I just finished one of my favorite books for the second time, Tattoos on the Heart. You can read some of my other thoughts on this book here. I cried almost as much the second time reading it as I did the first time.
The book ends with the story of a “homie” (what the gang members call themselves) who was trying to get his life together being shot and paralyzed from the neck down until he died not too long after. Papa G, the priest who has loved these homies for decades, buried this young man and four others in as many weeks.
The night before I read this story, I had watched Million Dollar Baby which I was expecting to be a feel good sports movie. Instead, it ends with the main character paralyzed as well and dying soon after.
These two stories shook me. I was faced with the reality that there are people in the world who live like this. There are people that are blazingly, startlingly strong enough to keep on living in the midst of unspeakable pain.
The story of Papa G helping these gang members get employed and out of the gang life inspires me and tears me apart at the same time. Papa G is one of my heroes, because he lives in a duel world. He sees young people he loves like sons and daughters die on a regular basis from blind violence. And in the midst of that, he chooses and chooses and chooses to believe that God is good. It’s as if he is saying Without God, these acts are senseless. With God, death is not final. Death leads way to life.
The big book used by alcoholics anonymous says something to the effect of When we are faced with a crisis we can no longer control we have to believe that either God is everything or else he is nothing. Choose.
In circumstances like this, we can either sayThese horrible things are happening, so God must no be good. Or we can choose to change our perspective, saying These horrible things are happening. What do I have if I don’t have God?
I have days where I don’t choose to believe in God’s goodness simply because my finances are low or my job search has been hard. Other days I struggle with God’s goodness because of more difficult things, like my not having a family or my struggle with depression or a friend having cancer.
It helps me to think of people paralyzed, chronically ill, chronically poor, trafficked, who are so strong that they keep on choosing to live. I am blown away that many of them say If I don’t have God, what do I have?”
Oh God, I want my perspective to change. I want to believe that you are good in my limited perception. I am so tired of doubting your goodness because of the bad things that happen to me, the bad things that happen to other people. I want instead to say Whom have I but you? You bring meaning to the most meaningless things. You bring hope to the most hopeless situations.
I read a verse today that I don’t think I have ever noticed before. A vision from the prophet Zechariah…
During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown, and white horses. I asked “What are these, my Lord?” Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained “They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.” And they replied to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world in rest and peace.” (Zechariah 1: 8-11.)
I love this, because it feels like the end of the end times, doesn’t it? After all the crazy weird psychedelic things that happen in Revelations, things that are awful and beautiful and impossible to understand, after all of that, what if it ends here? What if it ends with the whole world seeing all of the death and sickness and sex trafficking and slavery swept away into unspeakable, unfathomable love? A place where the whole world lives in rest and peace?
God give me the strength to believe that. Give us all the strength to believe that.