Telling the Stories that Matter: April 27 – Toyohiko Kagawa, Poet, Pacifist, Friend of the Poor

When Toyohiko Kagawa was asked to come and speak to the seminarians at Princeton–one of his alma maters–he went willingly and eagerly. Toyohiko had been displeased with much of his own seminary experience because he found that the students there were far more interested in arguments, rhetoric, persuasion, and the fine points of doctrine and textual study. He repeatedly begged them simply to live out what Jesus had taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He knew he was asking for much of the seminarians but he hoped that they would–as far as people go–be the most likely to answer a call to genuinely and sincerely practiced allegiance to Jesus as Lord and Savior. When he finished speaking to the assembled Princetonians he accepted some questions and then dismissed them quietly and gathered his things from the podium. As he was doing so, two of the seminarians turned to each other in their seats and discussed his lecture.

One insisted that it had not been quite what they had expected from a man who was so well respected around the seminary. Turning to his friend, he quipped, “He didn’t have much to say, did he?”They shared their own little laugh knowing that they were better educated than Toyohiko but not knowing that they were still fools. Both of them had heard of his background and how he had been the illegitimate child of a powerful Japanese man and a geisha. He was hated by his mother and liked by his father but soon both his mother and father had died and he was orphaned. He was given over as the ward of the widowed wife of his father. She and her mother struggled not to resent little Toyohiko because it had not been his decision to be a child of infidelity but they failed in their struggle and Toyohiko knew he was hated by them. They sent him away to a boarding school. He began attending a bible study given by a Christian minister so that he could learn and practice his English. Yet while he was learning the language, he was hearing and considering the truths and teachings of the Faith of the minister. When he was a teenager, he converted to the Christian Faith that had gripped him by the heart over a long time of reflection and meditation. Soon after this conversion he knew clearly that he would be a minister of the Gospel that had spoken to him when he had walked in darkness, desperation, and death.

Though they didn’t seem to prize it, those two young seminarians knew that after receiving more education in preparation for the calling he was already living into, Toyohiko had stepped out in faith and moved into the Shinkawa district of Kobe. These slums were some of the worst–if not the absolute worst–in all of Japan. He lived in a three-walled dwelling so filthy and small (only six feet wide by six feet long) that it would be an overstatement to call it a shack. For nearly fifteen years he tended to the sick, suffering, hungry, poor, and dying in Shinkawa. Toyohiko was able to make a little money (not nearly as much as he would have been able to if he had moved out of Shinkawa, though) but he spent it all on medicine, food, and clothing for those who came to him asking for it. He was regularly abused and beaten for his love and compassion. At one point, a band of thugs accosted him knowing him as an “easy mark” who would give over anything to them not out of fear but out of love. They demanded his clothing and mentioned that they knew he was a Christian. He took off his clothing and handed it over to the criminals and they walked away with filthy rags and an increasing awareness of the goodness of Toyohiko’s God and their own inherent sinfulness shown by their willingness to beat and strip a poor and loving man in the slums.

Those two young seminarians probably had no idea that Toyohiko had spent nearly every night for nearly fifteen years tending for the sick and homeless in his own meager dwelling. He gave over his bed to the sick and filthy people he loved and slept in the cold with little to protect himself from the elements. He gave over his food and drink with such regularity that he was regularly ill from hunger. He did not have intense theological debates but he regularly lived out the teachings of Jesus in a way that granted him an inherent understanding of the Gospel that Jesus brought into this world. Every night for four years he held the hand of a murderer as that murderer drifted off into a fitful sleep in Toyohiko’s own bed. The murderer could not bear what he had done any longer but Toyohiko still spoke of forgiveness to and refused to abandon the poor man who feared isolation and judgment. He organized workers in the slums and shipyards all while fighting for increased voting rights in Japan. Eventually, he was arrested and held in prison for two particular crimes: 1) he organized the voiceless so that they might speak in unison to those with power and be heard, and 2) he apologized to the Chinese for the Japanese occupation of portions of China. Toyohiko’s commitment to peace–one he felt compulsory for all who hoped to follow Jesus even if it cost them their lives–made him a dangerous criminal in the eyes of Japan.

