Jesus the Killjoy

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” —Mark 13:1-2

Sometimes I get to a point in Scripture when I just want to laugh. This poor disciple! I can see him leaving a fantastic worship experience and being so overjoyed by God’s greatness that he sees it reflected in the structures around them. He wants to share it with someone, and surely Jesus will understand! Big mistake.

“Jesus, look how big and magnificent everything is! Isn’t it wonderful? I love Jerusalem.”

To which Jesus answers, “All these buildings? They’ll be torn down soon, stone by stone.” Which, to me, sounds a lot like Solomon shouting “All is vanity” every two seconds or a cartoon character intoning “Doomed, doomed, doomed!”

I imagine the disciple getting frustrated and answering, “Dang it, Jesus! Can’t you just enjoy this with me for like five seconds?” Or buddying up to James and saying, “Should have known better than to try to point something nice out to Jesus.” Maybe he follows it up with, “Christ is such a killjoy.” After which he grabs Peter by the shirt and mutters, “Forget I said that. Don’t go blabbing this to that John Mark kid who’s always writing stuff down.” And then there’s a tussle. James walks faster to get beside John, who is definitely staying out of it. Jesus is rolling his eyes. Andrew ends up being the one to break it up.

Jesus is right, though. Even if we assume the best of this disciple, that he isn’t impressed by the size of the walls and the buildings and doesn’t see them as representative of Israel’s greatness or humanity’s ingenuity or anything to do with the worldly at all. Even if we pretend that this disciple definitely saw the temple and its surroundings as a reflection of God’s greatness, provision, protection, and presence on Earth (as the temple was generally viewed in Scripture prior to this event) the disciple does miss the point: “The Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands” (Acts 7:48).

Jesus 1, Disciple 0.

But yeah, sometimes Jesus can really sound like a killjoy.

In Silent Depths

A couple of worship services have combined in me over the past week, beginning with this question from last Tuesday’s Summer Gathering:

What obstacles do I need to revisit so I can build a monument to encourage others?

I didn’t have an answer then. But over the past week I’ve gotten frustrated multiple times, usually because I wasn’t communicating something to Tyler that I wanted him to know.

I wasn’t communicating for a lot of reasons, macro reasons like I have been conditioned not to interrupt men, micro reasons like I saw he was trying to do something sweet or I knew he’d had a long day, and no reasons at all. More than once, I repeated the words I wanted to say over and over in my mind but never said them.

Because I am spiritually gifted in service and it’s my love language, and because I have an introverted supine personality, I naturally prioritize others over myself. I even put others’ wants over my needs, and yes I know that doesn’t make sense and isn’t healthy. I’m fighting both nature and nurture just to say that I need to go to the bathroom, would rather eat at Wendy’s, would like to just lay down for a while. I got to the point where I even felt frustrated over what we were watching on TV, not because I didn’t have a say or was overruled, but because I wasn’t sharing my opinions and preferences when he asked. I let him choose, even forced him to choose, over and over, and then felt so frustrated by the results of my own silence.

I’m an introverted supine creative. I have a vivid, deep, complex inner life. It’s extremely difficult for me to share any of that inner life, even with people I trust. I can share seemingly intimate and important stories, but that doesn’t mean I’m being vulnerable. In true supine fashion, I fear rejection and don’t want to bore or burden. If it’s like this with my family, best friends, and boyfriend, you can imagine how it is with strangers, new acquaintances, and friends.

Aware of this and in light of last week’s frustrations, I have been trying to share more of my inner world, and more of my opinions, with Tyler. I’ve struggling to decide what I might ask him to experience with me—This book? That show? Which trail? A musical? But which one?—and to know how much is healthy and reasonable for us both. A struggle.

This brings me back to last week’s question: which obstacles do I need to revisit so I can encourage others? I’ve thought of dozens of instances when I didn’t say what I wanted, when I felt so impeded by my own personality and conflicting desires and fears that I wrote page after page in the backs of my class notebooks. Times when I felt so frustrated that I could almost hear myself scream in my own head, when I immersed myself in yet another book, when I pushed away from impatient or busy people I thought might reject me. It’s been isolating. I don’t want to set myself up for more loneliness.

