After the initial performance of Handel’s Messiah in Dublin on April 13, 1742, George Frideric Handel received acclaim much greater than any expectation he could have imagined. The Dublin News-Letter gushed how the oratorio “far surpass[ed] anything of that Nature which has been performed in this or any other Kingdom.” In a letter Handel penned to a friend soon afterwards, however, he wrote, “I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wished to make them better.”
When he was a child, Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel’s mother would greet him the same way each day after school. She never asked, “What did you learn today?” Rather, she always asked: “Did you have a good question today?”
A friend once wrote a letter to both bless me and draw me deeper into an honest, true life. My friend quoted lines from the novelist James Kavanaugh: “There are men,” Kavanaugh wrote, “who are too gentle to live among wolves.” My friend invited me, amid a violent and self-protective world, to live with a gentle posture, to refuse to grow hard or defensive. The letter contains words that are among the most powerful a friend has ever shared with me.
In 2015, a country in the Middle East elected its first women to public office. In fact, in the first electoral cycle in which women appeared on the ballot, 17 were elected! I listened to an interview of a woman who had won a seat on her local council, and she exuded ecstatic joy. She acknowledged how difficult life can be for women in her country, but this didn’t diminish her celebration. Many more reforms are needed, but all people should revel in this historic transition. After years of exclusion from the political process, women have now seen the door open a bit with the possibility of something better ahead.
Whenever my boys feel shame or are uncomfortable, they’ll often look away or bury their head in their chest. If they’re wearing a hoodie, they’ll pull it over their head, as if trying to become invisible. I have a similar impulse. When I’m ashamed or feel vulnerable, defeated, or hopeless, it’s easy to try to hide. With my sons, I draw close to them and calmly say, “Look up at me. I need to see your eyes.”
So many of us struggle to feel that our work—the ways we spend the majority of our time and the way we pay our bills—has lasting spiritual value. This is remarkable, given how often Scripture insists that everything we do matters to God.
Many of the local churches in our city still exist with the same spirit of segregation that has plagued my country for so long. Aware of this evil, a group of pastors and leaders across ethnic divides meet monthly for breakfast. We pray and eat. We talk about economic realities and political structures. We talk about our local history (decades ago a neighborhood with thriving black-owned businesses was razed to the ground). The most powerful thing, however, is when one of us is bold and vulnerable enough to share our own story, our pains and fears, our hopes and our longings. In that moment we draw others close. We allow other people to share our burdens, to share our life.
In 2011 an earthquake and tsunami caused a catastrophic meltdown of three nuclear reactors in Japan. A massive evacuation ensued, displacing thousands, with a 20-kilometer radius marked as an “exclusion zone.”
Recently, I’ve had to intervene in several blowups between my two sons. The result of such events inevitably leads to their losing the privilege of spending time with friends, loss of their allowances, and more. They’re learning that the failure to work out their differences peaceably can be costly. Thankfully, I’ve also had opportunities to lavish generosity on both boys, to surprise them with a gift they would never have expected. I’m trying to teach them that both my correction and my generosity are gifts from me to them. Both emerge from my love toward them and for them.
Over the past month or so, my wife and I have had some hard conversations. Places of deep hurt have become visible again. As we’ve talked, amid much sadness, I’ve had to reckon with a lasting wound I left on her heart. Years ago, before we were married, Miska and I endured a significant conflict. In that turmoil, I spoke words to her that were foolish and immature, words that lodged into the most tender and vulnerable places of her heart. I didn’t speak in anger or malice, but rather with ignorance and stupidity. I’ve asked her forgiveness multiple times, and she has freely forgiven me. Still . . . the wound is there. My words can’t be taken back.
I recently called a friend who has endured more than his share of hardship and weariness. People dear to him, people he loves, have made choices that have caused themselves pain and brought him heartache. When my friend answered the phone, however, his voice was bright.
I doubt that any word gets tossed around in our world with such frequency and flippancy as love. It’s common for us to justify selfish behavior or whitewash actions harmful to others all in the name of some weak notion of “love.” Too often our actions performed under the guise of love have nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of it.
I have a friend who has spent most of his life with people who live on society’s margins: People experiencing poverty or homelessness, those who wrestle with addictions or simply exist outside the mainstream, anyone who might be considered an outcast. “That’s where I seem to fit,” my friend says. “On the edges.” He helps believers in Jesus learn how to be in true friendship with those who are different. “This kind of friendship isn’t as complicated as we like to make it,” my friend insists. “Often it’s as simple as knowing someone’s name and how they like their coffee.”
I live in a region and neighborhood that share a tragic racial history. For instance, the daughter of one of my elderly neighbors was part of a civil suit to force area schools to obey federal law and desegregate. As I’ve spoken with my neighbors, I’ve had to grapple with the racial divide in my country, with the many ways people have yet to fulfill God’s mandate to be agents of reconciliation.