Perhaps the two young seminarians knew that a terrible earthquake hit Tokyo and Yokohama in 1923. The ruins of those cities were flooded with the sick, suffering, hungry, poor, and dying. The government was overwhelmed by the need and was uninitiated into taking care of its citizens since it had been so long practicing power and control and forsaking compassion and mercy. So they came to Toyohiko in prison and released him. They knew he had made a difference in the lives of those needing help and they also knew that it was Toyohiko who would be able to do it again. They made him Chief of Social Welfare and offered him a home and a sizable salary. He rejected them and insisted that he could neither help the poor from a position of comfort nor allow his Christian duty to be purchased. He slowly helped rebuild cities devastated by earthquake, neglect, and need. For this he was lauded and honored even as he insisted that he was only doing the bare minimum of what God had called him to do.

As the two seminarians continued to share their own criticism of Toyohiko they ignored that Toyohiko was struggling to see the steps he was trying to descend. He had acquired a serious eye disease because of his practices of offering hospitality even in the slums. Those he lived with were sick and soon so was Toyohiko. As the two men missed the point of all they had heard and continued to pass the drug of intelligent pride back and forth an elderly lady overheard them and interrupted them. She leaned forward to interject one simple sentence into their conversation while pointing at Toyohiko as he carefully descended the stairs: “You don’t need to say much when you’re hanging on a cross.”

from Blogger

Telling the Stories that Matter: April 20 – Justin Martyr, Martyr, Apologist, “Samaritan”

Justin Martyr was born in a place known as Flavia Neapolis some 70 miles away from Jerusalem. But he was thoroughly influenced by the Greeks and Romans in his birth, childhood, and upbringing. Evidently his family was of some influence and considerable wealth because he had the relative luxury of an education in a time when education was a nice thing largely available only to the wealthy and powerful. He excelled in his studies and moved on to study philosophy in an anxious pursuit of wisdom and truth. He professed to be a lover of wisdom but at times it must have been easier to believe he was a lover of the comfort and security that money and education afforded him. Justin sought truth but found it nowhere that he looked until a Christian–one of those that Rome abhorred and detested–began to speak with him about the faith that he or she professed. Justin asked his questions and wondered openly if it might not be the case that this Jesus was right when he claimed to be “The Truth.” As he studied the faith of the Christians more and more he found himself falling further and further into the grips of a faith that enlivened and comforted him in ways that influence, money, and acclaim could not. Soon, he became a convert and made it well known to his colleagues, peers, and students that he was no longer on a philosophical quest to find truth because he had met “The Truth.”

He identified himself in his numerous writings as a Samaritan even though he was most definitely a Roman citizen and he had been raised to serve and follow the gods of his father and his father’s father. Perhaps he identified himself as a Samaritan because he knew that in his faith he was the unlikely heir of the covenant promised to Abraham and others. He knew that he had been grafted into a story that was not his own but was, in fact, a story that ended in redemption and resurrection. Thus, he was an outsider who had been loved and cared for by Jesus and and he was an outsider that was on the route that led to salvation and healing. Or, perhaps, he identified himself as a Samaritan because he longed to live into the role of the Good Samaritan that Jesus had talked about. Perhaps Justin hoped to go where others refused to go to be with those the world rejected so that he might find Christ among the stranger and refugee. Regardless, he continued living a life of a philosopher and rhetorician but his speech turned to a testimony of what God had done in Jesus and what God wanted to do in the lives of those who heard Justin’s words.

Given the incredible position that Justin had within Roman society he began to deliver the Gospel to ears that might never have heard it. He argued that while Rome was killing Christians it was missing the point and pronouncing Christians evil while being seduced to do so by evil itself. He insisted that Christians were not evil and were, in fact, following after “The Truth” even while others failed to see it. Eventually he was arrested for having the audacity to say such things as: “We pray for our enemies; we seek to persuade those who hate us without cause to live conformably to the goodly precepts of Christ, that they may become partakers with us of the joyful hope of blessings from God, the Lord of all.” and “Wherein is it possible for us, wicked and impious creatures, to be justified, except in the only Son of God? O sweet reconciliation! O untraceable ministry! O unlooked-for blessing! that the wickedness of many should be hidden in one godly and righteous man, and the righteousness of one justify a host of sinners!”

