Nothing Wasted

When they had all had enough to eat, [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” (John 6:12)

In your house somewhere, there’s probably one of those things. Although it looks like any other scribbled-up notebook or faded picture or crinkle-edged envelope, you know better. You know better because there’s a ton or two of memories tied around that thing. You avoid it for years because you don’t have time (or courage) to drag all that weight back out. It’s best left dusty and dormant. You tell yourself you’ve forgotten. You don’t really believe that, but it’s what you tell yourself.

Then, that thing finds you. Okay, so technically you found it while you were cleaning or trying to decide what to pitch out from your overstuffed closet.  But whatever the case, it’s there in your hand. You plop down in the floor and place it on your lap. Your fingers smooth down the edges. Maybe your gut tightens up a bit.

Once again—just like the last time you “found” it—the I-was-a-fool song zips into your head. It’s a song that only has one verse, but that verse plays over and over. Usually, you turn the melody into a prayer that goes something like this:

God, what was I thinking? How could I not see? How could I have done that? Why didn’t I say something?

Waste—eventually, it all comes down to that. While tracing pencil indentions with your fingers or taking in the smooth surface of the photo, you wonder how many years you wasted. What mighty things you might have done. At least, it seems like that now.

But there’s another song that comes, too, and that one has many verses and many versions. One of the best sounds like this:

You were dead because you lost sight of Christ. But He never lost sight of you. Right when you needed it most, God made those nail-pierced wrists very real to you, and it crushed you to know what shame had been hammered to the cross—all our regret-filled yesterdays. (Colossians 2:13-14, paraphrase)

And if you listen to that song (or dozens more like it), you won’t fear that tattered thing in your hands, that memento too heavy to keep close by. Instead, you’ll see how God never wastes anything. Not busted up plans, not years of prodigal living, and certainly not you. Instead, He picks them up—when He picks you up—and teaches you how to talk about His can’t-believe-it’s-possible grace.

So, talk.

The Strains of Christmas

Christmas at my house meant preparing for the worst. The worst didn’t always come, but you couldn’t be too careful.

You see, the thing about holidays is that people tend to be together, pushed into the same room by tradition and baked turkey. My family spent most of the year avoiding such things, as we hurried off to school or work, buried ourselves in music and books, and generally enjoyed the comfort of a closed door.

We could usually navigate the raging Scylla and Charybdis of Thanksgiving because it only meant a day together before we scattered again. But while we chewed stuffing, my father would chew on his disappointment over his life and his family. My older brothers would try not to notice. The tryptophan made us all too sleepy for much more—at least, that’s what I like to think.

But then Christmas came lumbering into the UpChurch household with all its vacation days. We had too much time off, and too many unspoken issues. We were like a pot of boiling potatoes with the water sloshing out on the stove. There’d be some sizzling over a lack of job, a splash or two over how much something cost, and then boom… the lid blew off.

An hour and two new holes in the wall later, we surveyed the wreckage of the yuletide cheer. My brothers would fume back into the basement, my father would escape to his computer, and my mom would try to figure out what to do. Usually, the anger just sunk back into the pot for another year.

When I moved out of my house, it took years for Christmas to reclaim its festive atmosphere. Even when the war ended, the shellshock didn’t. There were too many things unsaid, too many things not dealt with. The embers of home-fought battles wouldn’t die down.

Then, Christ.

Describing salvation couldn’t be better summed up than in those two words set apart in their own paragraph: then, Christ. There was no choir of angels singing (audibly to me, at least) or a special star shining light down on my apartment, but it was a moment that clearly separates time into two epochs. That separation is for both BC/AD and OJ/NJ—Old John and New John.

As this New John, though, I noticed something that might as well have been as miraculous as angels breaking out the tunes over my head. When Christmas came, the dread didn’t. I’d plucked the Christ off Christmas, and the mass didn’t seem so heavy. In fact, I even looked forward to it.

No, the tension didn’t suddenly melt away. The tempers weren’t all snuffed out. There were still moments that stretched tightly across our gatherings. But I now knew something just slightly flip-the-world-upside-down, mind-blowingly awesome: A baby, born poor and away from home, had taken the worst this world had to offer. A king wanted Him dead, and His country had no place for Him. But still He came… for me.

For you.

To Love > To Coexist: A Parable

Long ago, there was a small village crammed right up against a menacing wood on three sides and cliffs high above the ocean on the other. The villagers had no idea why their town existed in such a precarious place, but they accepted it as just the way things had always been.

Each year, the cliffs crumbled a bit more, and the villagers had to give up a bit more of their land. The villagers had talked about cutting down the trees for more room, but, secretly, they were afraid of going into the darkness. And, anyway, they didn’t have saws or axes.

So, this crumbling went on. But, you see, the villagers had something more important to worry about. They wanted to make sure that everyone lived peacefully together. Sure, they had their disagreements. Some people liked to wake up early, and some preferred to stay up late. Some ate carrots, and some hated them. But they coexisted. That was their highest virtue.

One day (as is so often the case in such stories), a man named Peter woke up and had a strange idea. He realized that he and all the others could just leave the village. It may not seem like much to you, but for the people of the village, leaving just wasn’t something you did. You coexisted, but you didn’t leave.

But this new idea gripped Peter. He thought of nothing else, and he knew it could save many people from the encroaching cliffs. So, he started telling people about it.

At first, only Peter’s family listened. Some of them thought his idea was pretty good. Others laughed. A few even got ticked. But they had to coexist; so, the disgruntled listeners let him have his crazy fantasy. For a while.

But, then, Peter had another funny thought. He felt something warm bubble up in his gut. Suddenly, he didn’t want the other villagers to fall off the cliffs one day. He had to do something. So, he started telling people that his idea was the only way to be saved from the coming disaster. What was worse, he even had other people talking crazy like that. Dozens of people agreed with him and shared this idea all over the place.

Eventually, those who simply wanted to coexist got the mayor to make Peter stop talking. Of course, they didn’t say he couldn’t talk—that wouldn’t be tolerant of them. Instead, they made a new law that said anyone wanting to share ideas had to have a permit. Said permit had to come from the mayor, who only gave permits once every year. He was fresh out whenever Peter asked.

Meanwhile, the crumbling cliffs had reached the first few houses at the edge of the village. Peter, who couldn’t help himself, tried again to get those living at the edge of the village to leave. They refused, and, in fact, complained about Peter to the mayor.

After having his tolerance pushed to the limits of what any tolerant person should have to bear, the mayor finally had Peter thrown out of town with his followers. Peter didn’t stop trying, though. From the woods, he convinced a few others in town that leaving was the only chance. These new believers would share this message until they, too, were tossed out.

Eventually, just as Peter had warned, the village and the villagers all fell into the sea.