”His whole life is prayer and converse with God.”*
In August, 2011 I was at a conference listening to Shane Claiborne, a founding member of The Simple Way Community in Philadelphia, PA answering questions about justice and modern monasticism. Someone asked him, “how do you stay positive in light of all the nasty, depressing stuff going on in the world?” My answer would have been – “give up!” because that was what I was feeling at the time. Shane, on the other hand admitted that it was tough to remain positive and hopeful as he told us a heart breaking story of a young woman from his neighborhood being attacked and then shot in the face just two weeks before coming to speak at this conference. Then Shane said something that has stood out to me ever since.
Shane said we have a choice. We could choose to get depressed about a world that doesn’t seem to be getting any better, or we could choose to “sing a beautiful song instead of an ugly one.” Remember this is from a guy in the thick of the ugliness, so it’s not “pie in the sky” idealism – he lives with this choice everyday. When Shane spoke about this choice my mind went immediately to all the great teaching I had heard that weekend from people who were singing a beautiful song in the midst of an ugly world and ugly expressions of Christianity. The speakers were living with the addicts on Vancouver’s East Side, and AIDS filled slums in Cambodia. They were visiting gang members in Guatemala’s worst prison, and working for reconciliation with Canada’s Native Indians… and… it…was…beautiful.
There is plenty of ugly Christianity in the world and it gets depressing sometimes, if the ugliness is what we choose to focus on. So many ugly things have been done, and continue to be done, in the name of religion and in the name of God. The location of the conference, for example, was on the grounds of a Catholic Residential School, a point that was well documented and discussed by Ched Meyers one of the main speakers that weekend. At one Residential School Ched reported that 40 to 50 percent of the students died one year! Add to that the various forms of abuse that went on over the years. As Ched pointed out, we were sitting on the scene of some of the most brutal atrocities ever committed by the Church. Instead of burying it in the past Ched invited us to take a good hard look at the stories for our own healing and for the healing and reconciliation of the people who still carry the scars of abuse. As we all know, Residential Schools are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ugly expressions of Christianity. Fortunately, that weekend we also heard from people, including Native Indians, who were addressing the deep pain caused by residential schools and other abuses done to North American Native Indians and were working towards healing and reconciliation.
For some mysterious, incomprehensible reason God chooses to use broken vessels – the Church – me and you! – to be the representatives of his love to the world. It is absolutely beautiful when our hearts and minds are open to God’s love and leading and we respond.
The conference was giving me hope. Hope that a beautiful song could still be sung. Christianity at its best is beautiful. Not airy fairy, in denial beautiful, but sacrificially, incarnately, contemplatively beautiful. The conference allowed me to hear from people who were making a difference, with God’s help, in some of the darkest places on earth.
And so…the mission of Fuel Radio is to foster, fuel and support beautiful Christianity through story, art, prayer, action, and generosity. I hope you will join us in singing this beautiful song.
*Strom. VII.12.73,1; 13.81,4 regarding Clement of Alexandria - http://www.churchhistory101.com/century3-p2.php