Finally, those whom he preached to brought him to trial with other soon-to-be martyrs. The prefect said to them, “Sacrifice to the gods or you will be mercilessly tortured.”

Justin replied, “Nobody in their right mind would give up faith for apostasy and your merciless torture is what we desire because it leads to our salvation and gives us confidence to face a greater trial–the judgment to which all men will come before our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Then he joined with the others to be martyrs and invited the Romans to do whatever it was that they desired since they professed the Christian faith and refused to become apostates and sacrifice to the idols. So, they were tortured mercilessly and finally beheaded as an example to the Roman citizens of how evil the Christians were and how good the Romans were.

from Blogger

Telling the Stories that Matter: April 15 – Damien of Moloka’i, Priest, Missionary, Leper

The kingdom of Hawaii had one particular advantage when it came to the spread of disease since they were a chain of islands they were quarantined from the rest of the world. Of course, this boon carried a danger with it: the inhabitants were especially susceptible to infection and disease when ships began bringing more and more merchants to the Hawaiian islands. The influx of commerce and foreign visitors was accompanied by crippling outbreaks of influenza that weakened and killed many. But whereas influenza was a fast killer and survivors were able to develop a fairly sufficient immunity in a little while, there was another disease that proved to be a slow and torturous killer. This killer was “Hansen’s Disease” but it is also known as leprosy and those who contracted it were known as lepers. It was hard to hide and soon the king–Kamehameha the Fifth–decided to quarantine those affected to protect the rest of his people. They were forcibly detained and sent to live on the island of Moloka’i at a place called Kalaupapa. Contrary to common assumptions, leprosy does not cause body parts to fall off and isn’t especially contagious but it does cause extensive nerve damage and can cause permanent damage to the skin, eyes, and lungs. The other–perhaps intentionally forgotten–damage it does is the relationships it crushes by fear of contagion and threat of quarantine.

Damien de Veuster had been ordained a priest in Belgium but due to the coaxing of his brother he became interested in becoming a missionary. He became determined to travel abroad in service of the Church when it was determined that his brother would be unable to go himself. Damien stepped into the opportunity and was sent to Hawaii shortly before the outbreak of leprosy there. The lepers had been sent to their isolated place and given little in supplies, though, and Damien began to worry for them. They had been given some help in growing their own food–having been fully divorced from their land and people–but this support also proved to be insufficient. They were disconnected from those they loved and made to feel as if the world didn’t want to–couldn’t afford to–associate with them. There wasn’t any semblance of community and the 816 lepers outcast to Moloka’i fended for themselves. Damien couldn’t stand their abandonment and petitioned the vicar to be sent to them as their priest. The vicar made sure that Damien knew he was likely signing his own death warrant but Damien insisted and was sent by boat to the people. By becoming one of them, he was effectively exiling himself as he would no longer be able to leave once he lived among them. He went without hesitation for his Lord had called him to take up his cross and follow. In this case, it meant going to Moloka’i.

Damien built a church with the help of the lepers there and organized them into a community around himself. He treated their pains and lesions with his own hands. He conducted services of worship. He heard confessions and gave spiritual direction to the willing. He built furniture and homes. He painted houses to give their place another measure of comfort. He built coffins, dug graves, and performed funerals. In short, he became a devoted member and leader in the community at Moloka’i. Because of his involvement, the people gathered around him and joined together as one people to share in their suffering and carry each other’s burdens. Because of his leadership they were able to work together to sow and reap crops each year and sustain themselves in their exile. One night he went to soak his feet in hot water–as he did every night after a hard day’s work–and was frightened to find that he could not feel the heat of the water. He had contracted the disease but he kept it as his secret for a little while he worked hard to prepare the citizens of his community to go on without him when he was forced to leave them by death. As he got more and more sick the Church sent three people to take over his duties and one to care for him as he died. They carried on his legacy of love and compassion while he slipped out of this life and into the arms of the Lord who had called him from before time began. Damien died on the fifteenth day of April in the year 1889 after serving the people the world wanted to forget for over sixteen years. He was buried where he belonged: Moloka’i.

