Forty-two is only a number. When it is a measurement of Fahrenheit, it is a number that suddenly has meaning.
This past weekend, a small army of folks associated with Grace Point College Ministry chose (CHOSE) to sleep in makeshift shelters on rain-soaked ground in 42-degree weather.
The annual Squatter Camp(out) is about much more than creating awareness of the plight of the world’s poor and homeless, although that is certainly accomplished.
The night is about bonding and transcendence, about perspective and empathy. More than anything, we learned, Squatter Camp(out) is actually about CHOICES. In that way, a long night on cold ground is really a microcosm for life in general.
Those who participated in Squatter Camp(out) did so by their own volition. They brought a cardboard box or tarp or nothing at all and decided that they wanted a heart more aligned with God’s.
For the most part, they didn’t need a reminder to serve - many are already active parts of the local community, volunteering all over the city in dozens of different contexts.
What was really needed was an affirmation.
The journey following Jesus is often MUCH more difficult than the one that so many are sold upon cementing their faith. Around every corner is another invitation from society to make much of yourself with possessions and status. Behind every good intention is a shadow that lingers, asking us to do what is easy, convenient, or otherwise selfish.
Those who chose to sleep outside simply made another choice in a series of choices, one that looked squarely in the face of all that was available to them that night (parties, friends, warmth, comfort) and maintained that it was this discomfort-for-a-purpose that they would pursue.
My hope is that these leaders of tomorrow will not soon forget the night. Not simply for the way it illuminated the lives of the poor, but for the insight into their own lives that it shed.
For one long night, with the warmth of the fire no match for the bite of the North wind, a group of tossed and turned in unison. In a show of solidarity and transcendence that is so moving in it’s simplicity, hearts beat together with a chorus that defined a night for the ages…
“There’s no place I’d rather be…than here in your love.”
I sat down in Brown Coffee Co recently, hoping to hit the trifecta; read a book, sip great coffee, listen to the rain fall.
At the table next to me sat three young dudes raucously recounting a recent night on the town. And Brown, being a coffee shop with only three tables, is not exactly the best place to escape and ignore those around you. In perfect honesty, I often hope to find the cafe empty so as to have the room to myself and my thoughts.
As the conversation grew in volume (and mannish giggling), I realized my trifecta would probably have to wait. Instead of a book, I instead was left to listen (however unwillingly - I paid for my forgotten earbuds dearly) to the leftovers of a long night that included a dominatrix, a number of violent “trannies”, and an attack on their Asian friend that was apparently quite funny.
Although I was annoyed by the conversation’s volume and, to some degree, topic, it was something else entirely that really was unfortunate.
Every time the conversation died down and the silence encroached, one of the dudes would force some ridiculous shim under the conversation to keep it alive. How should we celebrate our “tranniversary”…? Really? Giggles for all.
I paid for my cappuccino and left, mildly bothered.
The silence was something to fear. Are we all that way? I began to wonder if I was as opposed to sitting in silence. I also wondered what my own conversations must sound like in that small space. I wondered if someone sitting next to me for 15 minutes might be similarly unimpressed by the vapidity of it all. I wondered if meaning shouldn’t permeate more of our lives.
What else did those guys live for? I am certain that their lives contained more substance than a bizarre night on the town. After all, their weird encounter with the sexual underworld is no different than my waxing poetic about Everton FC or the glorious virtue of urban transport projects. So they are me and I am them, just in different flavors.
Still…Why did the silence seem to scare them so much? The whole thing felt inorganic and insecure.
In a moment of particular weariness after a long day last week, I found myself in a heap of self-pity.
The wife was out of town and the 3-year old had been sick for 2 days. I was wiped out from spending half my nights awake and all of my days wiping a whiny little nose. Poor me.
As day two of the pity-party was waning, I decided to head to Chick-Fil-A as much to escape the house as anything. Her fever had dissipated and she was showing bizarre signs of cabin fever. I got Bella some dinner and then we went for a few minutes of playtime.
In the play area, there were multiple boys already in full-on crazy-mode. They spent our first 10 minutes in the room pretending to stab, shoot, electroshock, kick, arrest, torture, and humiliate each other.
Bella was refusing to even go into the playscape for fear of being hit with an imaginary cattle-prod or “laser-knife” that the kids were using. I was annoyed. Poor me.
Then entered one of the boys’ father. He walked in with what appeared to be his sister in mid-conversation. He was holding papers and complaining that he didn’t understand them and didn’t know what to do about it.
It quickly became clear that the ink on his divorce decree was still drying. My heart ached for him. I ached for his confusion and isolation, for the uphill journey he was about to embark on.
Immediately, my pity-party ended. I had a wife. She was coming home. I live a charmed existence. My kid has health-care and an antibiotic in her system.
It is remarkable how easily we slip into the funk and how little it takes to remind us just how fortunate we are. Perspective is easily lost…and sometimes involuntarily gained.
“I don’t read a lot of fiction.”
This is what people who want to be considered high-minded and scholarly in their reading say to preface any conversation where they will then discuss the fiction they are currently reading. This statement is sometimes true and sometimes just a person’s way of controlling the perception of the receiver. I just thought we should say that out loud…
Anyway, I don’t read a lot of fiction.
I used to think that when I read fiction it was to escape, to mentally leave reality and slip into some other life, to live in some mental fantasy world in order to reawaken some dormant slice of my pre-frontal cortex. I would read two or three novels a year, usually something old and something new and almost always in a vacation setting. I really thought I read them to escape, to “get away” from it all.
As it turns out, I don’t think that is completely true. I am realizing while reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson that I don’t actually want to evade reality. I just want to understand a new reality, to inhabit a previously unknown reality, or to more fully experience the reality around me.
The Orphan Master’s Son is set in North Korea and is dutifully pieced together from all of the slivers of existence that escape that oddly closed nation. The novel may have some narrative purpose that I am unaware of, but I am almost convinced that it was published as a 458-page excuse to unveil and dissect the complicated culture of The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
I am fascinated as much by the way that the characters see and think as I am by the advancing of the plot which they inhabit. This book is perplexingly brilliant, a trip into a deeper reality, one that might only be accomplished through the fictionalizing of the abstract anecdotal whispers that somehow cross the DMZ into the free world.
And since I don’t read a lot of fiction, getting such an awakening to a new reality has been nothing short of pure pleasure.
I’ve been thinking (danger!) about missed opportunities.
There are places along the journey when we chose to stand still when moving was the obvious decision. There are moments that we passed rather than acted only to find out that hindsight is unforgiving and action was required.
Somehow, we usually consider the past to be the past and move on toward our next mistake. I’d rather think of myself standing in front of the closet with a whole rack-full of future skeletons.
I am still in charge of all that is undone and all that will be done. I will choose to add more “should-haves” to my resume or I will choose to see with enough perspective so as to avoid adding another chapter to the ever-growing book of missed opportunities.
And, yes, I am talking about loving my neighbor and serving the helpless and savoring sunsets and being present with my kids.
I am also talking about seeing Pearl Jam. Music is the connective tissue in life, the figurative range of motion that makes the disparate pieces of life all sort of fit and work together. For me, for whatever reason, Pearl Jam has been a soundtrack to the narrative of the last 20 years. And I think I’d really like to fit them in on the remaining journey.
Perhaps it’ll satisfy. Perhaps not. I do know that on some metaphorical level, the yearning to relive, reminisce, and wholly capture life’s moments is a good thing. Among all of the world-changing things on my agenda, I still have a few minor details that are within reach…and hopefully not yet in the closet.