Baltimore. All the reasons Baltimore makes sense. All the false portrayals of Baltimore. The deepening understanding that I cannot trust news sources to tell the truth.
Nepal. The fact that I feel entirely incapacitated in terms of participating in the flourishing of Nepal. The fact that I feel exactly like I did after Haiti. The fact that this was not the first and is far from the last natural disaster to somehow target vulnerable people.
Burundi. All the ways Burundi reminds me of Rwanda. All the ways I promised my adolescent self that I would never be as inactive or inattentive as I was in highschool when Rwanda turned on herself...but here I am, attentive but not sure what “active” means for a pacifist who believes her government usually makes things worse when they come in with force as a white savior in a foreign place we haven’t bothered to understand…
And then - paling in comparison but haunting me all the same - there’s the work right in front of me. Being a neighborhood church planter (though, cultivator seems more accurate a word to me). It’s deeply good work and I love it. But it’s incredibly slow work with as many ups and downs as the beautiful place we’re cultivating church in.
And small and slow as church is, it becomes even harder to ask and answer the real question of this morning: how - beyond social media slactivism - does a (very) small church in north Everett, WA live love, justice, and liberation in light of and in partnership with our brothers, sisters, and global neighbors in Baltimore, Nepal, and Burundi?
As with the view in Everett, it’s the Olympic mountains - that give way to the depths of the Puget Sound - that gives rise to the waterfront - followed by hills - that move east of us into valleys - and then on to the foothills - and finally the Cascades that conspire to trap you in awe and steal your breath away. In church planting (read: cultivation) and in working toward God’s kingdom of liberating love and justice: It is the constant stark changes in elevation that gestates both the beauty and exhaustion in traversing the unscripted terrain.
And this morning I’m feeling like I’m east of town in the flat valleys with aching legs trying to climb back up to Rucker hill.
I am having a failure of hope kind of morning. My imagination for the future is blocked up by fear, doubt, and the things right in front of me. I need help this morning to remember that - even in the valley - the God of the mountains is at work bringing new life from the fertile low-lying soil.
And this is why I need Isaiah. Isaiah, in chapter 65, spoke hope to a people so deservedly amid a failure of hope that it wasn’t just a morning but a deep and lasting mourning. They had lost their imagination for hope so Isaiah, listening to the voice of the God who is lovingly there on mountains and valleys, spoke hope. He asked them to dream of a new Jerusalem. He cultivated a space where they could step into God’s dream of a new Jerusalem and scavenge enough hope to keep working toward it. I need Isaiah. But I need Isaiah for Baltimore. For Nepal. For Burundi. For north Everett.
So, this is why I’ve made these madlibs out of Isaiah’s work. It’s a somewhat playful invitation to imagine what Isaiah’s voice of impossible hope might sound like where and when you are. Sometimes we all have a failure of hope. Sometimes our imaginations for the future are blocked. Sometimes we need a worksheet as though we were third graders with homework to do before we can turn on the wii to slow us down, paint a picture, and make us scavenge just enough hope to keep working toward God’s commonwealth of liberating love and justice.
Applied to all stories blocking my imagination this morning, Isaiah’s wolf and lamb tells me that one great day: Police and street organizations in Baltimore will feast together. In Nepal - and everywhere - one day the earth and those of us who live on her will stop harming one another. In Burundi: Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa people will feast and then drum and dance together in that exuberant fashion I’ve only seen friends each of those people groups dance and drum.
And one day, there will be a group of us here in Everett - across socioeconimic stratuses, genders, races, sexualities, political parties, theological leanings, ages, housing situations etc. sharing a table as we remember the God of mountains and valleys who spent a couple days below the ground before lifting us all up to heaven. And at this table, we will share bread and wine (and gluten free wafers and juice, let’s be inclusive) saying: “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” and “The blood of Christ, the cup of liberation.”
This is Isaiah’s gift to me by way of a silly little madlib on a cloudy morning.
I hope that if/when you/your community has one of these kinds of days/weeks/years/seasons maybe this resource can help unblock your imagination and remind us all that the God of the mountains is growing nourishing produce in the soil of the valleys.
Take and use this resource as you feel lead - and please share back what happens! Some friends near Denver used it this weekend and hearing from them has been a bit of the voice of Isaiah into my morning.