from Blogger

Telling the Stories that Matter: April 12 – Isaac the Syrian, Abbot of Spoleto, Intuitive, Man of Prayer

The monks must have balked at first at Isaac’s strange instructions–did he really think it was wise to leave their gardening tools out in the garden at night?“Surely,” they said one to another, “he must know that thieves will come and steal them.” But Isaac’s story had earned their obedience even if it seemed a ridiculous instruction that almost certainly meant trying to garden without their tools in the days to come. They did as they were instructed because they had grown to trust Isaac completely and had, in fact, left their previous lives behind simply to be his disciple after hearing stories about him. Many of them had first heard of Isaac shortly after his arrival in Spoleto, Italy. He had traveled from far away and when he arrived he requested from the local officials at the cathedral that he be allowed to stay in the cathedral as long as necessary to make his prayers and to give thanks to God. When they consented, he went about his prayers with a fervor that was at first charming but grew tiring for the men in charge of the upkeep of the building. When he had been there for nearly sixty hours, one of the men had had enough of what he believed to be Isaac’s hypocrisy. The man reasoned that Isaac was attempting to gain favor with other worshipers by faking a devout prayer life all while keeping a roof over his head. So, the man approached Isaac to tell him to leave and not to pester anyone else.

With venom on his tongue, he harassed Isaac and told him to move one. But, Isaac continued in his prayers. So, the man struck him on the side of the face and knocked Isaac to the floor. The man was suddenly seized by an unclean spirit that took advantage of his spiritually weakened state and his sin against his brother. Under the conviction of God and having been driven to the floor by the unclean spirit, the man begged Isaac to drive the spirit out of him and grant him forgiveness. Isaac said nothing, continued his prayers, and leaned over the stricken man. In an instant the man was delivered from the spirit and from his sin and offered his heartfelt gratitude to Isaac as Isaac continued to pray. This story spread quickly and soon Isaac was deluged by people seeking not only to learn from him but to give him money, possessions, and land to build a monastery. Isaac politely refused all these offers and when asked why he responded, “A monk who acquires possessions is no longer a monk.”He left Spoleto behind and moved into a nearby wilderness to build a small cell and take up the devoted prayer life of a hermit. In his wake came those who were willing to cast aside all things to gain what it was that Isaac already seemed to have–an intimate connection with the God that others just seemed to talk about.

So, the monks under his care went to sleep that night confident that their tools would be gone in the morning. Indeed, shortly after they had all fallen asleep, thieves scaled the walls of the monastery and began the task of gathering up the gardening tools. But, as each man picked up a spade he felt a heaviness upon his heart concerning their plan to pilfer the monks’ livelihood. So, one by one they decided to finish the work that the monks had started before leaving with the tools. In the morning, Isaac gathered the monks and asked them to prepare a breakfast feast for some unexpected guests from the produce in their garden. When the monks went to the garden, though, they found the thieves still working and were amazed at the wonderful care that each man had taken in tending the garden. As the thieves and the monks stared at each other in surprise, Isaac entered the garden and began gathering produce while inviting the thieves to sit at the table and join in their feast. Each thief and each monk ate his fill and enjoyed the fellowship of one another. As the meal finished, Isaac spoke to the guests. He didn’t shame or guilt them but he simply encouraged the men to leave their lives of theft behind. He invited them to join with the monks in prayer whenever they wanted to do so and then he gave them each permission to come and harvest as much as they liked from the garden any time they were hungry. Many of the thieves left their sin behind while some were converted and even joined the monastery. Isaac had simply followed after his Lord Jesus and offered grace and mercy to any who would have it.

from Blogger

Telling the Stories that Matter: April 9 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martyr, Pastor, Enemy of the State

