Running the Race

Our country is hurting. Nine people are dead in South Carolina from a gunman who murdered them in church. Freddie Gray is dead. Michael Brown is dead. Trayvon Martin is dead. And many others. People responding to these deaths have been beaten and injured—citizens of every kind and color, those wearing tennis shoes and those in uniform.

There is a thickening tension felt in various conversations and in neighborhoods that has manifested itself violently, as it has in Ferguson and in Baltimore, as it had in the Rodney King Riots, and those before. People are scared and mistrustful, and we wonder if the fabric of our nation will survive this.

The deep wounds in our nation’s history are deepening. Blood flows, without mend. Our forefathers felt them. It inspired them to rise up from every neighborhood and street corner and in brotherhood hold hands, to heal. And yet the wounds passed on to us, carving our hearts.

The fear of unrest and upheaval have reduced men to whispers and mist. The great spine on which we depended confidently up to this time is giving out as we struggle to keep our balance above a chasm full only of chaos. It is terrifying. Friendships are threatened. Strangers are afraid.

It is as if we were running this race asea, aboard a ship, heading in the same direction, with the same desire to survive, with the same heart for the far away shore. But this journey has gone on for so long that we have lost sight of our purpose as we sail. We no longer care about reaching the shore or what it promises – declaring mutiny, fighting to make ourselves the captain. It is the old story of Man, retold in the classic yarns, and in the Good Book.

As the violence spreads into the holds, our barriers thicken, so that we become so detached from life that we no longer think or hear or smell or feel or taste or touch or see, because we’ve withdrawn to the only spot on the boat still safe: a rotten cask.

But we were never meant to hide there. A ship cannot reach the shore without our handling of the sails and the sheets and the buntlines and so forth. Who else but you and me are equipped to go aloft to change out the sails? We were designed with a purpose, with a specific duty, on this ship bound for new shores.

In America, we have each been given a unique gift. Those born here had no choice in the matter; those who arrived by choice did. But now that we are here, there is a solemn duty given us, to each of us – one not slathered in greed or pride or addictions, nor in a rapaciousness to consume until we sink – but to love.

The only way through this storm is to work together to handle our beloved ship. Our journey does not care what we look like (unless to celebrate it), only that we respond to the heart in our shipmates, that great heart latent in each of us, in that chaotic pit we are so afraid to open.

A healing America is one who sees together, who imagines, who believes in the shore beyond the horizon, who keeps hoping, humbly, taking our bread each day with contentment, giving to others, loving them lovably even though they are unlovable, lifting, extending, encouraging.

Fear dissipates just like that. It’s never been easier to love than right now. Jesus promises that in this life we will have tribulations, and in a moment of pause, I discover the shalom He also promises, even in the midst of those tribulations.

His love empowers me to love at a depth I could not have discovered in my own strength. (I do not have the lungs to reach that treasure.)

The great leaders in our nation’s history inspired us to love in the spirit of brotherhood. Mr. Lincoln. Dr. King. The citizen soldiers. If all their stories were told together, if all our stories were told in the same, we would not need the sun. It could finally take that nap it is craving.

In our youth we were inspired to believe in their words and character – that one day the violence will pass away, leaving only a fading scar, soon forgotten. I believe that is true. But in Man’s fallen nature this is impossible. One nation, however strong, cannot manufacture enough character from itself to eradicate this violence. It is a cruel, pandemic illness remedied only by divine love. He is the only one who fully endured its wrath. From His own Spirit He manufactures His antidote to our pain, giving it freely to anyone sick enough to need it.

And because of Jesus, there is the promise of healing. Ablutions. Forgiveness. Humble words dripping in sorrow. Shoulders given to shoulders, hands to hands, eyes in surrender. Repentance. That is the spirit of the journey He offers us to enjoy as we sail with Him on our journey home.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” ~ 1 Corinthians 9:24

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