Then came the second song during Sunday’s contemporary service, “Uncontainable Love” by Elevation Worship. As I stood beside Tyler, one of the worship leaders sang, “Your love is deep enough to reach the deepest part of me.”

And I relaxed.

I pictured the trenches at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, so dark and so cold, inhabited by otherworldly creatures requiring unique adaptations to survive. Piercing this darkness is a single, broad sunbeam, golden and strong, fluctuating with life, penetrating all those fathoms to reach the ocean floor. God alone can do that. God alone knows. Even when I struggle to illuminate a few meters to another person, God is a sun more powerful than our solar system’s, piercing right through. Nothing is hidden from God.

That comforts me. It takes some pressure off. The deepest part of me is a place no one else has seen. It’s a place I’ve even worked to keep hidden. No one will ever know all that is within me, including me. I certainly will never be able to communicate all that I know is inside me. But God knows. God sees. God created. God loves. I don’t have to get it all right. Even in the coldest depths of me, I am not alone.

And maybe my saying so can be a monument to encourage someone else.

On the Eve of Great Change

Last week, Ingleside’s young adult ministry launched The Summer Gathering, a mid-week worship service for young adults. It’s more liturgical than the church’s usual services, and even seemed more reflective. Or more contemplative. Anyway, it was for me.

Blake’s sermon focused on God visiting Jacob at the river Jabbok in Genesis 32, the wrestling match that ensued and lasted all night. The gist is that this restless, sleepless night came on the eve of great change. Jacob knew that when he went to bed. He’d see his brother the next day, his brother who might want to kill Jacob for his past trickery and theft. He knew his life was about to change, and he was so afraid, and though he began to wrestle with God wanting to win, when he finally learned that he was hopelessly outmatched, Jacob just wanted to hold on long enough to convince or compel God to bless him. In reality, God changed Jacob’s name and very nature, and Jacob because Israel, father of a nation.

As I sat in this cozy space, warmly lit with sandy carpet and translucent curtains, I remembered one of the longest, most restless nights I’ve ever experienced.

I was camping in the desert in Egypt. It was the white desert, so named for the chalk imbued with shells and shark teeth and littered by fragments of petrified wood—evidence of the long-ago sea in this area—that has been carved by the wind-driven sand into sculptures. It was the final night of a two-week trip, led by my favorite professor, to study the country’s politics and role in that area of the world. We’d had class in a Nile garden, visited the military museum, climbed inside a queen’s pyramid at Giza, attended a mosque during a service, and been followed by secret police. We’d visited a legal group, rested at a Coptic monastery, and been ordered not to photograph the facade of a Jewish synagogue. We’d also had plenty of internal strife, acting either too much or nothing at all like the siblings we pretended to be, fissuring viciously as a few of us tried to hold hands across the seams.

It was the last night. It was January. The evening had been pleasant by the fire and within an open-air room of carpets, eating roasted chicken and listening to our drivers and guides speaking Arabic across the table from us. But now we were in sleeping bags, weighed down by blankets so heavy I could barely roll over. I was in a very small tent with Kristen—my friend, ally, and fellow Christian—that was barely wide enough to hold us both and not quite long enough to also hold our suitcases. Exhausted, cold, after dinner we nestled down until the sleeping bags were over our heads and fell asleep.

It was horrible. The wind whistled and rippled the canvas. The temperature continued to drop. And nightmares plagued me, waking me too frequently to count, sometimes still paralyzed, and exhaustion always pulled me back under. Amongst other things, in the very late and very quiet, I dreamed someone had come into the tent and drugged us, then kidnapped Kristen. I woke, but the environment and sigh of the wind were exactly the same as they had been in the dream. I tried to roll over but couldn’t, the thick blanket too heavy. I tried to twist my head around enough to see her, but I couldn’t see anything beyond the mound of my own shoulder.

I was starting to panic, not sure if the dream had been a dream, so I said into the air, feeling small and alone, “Kristen?”

Immediately, she answered, “It’s okay, I’m still here.”

Relieved, I lay my head back down and returned to sleep.

