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Jesus Soup – Joanne Holz

jesus-soup-thumbnailSome of life’s greatest experiences come at the most unexpected times.  One such time for me took place within the last two weeks.   Before conducting training with one of the Corps teams on the Texas border, I was offered a tour- not of buildings, but of on-site ministries taking place with immigrants– a marginalized group of people. The journey for these immigrants is fraught with danger, lack of supplies, doubts as to whether or not a better future will exist, and the worry of sponsorship.  One can only imagine the extreme bondage of daily life that would prompt such precarious attempts in the first place.

What I saw was the Church in action.  A number of ministries and agencies from the city come together collaboratively to offer whatever resources each has available.  Those who are foreigners are given the necessities to meet basic human needs.  Beyond that, they are offered hope.

Jesus Soup is both a reality and metaphor as an aid in assisting these people who live in the borderland between bondage and freedom.  Many enter the border malnourished and chronically hungry.  Jesus Soup is the nourishment offered–the result of many attempts at trying to find just the right food to feed the hungry in helpful ways.  One of the medical doctors suggested a broth type soup filled with nutrient-rich ingredients.  This soup would quell the hunger and sustain the depleted body without causing undue stress on the digestive system.  It is both delicious and healthy.  It is comfort food.

I thought about the many ways people exist in borderlands attempting to move from bondage to freedom.  I recalled the families and individuals with whom I’ve been privileged to walk and offer “Jesus Soup.”  You have those you have assisted as well.  The words of Isaiah came immediately to my mind:  “The Spirit of the Lord, the Eternal, is on me. The Lord has appointed me for a special purpose.  He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to repair broken hearts, and to declare to those who are held captive and bound in prison, “Be free from your imprisonment!” He has sent me to announce the year of jubilee, the season of the Eternal’s favor.” (Isaiah 61: 1, 2 The Voice).

Those we are called to lead are often bogged down in a “borderland” — an in-between space beyond the “old life” but short of the abundant existence promised by Jesus.   Mark Buchanan, pastor and author,  suggests that “borderland living” is where doubt, disappointment, guilt, and wonder-less-ness keep people in a quagmire of mediocrity.  Many are spiritually malnourished needing the nutrient-rich Word of God spoken and lived before them.  Others are disoriented by the new terrain in which they find themselves as a result of unwanted and/or unanticipated life circumstances.  They need fellow sojourners who know the area.

Leading like Jesus means we enter these places for the sakes of those we are privileged to lead.  If anyone understands what it means to enter new borders on behalf of others, it is Jesus—God Incarnate.  It doesn’t ultimately matter what circumstances throw people into borderlands.    Those places may be geographical.   Perhaps they are mostly internal places.   We all have or will live there and often multiple times.  What does matter is that we are willing to cross divides to become agents of healing and hope as others find themselves in borderlands.

Truth be told:  we are all strangers and aliens in need of assistance as we trek onward to the place prepared for us in Jesus.

John Merritt

John-MerrittG. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), the English Roman Catholic lay theologian, was particularly famous for his epigrammatic statements. Here is my favorite:

“A PARADOX IS A TRUTH STANDING ON ITS HEAD TO ATTRACT ATTENTION.”

If a paradoxical statement is standing a truth on its head to attract attention, then a paradoxical experience feels like we are being jerked upside down and stood on our heads.

But what is the truth to which attention is being drawn? Where is the truth — in any position into which we may be forced? The truth revealed in the first instance is cognitive. However, the truth revealed in the second instance is autobiographical. Although often wrapped in pain, the truth it provides is a new perspective on how to see our autobiographies. This is the dimension of paradox on which I want to reflect.

Although an autobiographical paradox may be clothed in what we call objective reality — the dimensions of life from which we can take a step back and examine — it still is quite subjective. It is something in which we participate. Often it is too painful even to talk about, much less intentionally remember.

Like many of you, I have first perceived autobiographical paradox through sorrow, pain, tears. Sometimes all three in the same day… even in the same hour! So I hope what I share will resonate with and speak to any and every reader who has gone through experiences that have jerked them upside down and may have asked: “Where is truth to be found in any position?” “Where is God in all this?”

Two of these extended episodes, at least 35 years apart, are indelibly burned into the hard drive of my personality. The first autobiographical paradox took place when I was stationed on the National Headquarters Publications Department in New York and lived in New Jersey. Over a period of 18 months during that time, I was enveloped in profound darkness. Now some of you may think the cause of that is easily discerned: I worked on headquarters! However, at the risk of being considered strange, I don’t think so — I loved my appointment! So, I really don’t think I was suffering clinical depression. At any rate, I had difficulty doing my work, sleeping at night, or relaxing in the presence of God. Looking back on it now I believe it was rather what St. John of the Cross called “the Dark Night of the Soul” — which, though some times depressing, is not always the same as depression.

Then one Sunday I shall never forget, we made our regular trek from Belleville to the Kearny Corps where we soldiered. Its building bore no resemblance to the Crystal Cathedral, but its Mercy Seat was frequently “crowned with glory.” And it happened again that September morning in 1977 or 1978. It was Homecoming Weekend, with the then Colonel Andrew Miller — a hometown boy made good. As I was letting VaLeta and our two children out of the car in front of the building — there was no off-street parking lot — I noticed this statement on the large bulletin board out front:

“GOD HAS A SONG TO TEACH US, AND WHEN WE HAVE LEARNED TO SING IT IN THE DARKNESS OF ADVERSITY, WE CAN SING IT FOREVER.”

The 18-month cloud began to lift!

The Holiness Meeting opened with a song that I did not know —
Number 772 in the present Song Book of The Salvation Army.
As we sang the first stanza, I sensed something was about to happen:

When we cannot see our way,
Let us trust and still obey;
He who bids us forward go,
Cannot fail the way to show.
I was even more sure by the third stanza:

Though it be the gloom of night
Though we see no ray of light,
Since the Lord Himself is there,
‘Tis not meet that we should fear.

But when I sang with the congregation the fourth stanza — it happened:

Night with Him is never night,
Where He is, there all is light;
When He calls us, why delay?
They are happy who obey.

The first two lines (I am sure of it!) leaped off the page and impacted my consciousness with a word of liberating grace. This was the message: Your 18 months of darkness have really been light, for God, Who is Light, has been there all the time!

At that moment the cloud started to lift and glory palpably crowned the Mercy Seat as I knelt there at the conclusion of the meeting.

I do not know why I went through that emotionally excruciating time. Like Job in much worse circumstances, I have never discerned a definitive answer. But, in a sermon I heard him deliver many years later (and quoted here from memory) at Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church, Dr. Elam Davies said: “God does not always give us an answer, but He will give us Himself. I would rather have God any day than the answer. So would I and so did I — particularly the Sunday I left that shabby corps hall singing the “Forever Song” I read about on the corps bulletin board!

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