Dietrich Bonhoeffer must have known that he was living on borrowed time as he sat in his cell and wrote letters to his family. Yes, he seemed to be lucky in that he was being held in a military prison to await trial instead of being held in a concentration camp to await certain death. But, Dietrich knew well that martyrdom awaited him at the end of the story. He had been arrested by the Gestapo because of his involvement with the German military intelligence organization Abwehr and the bitter feud between the two agencies. Even though Dietrich knew he had been plotting together with others to assassinate Adolf Hitler, the Gestapo had failed to demonstrate that in their raids upon Abwehr offices. Instead, they had arrested him only on charges of evading conscription, resistance to Nazi decree, and speaking in public although previously forbidden to do so. But, Dietrich had to know that eventually they would find proof of his involvement in plots to assassinate Hitler and that, when they did, their retribution would be swift and brutal. So Dietrich, pastor in the Confessing Church of Germany and enemy of the State, waited in his cell and tried to encourage his brothers and sisters in the faith with the letters he was still allowed to send.

His involvement in the resistance movement to the Nazis must have been a surprise to him upon reflection. He had received an excellent education in theology and philosophy and his doctoral thesis was described by none other than eminent theologian Karl Barth as a “theological miracle.”He could have had an academic career of considerable influence and relative safety had he wanted it. But, he had become gloriously entangled in the struggles and causes of the faithful Church in Germany as Hitler rose to power in the 1930s. So, instead of becoming a pastor or professor of safety and regard, he became a vocal opponent of Nazism in his homeland. Though he had to do it alone at first, Dietrich was more than willing to cry out against the injustices that Hitler and the Nazis were perpetrating against our Jewish brothers and sisters as well as the disenfranchised and undesirables.While other ministers were advocating measured ministry to the downtrodden injured by Nazi fanaticism, Dietrich was being cut off the radio and forbidden to speak in public for uttering lines such as “[We must not simply] bandage the victims under the wheel, but jam the spoke in the wheel itself.”

For a little while he escaped to the United States of America but his heart stayed in Germany. He spent time with Reinhold Niebuhr and developed a particular fondness for African American spirituals. Even though he worked tirelessly to resist Hitler’s advances in Germany from afar he soon realized that he was not called to escape Germany’s struggles but, instead, to be in the midst of them. Before departing, he wrote a letter to Niebuhr that included the following passage:

“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people… Christians in Germany will have to face the

terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.”

So, Dietrich returned and joined with the Abwehr to plot the death of Hitler and, hopefully, the consequent destruction of the Nazi German war machine. Though he was an avowed pacifist, Dietrich felt that there was no other choice but to seek the death of Hitler because of the great evil he was perpetrating. It seems that, although he struggled with the decision, Dietrich had decided to act in a way he felt to be wrong because of the horrible consequences of not doing so. He wrote, “when a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it…Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace.” In these words, his struggle with the assassination plot is evident–this was no easy decision.

Eventually, Dietrich’s sedition was discovered and he was transferred from the military prison through a series of other prisons before arriving in concentration camps first at Buchenwald and second at Flossenbürg. When the diaries of the head of Abwehr were discovered, on April 4, 1954, and the plot to assassinate Hitler was revealed, Hitler ordered the immediate execution of all those involved in the plot. This included Dietrich Bonhoeffer. An impromptu court-martial was held at Flossenbürg and Dietrich was condemned to die on April 8.At dawn on April 9, he was marched naked to the gallows where he stopped to pray for himself and for his enemies. His captors had decided to engineer his hanging so as not to break his neck but rather to slowly strangle him to death. Dietrich died with a prayer upon his lips and his compete trust placed in the grace and mercy of God. Three weeks later, the Soviet army liberated Berlin and Hitler committed suicide. One week after that, Germany capitulated.

from Blogger

Telling the Stories that Matter: April 5 – The Resurrection

Early on the first day of the week–when it was still dark and the sun had not yet risen–Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and discovered that the stone they had rolled over the tomb to seal it had been rolled away. It was a big stone so she was convinced that some treacherous conspiracy was afoot. She ran and found Peter and John and said to them, “Somebody has taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb and I have no idea where they’ve gone with it!” Peter and John left immediately and ran to the tomb to see for themselves. John ran faster and go there first to see that the linen burial wrappings were still there but he didn’t go in until Peter arrived and they could go in together. They examined the cloth wrappings–how they had been carefully rolled up and placed on the burial pallet. Though they didn’t quite understand yet, the seeds of faith and redemption had further been sown within their hearts in that dark tomb. So, they returned to their homes because they didn’t know what to do next.

