The Swedish writer Fredrick Backman’s 2012 debut novel A Man Called Ove is the tale of a man who sees no reason to live. After the death of his wife (the one person who brought him laughter, intimacy, and joy) and after losing his job, Ove plots his suicide. But then he’s drawn into the larger story around him: There’s a pregnant woman who needs his support, a neighbor in conflict with authorities who are trying to force him into a nursing home, and a young man estranged from his father. Ove discovers reasons to live as he moves beyond himself and toward others.
During the 2016 Olympics in Rio, one of the brightest stories was the International Olympic Committee’s decision to field the first-ever team of Refugee Olympic Athletes, a team of athletes who have no country. Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, explained the decision: “Having no national team to belong to, having no flag to march behind, having no national anthem to be played, these refugee athletes will be welcomed to the Olympic Games with the Olympic flag and with the Olympic Anthem. They will have a home together with all the other 11,000 athletes.” Ten Olympians comprised the squad—refugees from South Sudan, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Syria.
During a political election year, a tow truck driver was called to assist a woman who was stranded with a broken-down vehicle. But the truck driver, upon seeing a bumper sticker on the car for a candidate he disliked, informed the motorist that he wouldn’t help her and drove away. His actions remind me how we sometimes choose to ignore those who need our help.
Each Sunday my local church begins our service with a call to worship—a song declaring that we gather to proclaim God’s goodness and beauty. As we sing, we’re also affirming that we live as citizens of His kingdom. Although during most of the worship we encourage people to choose their own posture, in this opening song we always ask our people to stand. We want to open the service conscious of standing in God’s presence, reverently honoring the One who’s other than us.
Photographer Oliver Curtis’ exhibit Volte-face (“about turn”) interacts with iconic landmarks—only his images capture what’s found in the opposite direction. So, when he arrived at Stonehenge, he turned 180 degrees before taking his pictures, capturing images that are typically ignored. Curtis says the photos “send [our] gaze elsewhere and . . . favor the incidental over the monumental.”
In 2005, two researchers coined “moral therapeutic deism” (MTD) as a description for the prevailing religious views of younger Americans. MTD is a constellation of beliefs that can be summed up this way: God exists and provides a moral way of ordering your life so that you can fulfill the ultimate goal of your life—to be happy and feel good about yourself. Although God is mostly removed and uninvolved in your life, He will welcome you to heaven when you die if you’ve been good.
At the outset of World War II, a man—who would eventually rescue 669 children from Nazi slaughter—helped two Jewish boys secure passage on a train escaping Czechoslovakia. After the war, the boys received a final letter from their parents who had died in a concentration camp.
Imagine you’re a Jewish child, nourished from a young age by the words of the Torah. You can recite the Torah’s opening lines describing how, just before the dawn of God’s magnificent acts of creation, darkness covered the deep and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters (Genesis 1:2). Those mysterious words signaled that something stunning was about to happen. God was doing something new. You’d hear the story of that first day of creation, the inauguration of God’s creation week when He said, “Let there be light”—and light flooded the earth (John 20:3). Adam and Eve in the garden, beginning the great adventure of human life. What stunning possibilities, what hope! You would know well this story—the story of how God’s new world began to flourish.
Not long after the fall of the Iron Curtain, I traveled to Ukraine with a Christian ministry. One evening, I met with two college students who peppered me with questions about faith and God. I was struck by their open and earnest searching, because they had lived for years under a communist regime in which God and religion were outlawed. They weren’t looking for easy answers, but simply wanted to figure out what they believed.
We introduced our sons to the TV series Lost in which marooned passengers from a crashed jetliner try to survive on a mysterious island. It didn’t take long for our boys to start to groan at the end of each episode, aware of how masterful the writers were at creating cliffhangers. There appears to be no ending, only a series of new beginnings.
Inky the octopus saw his chance and broke for freedom. In 2014, fishermen found Inky, a small octopus (roughly the size of a volleyball) trapped in a crayfish pot and severely injured. The fishermen delivered Inky to New Zealand’s National Aquarium. Though Inky seemed to adjust to his new home, one of the curators observed how they needed to “keep Inky amused” or he’d get bored.
When asked which author he would choose to write his life’s story, author and activist Wendell Berry answered: “A horrible thought. Nobody. As the only person who ever has lived my life, I know that most of it can never be documented, is beyond writing and beyond words.”
Every year during Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter), many churches follow Jesus’ example during the Last Supper by washing one another’s feet. Jesus washed His disciples’ feet and told them to imitate what He had done. Washing feet is a prayerful and powerful act, but it can also upset our sense of pride, personal space, and privacy. It can be truly unsettling.
It’s truly difficult to sit beside someone who’s grieving or in despair, a person who has taken one hit after another and has lost all hope. Whenever we surrender hope, our life slowly ebbs from us. We may continue to put one foot in front of the other, but we can no longer see the beauty around us. We no longer find joy in our life or in relationship with others. We see only gloom, and we find it nearly impossible to move toward light and love.