I don’t want a cause.
I don’t want to link to an orphanage in Rwanda or a slum in the Philippines. I don’t want to show you pictures that make you cry, a message that prompts you to dig deeply into your pockets for spare change so you can assuage a sense of neglected duty. I don’t want to reach into your soul and pull at you until you weep for the pain of all that is unjust.
Not that any of those things are bad. Not that we shouldn’t remember all those things or feel the pain of struggle.
A local pastor recently wrote a book on justice.
It’s all the rage. I haven’t read it, but, the ripple effect is rolling through our community.
Earnest faces, eager for purpose, light up as they are faced with gut-wrenching things outside the scope of their personal experience. “Children sold into slavery” is an exceptionally tender topic for us. We must DO something!
In the midst of compassionate outbursts, middle class, comfortable families remain terrified of the homeless man who stands on a corner in faded fatigues and tattered canvas sneakers. As though his very existence is a threat to us. We might be tainted by his filth. Face to face with need. Desperation. The ugliness of sin.
We are awkward. We are foolish. We are frightened.
It’s so easy to feel compassion for those who are suffering because of the inhumane, selfish actions of others. They are victims. We gladly take up that banner and run with it. It satisfies us emotionally. Somehow meets our own unspoken cry for someone to rescue us from the unfairness of life.
It’s harder to find the beauty of a divine creation hidden under the dirt, rotten teeth, sin streaked faces, and broken spirits of those who victimize themselves.
We hesitate to take on the personal risk of being involved with those who suffer under the burden of self-inflicted pain. In the stark reality of those moments our commitment to the cause dissolves and our best excuses fade into the darkness. An inherent sense of self-preservation keeps us safe on leather sofas, drinking red wine, and talking about popular causes to our peers. Afraid to engage with the ugly. The unlovely.
On the second Saturday of most months, when the Rescue Mission’s dingy halls were bathed in cold, flickering, fluorescent light, a family gathered around a rickety piano in a room full of sweat stained men wearing their unlikely survival like a badge of honor. One by one, filing in from that dirty hall and the dormitory.
The price for dinner was a sermon. My dad, in his brown polyester suit and 1980’s glasses, spoke to them of grace and forgiveness. He told them of a kind God who cared about their well-being.
Mom, in her denim skirt and old-fashioned hairdo would plunk away on that cabinet piano while we belted out “I’ll Fly Away” and “Nothing But The Blood”. Oh, our voices were sometimes rough, our harmonies ragged…
My heart would beat a thousand times faster and I’d barely look up from the floor. It was painful to look at those bearded faces and see their pain so much greater than my own and feel helpless.
Sometimes I did look up and out. Beyond myself. When I gathered the courage to meet their blurry eyes, I saw tears.
I’ve performed before large audiences but there has never been an audience more kind, more forgiving, more intent than those broken men. They listened with quiet, rapt attention, with respect and kindness. After the closing prayer, stumbling over almost forgotten words, “Our Father… Who art…”, they would applaud and walk out. Hats in hand, shuffling toward canned beef stew and day old bread. They walked with smiles. Most of them would take the time to shake my dad’s hand, complimenting us on our performance while we shuffled awkwardly and mumbled our thanks.
Near the end of the line came Frank. He was different.
After shaking hands my preacher daddy always seemed withdrawn, serious. On the way home, we’d hear stories of sandlot baseball and a childhood friend. Dredged up memories that always led Dad to the same, quiet reflective statement from behind the wheel, as we nodded off to sleep, hearts soothed and pride inflated by our good deed.
He would tell us, over and over,
“There but for the grace of God, go I. That could be me. Except for God’s intervention in my life, that could be me.”
We had a cause. A cause that faded when no one was looking.
Dad had passion. A brilliant, burning, beautiful passion for those who had forgotten the whsiper of God, if they had ever heard it.
I don’t want a cause. I want Dad’s passion.
Passion drives us when causes are ugly. It coaxes enthusiasm from the embers of exhaustion. It haunts us when we refuse to be bothered any longer by the overwhelming burden of pain and hardship.
Passion is fire, shut up in silent bones, until we burn with either frustration or purpose.
A dedication of that depth doesn’t need a cause and is often limited by the parameters of all things socially acceptable.
We can talk of human trafficking but not the depression and hopelessness in our own home. I can break your heart with tales of child abuse but you leave dry eyed when I tell you I’m tired of living this way and the specter of suicide haunts my thoughts.
I want a passion for people. The pinnacle of God’s creation lying open and filthy in street corners or hiding behind perfect abs and well-packaged children.
It is my hope that the fire which consumes me can be a light to lead and warmth to coldness.
I don’t want a cause.
I want to burn.