I cannot watch TV, check social media, or workout at the Y without being reminded of the pain and suffering in the world these days. Stories I cannot believe to be true, images I would rather not see, and political debates I am surprised our country is engaging in. I am often overwhelmed, and sometimes paralyzed by the depth and breadth of brokenness in our world.
Each day I also find joy in my work, discover grace is unexpected places, and encounter love among friends and family. These ordinary moments, ones I use to take for granted, sustain me and ground my life. Without them, it would be hard to face each day with hope and compassion.
Our world is filled with paradox. The thing with paradox is that two realities are true, one truth does not cancel the other. The love I receive, for example, does not negate the pain of others. Some days I forget paradoxes are all around me and I try to make sense of them, reconciling one with another. I hold on to one truth and dismiss another. Yet when I live with this either/or posture, I find myself disregarding a truth I need to hear. Sometimes the truth I am overlooking is that good exists all around me – at the grocery story, in my neighborhood, on social media. Sometimes the truth I am ignoring is people suffering – in places I have never been, in homes where friends and family live, in the congregation I attend. Living aware of multiple truths, of paradox, is a necessary, and fruitful, part of life.
Our identity as Christians is paradoxical – we are created in God’s image – with all the capacity to love as God does – and we are of this world – broken and in need of healing. Discovering what it is to live based on this Christian identity means discovering how to live a paradoxical life. We know God’s love prevails in the end and God’s preferred future has not yet fully come to be. How can this be true? Because God, in Jesus Christ, came to earth and rewrote the end of the story. He told us about the kingdom of God and promised us a forever future with God at the same time he named the pain and brokenness. Living “in between” means claiming these promises, at the same time we participate in the folding of God’s future on earth.
This week this paradoxical life is going to become visible in Houston, TX. 30,000 ELCA Lutherans are gathering under the theme “This Changed Everything.” Those gathered will claim once again their identity as children of God and name the pain in the world. They will hear God’s promises proclaimed and accompany people suffering. Preparation and planning for this gathering has been taking place for over three years. Congregations, youth and adults, have been getting ready. Houston is excited to receive the sojourners. Prayers have surrounded every aspect. It has not been easy. There have been obstacles – natural disasters, staffing changes, endless to-do lists, and unexpected changes, just to name a few. But now, as so many of us make our pilgrimage to Houston, the planning and preparation shift to welcoming, embracing, learning, serving, praising, and embodying. Now guests also become hosts, speakers also participants, those served also teachers. And one idea will guide it all – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. This truth is what creates a paradox in our world. It is what makes possible God’s kingdom to be unfolding in our midst today. And this week we get to see ways our participating in is paradoxical and makes a difference.
Please pray for everyone in Houston this week. Pray that this gathering may be a witness to the hope, love, and joy of God. Pray that light shines in dark places and God’s love is experienced in meaningful ways. And look for ways you can be part of God’s unfolding future wherever you find yourself. (To follow the ELCA Youth Gathering on social media see #elcayg2018)