So it’s July 4th, 2018 and the nation is celebrating its independence again, but this year, it feels to me pretty hollow. I remember as a child that I was amazed when the year 1970 rolled around. Between the duck-and-cover drills and the Vietnam war and the Watts riots I was pretty sure at the age of 9 that I’d never make it to 10. Because adults were crazy and the world was too. I remember the Iran contra crisis. Tiananmen Square. The fall of the Berlin Wall. The morning of 911. The morning after, when the flags started waving from front porches. I remember a lot.
But I don’t remember the nation being quite so overflowing with hate speech and public derision and shame as it seems to be right now. It’s so much louder now, I think. Perhaps my memory is flawed. Perhaps not.
I pray a lot these days, asking for extra guidance, more wisdom. I weigh my words very carefully now, because I have heard “the truth in love” from people who are a lot like me, spoken in words that are anything but loving. I keep silent, because I now understand that there is so much I still don’t understand. I don’t need to add to the empty rhetorical noise. Yet I worry that my silence is complicity, is me just wanting to be nice, safe. I worry about what’s going to happen to kids who are taken away from their parents here because their parents brought them to protect them from being taken away back where they came from. I watch the world spin until I can’t anymore and I close my eyes. I watch puppy videos and feel relieved and ashamed.
That does not feel like something to be celebrated.
There is a dangerous prayer I hear from time to time, from people who I think are a bit crazy: Lord, break our hearts for what breaks Yours. This scares me down to my toes. People of God, if we pray this, are we really ready to accept the pain of it? Broken hearts HURT. Are we ready to embrace the sheer confusion, chaos, anger and division we’ll face? I want to be, but I’m not sure I am. A prayer like this is a prayer for death. Death to self, death of our rosy dreams, death of blissful ignorance, death of privilege, death of any plans based on what we built for ourselves. And for those few who are called, death of body too. Oh man. I like being alive, and I like it on my terms. With brownies and ice cream.
Death to self IS independence. Paul writes in Philippians 3:8: Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.
So if I dare to pray the prayer of broken hearts, along with those crazy people, I start to wade chest-deep through the garbage of this world on the way to gaining Paul’s independence. Yuck. If I pray this prayer I will probably lose my comfort in what I believe is the right culture, the right answers, the right side of the fence, the right interpretation of gospel, maaaaybe to gain the independence of someone who relies solely and completely on Jesus. If I have the cahones for it, which I presently do not. Which, if you read the passage carefully, is exactly the point. Paul hasn’t actually gained Christ completely. He has thrown it all away so that he could gain Christ, sometime soon. Paul is still seeing through a glass, darkly, and he knows it. The past is gone, the future is not here yet, and Paul is right in the middle, looking into a black glass of almost knowing, with a goofy smile on his face.
This all sounds ridiculous, overly-religious, self-important in itself. “Hi, I’m Karen, I’m working on gaining Christ, nice to meet you.” (Well, aren’t I SPECIAL.) I will most certainly fail to have complete reliance at the most critical moments, too, since my timing is problematic at best. And then I will be in the midst of spiritual garbage with nothing but a half-ass mirror.
So, on this Independence Day, I hold this thorny passage from the annoying Paul and turn it over and over in my hands. It’s a diamond. It’s a piece of coal. It smells funny and it gleams. I think about it and I wonder. I turn it over and see a fuse. Like a bomb. Like a firework.
Fireworks are dangerous. They can scar you if you’re not careful. They’re loud, scary, not to be trifled with. They can blow up in your face. And they only reveal their astounding beauty once they’ve been literally burned to the ground.
I think about independence, what it means, not in a patriotic sense, or in a self-actualizing sense, but in a wholly different sense. In a holy, vertiginous sense. In Paul’s sense. Ir makes me dizzy.
And I stand, wobbling, on the edge of that precipitous prayer.