The two men carefully bend sticks and tie them in place. Held together with scraps of clothing and rags, the sticks create a frame for a tent in the midst of the Gourougou Mountain. Random pieces of tarp tied onto the frame transform into a shelter. Meticulously, with patience to execute it well and urgency because their well-being depended on it, they turn nature’s leftovers and human leftovers into a home. The Land Between, a documentary we’re showing at Highland on Sunday as part of our Moroccan partnership, tells the stories of those who are stuck between the home they have fled and a future they cannot grasp.
I sat in my office as I previewed the film and I marveled at their survival skills, ingenuity, and teamwork. Then I marveled at their suffering and resiliency when the journalist takes us back a few days later to see the bare bones of the shelter. The sticks stand but the tarps so carefully tied have vanished. The men share the story of how the authorities chased them out of the camp and burned all their things.
The journalist leaves the camera unnervingly on the framework of sticks. Hollow. Empty. Bare to the bone. It tells of the death chasing after them AND the life enduring despite it.
It was the kind of movie that, after it was done, I had to escape my office to breathe some air and decompress. I walked with a friend for an afternoon break and we wondered aloud about what is true no matter where we live – Morocco or United States, poor or wealthy, man or woman. We wondered about life’s lessons that speak the same truths even when the circumstances vary.
We wondered about what those lessons are for us as we face change in our ministry staff. My dear friend and colleague shared news this week with our congregation about her call to be senior pastor at a congregation in North Carolina. We’ve been celebrating for her and grieving for us for several months and now we begin the same with the congregation. After watching The Land Between, I can’t help but imagine the frame of sticks with the tarp blown off as I witness members’ faces and words. Exposed to the elements of time and change, they stand vulnerable to the winds that easily touch them deeply without the tarp to block its strength.
Blessed are you, Lord; teach me your statutes. – Psalm 119
It’s run through my mind since Tuesday morning. As part of my morning ritual of reading the lectionary, the phrase stuck out and I simply repeated it and repeated it in my mind as I sat looking out over the day rising. It was on the eve of the unknown while the tarp still remained, but not for long.
Perhaps the most profound lessons come from the moments when life’s circumstances change and we are empty-handed with the framework that remains. The tarps that sheltered us have been set ablaze and we stand vulnerable to life’s ruthless winds. When relationships change and time fades, the statutes remain.
I recognize that the American parenting ideal and marker of success is a shelter in which tarps are never blown off and suffering never takes place. And yet, I walk with enough people in ministry to know that that ideal is not only impossible but it denies the central truth of our faith where to find one’s life is to lose it, to find resurrection is to endure through the cross.
If I hope for anything as a parent, it is that I may do my part in helping my boys build the frame of sticks so that when the tarp flies off, they are still left with that which they need to build again.
For all those things that I do not know, cannot know, and will not know, I cling to the statutes I have been taught through the mystery of lived experience held together with the stories of Jesus and songs of faith… that God comes to us in brokenness, sits with us when we think the world has ended, and then walks us out into the garden.
For the days are surely coming when Love’s statutes and our still inner voices will give way to the kingdom here and now, revealed in Christ, for the glory of the One whose frame is strong enough to withstand life’s most powerful winds.
While I wait for those days to arrive and I walk this Lenten journey, I pause and give thanks for the framework that remains and the endurance that leads to resurrection.