A World Without Collisions
One of the most astonishing plays I have seen is South African Athol Fugard's apartheid-era "Master Harold" And The Boys. The play is a conversation between young "Hally," a seventeen year old son of white privilege, and Sam and Willie, two black waiters at Hally's family's tea room who are preparing for the 1950 Eastern Province Open Ballroom Dancing Championships. Hally, intrigued by this "quaint" display of community and pride, decides to write an essay for his English class on the competition. Trying to understand the complicated scoring for the contest, he asks: "Say you stumble or bump into somebody ...do they take off any points?"
Sam and Willie laugh.
"There's no collisions out there, Hally," Sam tells the boy. "Nobody trips or stumbles or bumps into anybody else. That's what that moment is all about. To be one of those finalists on that dance floor is like...like being in a dream about a world in which accidents don't happen."
Hally, clearly admiring Sam's sudden poetic outburst, exclaims: "Sam! That's beautiful!"
"Of course it is," rejoins Sam. "And it's beautiful because that is what we want life to be like. But instead, like you said, Hally, we're bumping into each other all the time....None of us knows the steps and there's no music playing. And it doesn't stop with us. The whole world is doing it all the time. America has bumped into Russia, England is bumping into India, rich man bumps into poor man. Those are big collisions, Hally. They make for a lot of bruises. People get hurt in all that bumping, and we're sick and tired of it now. It's been going on for too long. Are we never going to get it right?...Learn to dance life like champions instead of always being just a bunch of beginners at it?"
Sam's yearnings shake me to the bone. Our world—so painfully, obviously broken—is, at times, more than I can bear. I yearn to transcend it, to foil and defeat it; to live for one moment unfettered by the chains of our frailty and sin.
And the Gospel fuels that hope. We long to live our life in Christ gracefully. We hear the call of Christ in the words of Scripture, the testimony of the church, or the stories of the saints. We hear the preacher's challenge to great feats of faith, feel our breasts swell with the expectancy of truth, and pledge our hearts to heaven. Enlivened by conviction, we envision missions, work projects, job creation programs, evangelism teams, political reforms, and magazines weaving their way effortlessly through our worlds, leaving in their wake the glorious tapestry of the kingdom. We imagine countless conversions, zero unemployment, peace and justice, and worship services where the Spirit is tangible at every amen. We dream of a world where we finally get it right—a world without collisions.
And then we leave our knees, turn, bang our shins on the pew, and curse.
In real life, our attempts to share our faith falter, our programs fail, our politics are marginalized and the wicked prosper. Our dancing often seems as graceless and leaden as the world's around us. We aspire to greatness, but are betrayed by our own gravity.
I find myself repeating the words of the Psalmist like a mantra—"How long O Lord? How long must we sing this song?"
It would be easy to fall into despair, save one thing—Sometimes, as we strain for the rhythm of the Spirit, as we limp when we mean to leap, a miracle takes place. There, in our apparent, awkward failure, we discover the meaning of faith, and the reach of grace. When we least expect it, God takes our frailty, our brokenness, our farsighted dreaming and nearsighted execution, and actually uses it to reveal—in a glimpse—the reality of his kingdom. In our foolish faithfulness, God becomes present, and offers mercy and justice and grace and reconciliation in and through our lives. Even as the saints stumble, people come to Christ, hope is offered, truth is known, and life finds its way to the dying.
Because of us, and in spite of us.
Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he wrote to the Corinthians:
This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in a common earthenware jar—to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us. We are handicapped on all sides, but we are never frustrated; we are puzzled, but never in despair. We are persecuted, but we never have to stand it alone: we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out! Every day we experience something of the death of Jesus, so that we may also know the power of the life of Jesus in these bodies of ours.... (II Cor. 4:710, JBPV)
We are a magazine fueled by dreams of a world without collisions. We exist to call the American Church to a vision of faith and faithful activism (is there a difference?) that, as far as I can tell, has rarely existed. We endeavor to hold up a challenge of discipleship that we hope will inspire you to a bold, creative, faith. We dream of a church motivated by Christ's love into selfless service, compassionate community, and passionate, thoughtful outreach. We really do want our readers to change the world.
But we cannot issue the challenge without reminders of our frailty, and (more important) God's sovereign grace in our midst. We must remember that the kingdom is not for a few great men and women. Rather, it is a community, as Brennan Manning has said, of ragamuffins —the broken, the outcasts, the disowned and the disheartened—empowered by the scandal of being loved, to serve and love their world. That is the glory of the cross.
To which I can respond in only one way: Shall we dance?