Guest Post by Kent Annan
The rain roars down. That season has arrived. The rain might as well be tears, drenching hundreds of thousands of people in tents and under tarps [after the earthquake here in Haiti].
I’m back staying with the Woshdlo family [I used to live with] as I check on the rebuilding progress in our nearby schools. The family is all in one home talking and telling stories while waiting out heavy rain. The provisional house is holding. Père, the grandfather, comes and goes in these times. He won’t sit for too long. Having lived on this plot of land for sixty-seven years, he is long past letting rain paralyze him, even if he understands that the rest of his extended family prefers to stay dry.
Eventually he comes to get me. It’s late and everyone is ready to sleep. Though I could find my own way, Père wants to escort me to the little room in the provisional tin house where I’ll sleep.
We slog together through mud and water at least a foot deep. It’s slippery, so I lose and then retrieve a flip-flop a few times. Occasional lightning makes the path clear. We arrive at the little porch of the house and I’m getting ready to go in when Père stoops down to where he had put a bucket of water. Suddenly my foot is cradled in his hand and he’s gently washing off the mud.
I protest. No, I’ll do it. No, please don’t, Père. But there’s something holy about it. Of course I think of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and their protesting. I’m humbled to silence. Père isn’t doing this because he’s subservient or feels like he has to. For more than seven years I’ve watched his humility, generosity and kindness.
The fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22 have seemed too soft and too reinforcing of the status quo to me since realizing what the world is like. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” is a great list, but not enough. It should also include, based on other parts of the Bible, “risky compassion, discomfort with the comfortable, defiance in the face of injustice.” Read in a middle-class church, the original list can just strengthen self-satisfaction and complacency. Sure, it’s not easy to be all those things in your marriage or with colleagues or neighbors, but it’s a lot easier than giving up what I have to engage with people who are poor or challenging the very systems that help make life good for my family. The fruit of the Spirit—the fruit of being shaped to be more like Jesus—has to be more revolutionary.
I think about how I’m supposed to follow Jesus to love more—but then of course here I am, humbled and being loved far more than I can love. In thirty years, when I’m Père’s age, I hope I’ve become a little of the man he is. I look up to him in every way. I balance now on my clean foot just inside the doorway as he washes the mud covering my other foot.
He is full of dignity, confidence, stubbornness. He gets angry and yells at himself or just in general or occasionally at the grandkids when they’re disobedient—but always still with a twinkle in his eye.
I don’t want my soul shaped by the market or the latest technology or pride. I don’t want my ambition or my fears to shape me. I want to make a difference and support the right causes, but they’re not enough either.
Let the philosophers and scientists and skeptics mock; even though I’d like to be more sophisticated—and it is more complex than this— I’ll just say what’s true as I’m here in the rain with Père: I believe in Jesus in part because Père believes. And I even believe in that revolutionary kingdom that Jesus says has come and is coming in and around us.
The same was true many a morning at 5 a.m., when only the roosters and Père were awake and I laid in bed in this house listening for an hour as Père prayed to God, asking for his provision (even for me and my family) but mostly thanking God in prayer and in song.
Photo Credit: Peter Burgess, Creative Commons