A Thousand Hearts

They met back to back at an Indian restaurant in Chicago. He had come from an Anti-Reagan demonstration that was to have ended with Thai food, but at the last-minute it became Indian. She, having arrived unexpectedly from Pakistan just two weeks earlier, had come from signing the lease of a new apartment north of the city. Between saag and naan, ignoring their respective dinner company, they began to talk and realized they had met earlier in the year.

He: A cute grad student at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, majoring in Applied Linguistics with a heart for the world. She: A young nurse, new to the field of nursing and trying to forge her way in a strange country with strange customs. In a week they were old friends. In a month they could not stop thinking about each other. In a year they were in Pakistan for an engagement ceremony that included Muslims – Sunnis, Shias, Ahmadiyyas, and Ismaili; Hindus, and Christians from ethnic groups and areas throughout Pakistan. 200 cups of tea were served along with sweets and savouries amidst the sweet scent of rose garlands and the sentiment of a thousand hearts.

Marriage, Five children, limited cash flow, sleep deprivation, hard work, hard lessons, airline trips, visas, more airline trips, crises, more crises, many moves, even more houses, grace, and humor seemed to follow them wherever they went. As did a thousand hearts.

They celebrated Valentine’s day with Iranian food because ethnic restaurants seem to always have plenty of space and far better service on this day. And because they love Iranian food. It was food fit for a king and queen – kebabs and rice, mast-o-khiar (cucumber yogurt salad) and special tea . Roses came earlier in the day along with the card “At one glance I love you with a thousand hearts”. Later in the evening came her gift to him: “Awkward Family Photos” – it was more than appropriate.

And one thing they knew and continually hold to is this: That every step, every breath, and every heart is a result of God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s grace. They can love with a thousand hearts only because He loves with a million.

Marked With Grace

I have always avoided thinking much about the story of Cain in the Biblical narrative Cain & Abel. Any Sunday schooled child knows the story vaguely but it usually makes its way into the back of the brain accompanied by a yawn and wondering when cookie time will come.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Cain and Abel are asked to bring an offering to God. God was pretty specific about the offering. He tended to be specific in his interactions with people. With the absence of the written word and the not yet fulfilled promise of a Saviour, a “Holy God found it almost impossible to deal with an unholy people“. (paraphrased from Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey) Abel brought a sacrifice of meat, the best of what he had. Cain, who worked the ground, brought vegetables. Seeing that God favored Abel’s offering more than Cain’s was more than Cain could stand and so he murdered his brother. Cain is punished by being banished from all he knew: family, job, community, and security.

Usually stories of Cain are accompanied by a recognition that this is the first murder in a book about people who have all kinds of vices, and a God who loves them in spite of these. Abel is held up as an example, while Cain is put out there as someone “you don’t want to be like”. Just this year, I got a different take on Cain. After speaking with my sister-in-law about a recent sermon that my brother wrote, I went back and read the end of the story.

When banished, Cain cried out to God that it was more than he could bear, he couldn’t handle the punishment. And his cry was heard.  God places a mark on his body, a symbol of protection ensuring no one could hurt this man. Wherever he wandered, the mark would be conspicuous enough to warn others that if they mess with this guy, they are in deep trouble. Not only was it a mark of protection, it was also a mark of grace. God’s grace given to Cain saying “I know this is more than you can bear, so I’ll make it a bit easier.”  He was still banished, he still lost out on the best life could have brought, but the rest of his life he bore a mark of grace.

I don’t think God has stopped putting marks of grace on people. There are moments when I have cried out to God in deep pain and distress saying “This is more than I can bear” and in the midst of this he has said “I know, and I’ll make it a bit easier for you” marking me with grace.

True Grit, God’s Grace & 2011

There is nothing like ringing in the New Year with a Coen brothers film.  True Grit (not the John Wayne True Grit for fans of the 1969 version)  but True Grit 2010 begins with this quote:

There is nothing free in this world.  You must pay for everything in this world one way or another.  There is nothing free with the exception of God’s grace

And with that opening the viewer is treated to a raw and great film where Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old, goes to make the man who killed her father pay in this world.  She is determined and not ready to forgive and give grace to this crime – forgiveness is for the divine.   What she wants is someone with ‘true grit’ who can go capture him and bring him to justice.  This she finds in the person of Rooster Cogburn.   As the movie moves forward Rooster Cogburn is clearly not the only one who shows grit – Mattie is right up there with him.

In recent years I have come to respect and sometimes even love the Coen brothers films feeling they have some good theology to offer.  So much so that Christmas a year ago my son, who majored in film, gave me the book “The Dude Abides:The Gospel according to the Coen Brothers”. In this film I love the character of Mattie and the theology she lives by as a 14-year-old.   She has a purpose and she is going to fulfill that purpose with true grit and God’s grace.  She never deviates from this.

It is at the same time challenging and appealing to picture going into 2010 with true grit and God’s grace.  So I offer the challenge here and say:

Happy New Year – Go with Grit and Grace!