Winding down my time in Fresno, I’m sitting, waiting for my flight. Fresno, increasingly represents this schizophrenic division that I see in me and all of us, every time I’m here. The place, of course, reminds me of my youth, and the marvelous times I had, especially in high school. Life was full and good, with a solid self esteem that came from my involvement in the music world, and a few good friends with whom I’d play tennis, eat pizza, and just generally have fun. There were ice-hockey games, where I played in a little jazz band (we didn’t get paid, but got free entrance for ourselves and a date, and the owner took us all out for pizza about every other game), and the Fresno Philharmonic. There were trips to the mountains and the coast for parades and Giants baseball. This was my whole world, my home, and I was pretty thick into all of it.
It’s not just these reminders though, that I encounter in Fresno. My mom’s 90 and the trip from her room to the car takes about 20 minutes (better than you’ll do probably, or me, if we even last that long!). My uncle, the guy who turned me on to the joys of studying and teaching the Bible, is 91, or 92; I’ve lost count. Even my own cousins, my peers are talking about retirement. One of my best friends from high school is finishing his career and ready to start something new for the 2nd half. All these people feel, increasingly, disconnected from the present, more like sojourners than citizens.
Which is right, as it applies to our calling in Christ? Are we to be deeply involved in the structures and systems of this world, or putting our hope fully in a future that will only be consummated by the return and reign of Christ? Yes, of course – it’s both/and. Living this way though, fully present and invested without placing our hopes in this world and life, is challenging. It’s easy to disengage from things here and place our hope fully in Christ and his return. It’s easy to jump in with both foot and seek to be a blessing here, hoping that by being the presence of Christ we’ll make a difference in the power structures, families, schools, neighborhoods, businesses, bands, and sports teams where we live our lives. But it’s tough to do both, at least for me.
The band “Iona” has a marvelous song who’s refrain talks about the colors of the dawn, and the light streaming through the trees, and the staggering love of ‘these lives we live.’ Most days I agree with that assessment. Whether it’s the sunrise over the Sierra’s yesterday morning at my motel in Fresno, the taste of a good meal, laughter with friends, or a moment of intimacy with family, I’m pierced by the richness and beauty of this life. The song goes on though and says, over and over again, “We really cannot stay – We really cannot stay – We really cannot stay” In the midst of this, I know and believe that we’re called to serve, bless, and be the presence of hope. But none of it will last; not our calling, or our health, or even this world. “We really cannot stay”
It’s true of course. A child dies early. There’s an earthquake. A bomb in Iraq shatters my naive illusions that the world is a good place. These shattering realities, whether they’re global or personal, create in us a longing for home, a sort of “Maranatha” moment when our heart aches for the fulness that will only come when Jesus is running the whole show.
Do we need to flip flop back and forth between this sense of rootedness and feeling like aliens, or is there a way to live out the reality of both mindsets simultaneously? The reality is that both are true… glory and suffering, home and passing through, life and dying — all the time.
Off to the plane… and I welcome your thoughts.