friend of mine asked me to write a man in county jail who had some questions about the Bible. I really enjoyed that exchange. Then, in July 2010 long after my friend in jail and I had lost touch, that experience and all the memories I’ve written about here came rushing back to me as I watched a trailer for a documentary called “Don’t Waste Your Life Sentence.” John Piper and Desiring God Ministries had put together a collection of stories from incarcerated men who, with the help of God, had turned their lives around in prison. All of them had one central theme: Don’t end up where I’m at. Turn your lives around before it’s too late. All of the the prisoners in this preview took meaning and purpose out of warning and encouraging others not to fall into the traps that they did. I closed my computer after watching that and thought “Lord, I wonder if there is a purpose to my being trapped?” A few days later yet another friend of mine asked me if I wanted to tag along to visit his students in juvenile detention. I couldn’t ignore the coincidence so I said sure. After one visit I was hooked.
One of my favorite things about life in juvenile detention is that a student’s eighteenth birthday is a picture of God’s grace. No matter how awful their crimes, on or before, their eighteenth birthday they will be released as an adult and given a clean record. They will taste freedom again. I don’t know how, or to what degree, I’ll taste freedom from the things that hold me back, but I’m convinced that if I can help some young men properly use their freedom, maybe it won’t matter so much. Maybe that’s what Johnny Cash was trying to say as he came out on stage wearing black in solidarity with those who were suffering in prison. Or maybe Cash realized what I have come to. A person’s greatest pain often has a lot to do with where God has destined them to serve humanity.
Two people who grasped this idea long before I did were Richard and Sabrina Wurmbrand. They founded The Voice of the Martyrs, the very organization that helped produce the book which inspired me as a junior high school kid. Richard and Sabrina were both imprisoned and tortured under the Russian-influenced Romanian Communist Party because of their efforts to teach the message of Jesus in Romania after World War II.
At one point when both Wurmbrand’s were imprisoned and apart for years, their nine year-old son was left orphaned and homeless. When it first became eminent that Richard was going to either cower to the demands of their oppressors, or be arrested and possibly executed the couple famously had this exchange:
Sabrina: Richard, stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ.
Richard: If I do so, you’ll lose your husband.
Sabrina: I don’t wish to have a coward as a husband.
In an American culture today where women often applaud as men hide their own cowardice behind seemingly noble obligations to their families, I’m comforted by Richard and Sabrina’s story. It reminds me that sometimes it’s a Godly thing to take a risk, and that God is the source of all true safety and security. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the Wurmbrand’s story when I’m feeling particularly cowardly. It stirs up a fire in my belly which I hope will warm my heart toward the idea of serving the oppressed, trapped and down-trodden wherever I’m at. But no matter what happens I’ll always be united in solidarity with them. Like Johnny Cash, until things are brighter, I’m the man in black.
I’m probably a little late on this, but in between Big 12 games today I watched the first episode of the HBO Miniseries John Adams (2008). I was so moved by the portrayal of men of such iron-clad integrity, principles and risk taking. I highly recommend it. http://amzn.to/gB1Mtp. http://yfrog.com/h7uewzij
I hope you’re getting the picture by now. If a man does not find those things for which his heart is made, if he is never even invited to live for them from his deep heart, he will look for them in some other way. Why is pornography the number one snare for men? He longs for the beauty, but without his fierce and passionate heart he cannot find her or win her or keep her. Though he is powerfully drawn to the woman, he does not know how to fight for her or even that he is to fight for her. Rather, he finds her mostly a mystery that he knows he cannot solve and so at a soul level he keeps his distance. And privately, secretly, he turns to the imitation. What makes pornography so addictive is that more than anything else in a lost man’s life, it makes himfeel like a man without ever requiring a thing of him. The less a guy feels like a real man in the presence of a real woman, the more vulnerable he is to porn.
And so a man’s heart, driven into the darker regions of the soul, denied the very things he most deeply desires, comes out in darker places. Now, a man’s struggles, his wounds and addictions, are a bit more involved than that, but those are the core reasons. As the poet George Herbert warned, “He begins to die, that quits his desires.” And you know what? We all know it. Every man knows that something’s happened, something’s gone wrong . . . we just don’t know what it is.
(Wild at Heart , 44)
I thought of the last story we have from the life of the prophet Elisha. Jehoash was king of Israel at the time, and he went to visit Elisha on his sickbed. He knew that without the help of this great prophet, the future of Israel was looking dim. Enemies were closing in on every side, waiting for the kill. Elisha told the king to take in hand some arrows.
And the king took them. Elisha told him, “Strike the ground.” He struck it three times and stopped. The man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated [your enemies] completely . . . But now you will defeat [them] only three times.” Elisha died and was buried. (2 Kings 13:18-20)
That’s it? What a strange story! Why was the old prophet so angry? Because the king was nonchalant; he was passionless, indifferent. He gave the ground a whack or two. His heart wasn’t in it. God says, in effect, “If that is how little you care about the future of your people, that is all the help you will get.” In other words, if your heart’s not in it, well then, neither is mine. You can’t lead a country, let alone flourish in a marriage, with an attitude like that. To abandon desire is to say, “I don’t really need you; I don’t really want you. But I will live with you because, well, I’m supposed to.” It is a grotesque corruption of what was meant to be a beautiful dance between desire and devotion.
(Desire , 56-57)
In all of our hearts lies a longing for a Sacred Romance. It will not go away in spite of our efforts over the years to anesthetize or ignore its song, or attach it to a single person or endeavor. It is a Romance couched in mystery and set deeply within us. It cannot be categorized into propositional truths or fully known any more than studying the anatomy of a corpse would help us know the person who once inhabited it.
Philosophers call this Romance, this heart yearning set within us, the longing for transcendence; the desire to be part of something larger than ourselves, to be part of something out of the ordinary that is good. Transcendence is what we experience in a small but powerful way when our city’s football team wins the big game against tremendous odds. The deepest part of our heart longs to be bound together in some heroic purpose with others of like mind and spirit.
Indeed, if we reflect back on the journey of our heart, the Romance has most often come to us in the form of two deep desires: the longing for adventure that requires something of us, and the desire for intimacy-to have someone truly know us for ourselves, while at the same time inviting us to know them in the naked and discovering way lovers come to know each other on the marriage bed. The emphasis is, perhaps, more on adventure for men and slightly more on intimacy for women. Yet, both desires are strong in us as men and women. In the words of friends, these two desires come together in us all as a longing to be in a relationship of heroic proportions.
(The Sacred Romance , 19)