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From the Preacherman

I broke a shoelace a few weeks ago. I was standing in a grocery store when I noticed my shoe was untied. When I bent over to tie the laces, one snapped and came off in my hand. I hurriedly retied the pieces, then the laces, and found some new ones on another aisle. No big deal. Disaster averted. The whole time I was in the store, however, I worried about the problem. What if someone sees? What if they find out? What if my struggle is revealed?

In his book “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien writes about his experiences as a rifleman in the Vietnam War. He says in an interview “I carried all the standard military stuff: grenades, ammo, an M16, sometimes an M60. Letters from mom, dad. Letters from a girl back home. More than the physical, I carried incredible terror with every single step I took. Is the land going to blow me up? I think of that all the time, even when I walk out of the house. To this day, I watch the pavement, the grass. It’s just been built into me.” O’Brien, as much as anyone I have ever read, taught me to pay attention to what we carry, and why, and how those things affect us even now

What things do people carry around silently, rarely talking about them publicly, but are nevertheless burdensome and wearying? Some people carry around the broken pieces of relationships, hoping somehow to find a way to repair what has been lost. Some carry around troubles in their hearts for losses recent and long ago. Others have their souls torn asunder by the violence of others, both purposeful and casual, and find it hard thereafter to ever trust people again. Some carry around questions and problems and heartaches and pain and losses and then stand there in line at the grocery with a pleasant smile painted on their faces like nothing in the world is wrong.

As a pastor, I am profoundly grateful to offer people the space and the time to open their souls to God, to do that alone, then with other people in the presence of the Holy. We live in a hyper-individualized world. Your computer and cell phone tailor and shape the advertisements and articles you read and see. We have to make the effort to open our souls to God and other people, to be honest and vulnerable. There are places to do that, but I get to serve in a community of faith that offers more than individualized experiences. We offer stories of struggles in the past that lead to hope for a new day, instead of fear of what may happen next.

And that, more than anything, is the subversive, hopeful truth of our broken lives: we are not simply the heartaches, pain, losses and problems we inherited or caused. We are more than that. We human beings are a tough lot. Life will smack us upside the head with health issues or relationship problems or losses that empty our souls, but we learn and live and can even, miraculously, find hope in desolation. In “A Farewell to Arms,” Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” That’s not true with shoelaces, but it is with people.

Peace … Chris