Mary, however, stayed at the tomb and wept because of her sadness. As she wept she slumped down in grief but when she looked up she saw two angels in the tomb who were dressed in white. They were sitting on the place where Jesus had been laid. They said to her, “Why do you weep?”

She responded, “Somebody has taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb and I have no idea where they’ve gone with it!” As soon as the words left her mouth she felt compelled to turn around–almost like she felt somebody watching her–and when she did she saw Jesus standing there but she was unaware that it was him.

Jesus said to her, “Why do you weep? What did you expect to find here?”

Still not recognizing him Mary assumed he must be the garden keeper and so she said to him, “Sir, if you’re the one who has moved him then just tell me where he is and I’ll go and get him.”

Jesus said one–and only one–word: “Mary.”

As the word left his mouth she suddenly recognized him and cried out in a mixture of surprise and joy. She cried out to him, “Teacher!” and embraced him.

“Don’t hold on to me just now, Mary, because there’s still work to be done” he began, “but, instead, go to my brothers and say to them, “Jesus is ascending to the Father–our Father. He is ascending to God–our God.” So, Mary went and told the disciples all that had happened and what Jesus had said to her.
That evening the disciples–except Thomas–had all gathered together in one place to be with each other and to talk about what had happened not only the last few days but also earlier that morning. They had locked the doors because tensions were still high with the crucifixion of Jesus and they knew that their names were being mentioned by the powerful as trouble-makers and potential problems. Jesus came into the room–without opening the door–and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Having said this, he showed them the wounds in his hands and in his side. The disciples burst out in joyful noise and tried to wrap their minds around the great thing that God had worked out of tragedy and despair.

Jesus continued, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then he did something amazing. He breathed out onto them and as his breath settled on them he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Know that if you forgive the sins of anybody then they are truly forgiven but if you choose to retain them, then they are retained.” Having given them this powerful responsibility and obligation, he left them for a little while.

The other disciples went and told Thomas all about what they had seen and what Jesus had said to them but he found it hard to believe that Jesus could have risen from the dead. He insisted that he would only believe it when he could feel the wounds on his body and place his hands upon them. The one who had said, “Come, let us go with him that we might die as well” now found it hard to believe in a gospel of resurrected life. So it was a week later when the disciples gathered and Thomas joined them. Although the door was shut, Jesus came in and stood among them repeating, “Peace be with you.” He knew what Thomas claimed he needed and so he said to Thomas, “Here. Put your finger where the nails scarred my hands and put your hand where the spear pierced my side. You don’t need to doubt. Trust me.”

Thomas fell to his knees and exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus smiled and, with love in his words, he asked, “Do you trust me because you have seen me with your own eyes?” Then, continuing, he said, “Surely those who have not seen me and yet trust me are blessed.”

from Blogger

One Night

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The good news of what God is doing in our world rings out most clearly and resonantly in the places of lack, loss, failure, and weakness. After all, God has always had a way with the wilderness and seems committed not just to forgiving sins, but also to cultivating life in desert places. Yet, I must confess that most months I’d rather tell you stories about the flowers than the sand or the heat. I’m tempted to tell you only the “good” stories or stories of “success.” But some of you remind me that you want to hear the “hard” stories, too. You want to visit the wilderness and I suspect that it’s because you know that God is hiding there, too, and is less obscured where confidence cannot venture. So, this month I’m taking a chance and writing this story long held close to my heart for fear of sharing.

One night over a year ago, shortly before evening prayer, Mason became a part of our household and moved into our hospitality room. It had been a long time since he had had shelter and we were enthusiastic (and scared) about sharing life with him in the way of hospitality and community. Our household, both families, had committed ourselves to the practice of hospitality in whatever way God was leading, but this was our first time welcoming a brother or sister into our hospitality room for a long-term stay. Mason had finally had enough and was eagerly pursuing his sobriety after a three day stay in rehab. He was also working on getting his identification and important documents gathered up in order to better support himself. For several months, Mason made us glad to be practicing hospitality, even if occasional messes, cigarette butts, and a faucet left on overnight tried our patience.