In the morning, one of our leaders woke us so we could watch the sun rise, something we’d been excited about the night before. Now I wanted to cry because the night was finally over. We dragged on coats and trudged into the sand, not speaking. Our group found private places, away from each another but staying in sight. At any time, I could count us, just as I, the oldest student and pretend big sister, had been doing all trip. The only reasonable one among us worked to restart the fire. Silent, facing east, we waited. And when the entirety of the sun had crested the sands, spilling intense golden light on our faces and pinkening the sky, we climbed down from our chalk mountains and bunched together around the fire.

We had all had nightmares. Every American, which concerned our translator and guide, Ahmed. Most of us had had more than one, had woken frequently or laid awake for what we assumed was hours. We’d suffering from our dreams, all of which had involved each other. Car crashes and murders. Returning to Cairo to find the airport burning. Kristen had dreamed that something vague but terrible had happened to me, but she’d been facing me when the nightmare woke her and could see that I was okay. She didn’t remember reassuring me. She didn’t know why she said what she did. When I told her about the dream that had prompted me to say her name, she shivered at how eerily her own words had matched my fear.

As we broke camp, it rained. In the desert. None of our guides or drivers had ever seen that before. Ahmed didn’t even know the Arabic word for rainbow when we saw one arch from horizon to horizon on our way back to Cairo. Later that day, Tunisia ousted its president. The first protests in Egypt, organized by members of that legal group we’d visited, were held in Tahrir Square that day. Sitting at our gate that night, waiting to board our flight to Istanbul, we watched the Egyptians watch the news, their faces opening with wonder and possibility. That day was the beginning of the Arab Spring, which saw the fall of Egyptian President Mubarak and the police state we’d spent 2 weeks studying from within. Footage in the coming months showed clashes on the same streets we’d walked and in the same squares we’d bought shawarma. Coptic monks were gunned down outside their monastery, and I’m still not sure if it was the one we visited or the monks who’d hosted us.

Even now, when I hear of a bombing at an Egyptian church, I remember the little girl who prompted us to take off our shoes before entering the prayer chapel in the Coptic church, I pray that she and her parents and baby brother are safe. I think of the Last Supper and picture the stone table in the dining hall at the monastery, at which the bishop sits with the oldest monk on his left and the youngest on his right. I remember the reedy spot by a high wall where tradition says Moses was found as a baby. I picture the sign on the interstate pointing to the wealthy suburb where Joseph’s wife came from. When a rainbow comes into my sky, I wonder if another one has come into Ahmed’s sky in the past 6 years. All those wonderful people. All those English phrases offered on the streets, “Welcome.” “Hello.” “Come please.” “Welcome to Egypt.”

My night before great change was long, restless, thick with cold and nightmares. Jacob walked the rest of his life with a limp as a result of his long, restless night, but he discovered that his brother no longer hated him and even embraced him. And his life by no means became easy, but he was blessed, and he did move through the world differently. In a small way, so have I.

Late-night Drives

When was the last time you were out at 1 a.m.? Or 11 p.m.? Or 3 a.m.? Whatever really late is to you.

A couple weeks ago, Tyler and I were coming back from a musical at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta and it was late. We got back to his apartment, I packed up my things—the bags and shoes I had littered across his apartment in the 5-minute whirlwind I’d created getting ready after work. And I sat down on the couch for, like, 2 seconds. And when I woke up it was even later.

Driving home, I was surprised by how many people were on the roads and the interstate. I wondered how many miles that truck had driven in the last 24 hours. How far the people in that car have been today and how far they will have to go before they sleep. Did they go to a concert or baseball game and live farther away than I do? Did they get a late-night call from a friend, for injury or illness, and are on their way to them?

I wondered about the car at the stop light and why that truck is coming out of my neighborhood. A parent headed to the store for their sick child? Or maybe just someone who can’t sleep and wants to drive around for a while. Maybe they are people like me, who stayed too long or fell asleep or watched a really long movie and are now going home to somewhere close by.

But the later it gets, the more dire I think those stories probably are. And I wonder especially about people on the interstate. What happened today, and in these last hours, to put them on the highway this late at night?

Everyone who has had a very late, very terrible night of driving, I hope there was someone praying for you as you went by. And I hope you found a hug when you got where you were going.