But one night broke that relationship in ways that we couldn’t immediately figure out how to repair. It was a night filled with a relapse, broken promises and broken glass, frantic phone calls, a few threats and hurtful lies, and a set of stitches. A couple of us took Mason to a hotel while the community broke its schedule to begin praying earnestly for wisdom and grace. There in the parking lot of a hotel two miles away and across a river from our home, we argued. I vented my disappointment into the April cool night and asked Mason if he was sorry. He wouldn’t—maybe couldn’t—say it and I still don’t know precisely why I wanted to hear it or what I thought it would accomplish. Mason didn’t have much new to say, but he was eager to walk back some of the kind things he had said over the previous months. Like a boxer dropping his guard to court a punch, he baited me with hurtful words.

I’ve thought about that moment numerous times since then and how I shivered not from the cold, but with a strange mixture of disappointment, guilt, and anger. Maybe Mason baited me with those words because he felt guilty and thought he would feel better if I hurt him back, or maybe Mason wanted to know if I’d meant it when I’d told him time and again that we loved him. Maybe he wondered in that moment if our relationship could be stitched back together, too.

But, I took the bait and harangued him for his relapse, all the while harboring the feeling that we had disappointed God with our hospitality gone sour.

Mason stayed in the hotel for three or four nights and tried to decide if he was ready to recommit to life in community and his pursuit of sobriety. Meanwhile, the community prayed about what to do if he said yes. At the end of the hotel stay, the community had decided to offer him a room in a different house if Mason thought he was ready. But, Mason decided that he wasn’t. To be honest, I was relieved because I wasn’t sure I had it in me to walk with Mason again if he said he was. Mason didn’t think he was ready to return to life in community, and I wasn’t sure I was ready, either. I wondered if I ever had been in the first place.

Mason found a couch to crash on whose rent could be paid in full bottles and cans, while we tried to dig out from under what felt like failure. We’ve learned over the last several years that doing our kind of work means hearing a repeated chorus of promised failure from a wide variety of people. Opening our homes and extra beds to people without shelter has also meant opening ourselves to criticism that what we’re doing isn’t practical. Inviting hungry people to our tables for meals has also meant inviting the scrutiny of well-meaning folks who want us to be more efficient at the cost of intimacy. Living in community and practicing hospitality has meant that there are many who love what we’re doing, but also many who are waiting for us to fail. “See,” I imagined them saying, “we told you it was a bad idea.”

But, to call our time with Mason a failure is once again to be baited by a lie.

Mason was with us for several months before that one terrible night and to call our hospitality failed is to profane that sacred time when we learned that Mason was our family and Mason found peace in the midst of chaos. To give into the temptation to render Mason into one night of glass and stitches—to call it all a failure—is to mangle the image of God still imprinted on Mason’s gentle heart and forget the laughter, love, and resurrection celebrated on our front porch and over countless episodes of Frasier and the Munsters. As one dear friend reminds me, “The story’s not about the results. It never is.”

Mason doesn’t live with us anymore, but for a little while he did and we are better for it. Over a dozen months later, we can see that we’re even better because of that hard night when we learned that hospitality isn’t a good deed, but a way of life where everybody’s health and sickness is wrapped up together under one roof to be healed by God’s love. If you want to call that a failure, think again about what you mean when you say you believe in the resurrection.

Mason stays in one of the other Grace and Main homes these days, having started coming back to meals and occasional prayers some time ago. He’s not “better”—this isn’t that kind of story—but he’s welcome. We still argue occasionally and there are days when one of us avoids the other, but a few months ago, Mason opened up the road to healing for all of us.

“You know, living with yall was good,” he began as I was dropping him off somewhere, “I’m not going to say I’m sorry for what happened, but I’m sorry I wasn’t there when the baby was born.”

“Me too,” I offered.

“But, you know I love you guys, right?” he asked with the hope of healing in his questioning tone.

“Yes,” I responded, though sometimes I wondered. I continued, “You know we love you too, right?”

“Yeah. I know you do,” he replied, though I’m sure sometimes he wonders, before continuing, “It was a good time.”

He’s right about that. It was a good time.

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