Ah, February! Ah, Portland! You’ve got to hand it to them. When the weather is often cold, dark and wet; when mud and moss overtake last year’s grass; when warmth and sunshine and spring seem far away, Portland seems to take a perverse pride in it all. McMenamins rolls out their “Worst Day of the Year Run”, complete with costume contest, and Community Cycling Center sponsors their annual “Worst Day of the Year Ride.”
There is a sort of virtue in looking unpleasant circumstances right in the eye and snorting defiance. No one likes crybabies. But the secular spirit so predominant in Portland may avert its eyes at the truly “worst days” of our common human experience. When we are part of a community of faith, we are called beyond our own concerns. We travel to the emergency room with the sister who has fallen or the brother with a soaring fever. We share the grief of losing a beloved life partner, or the frustration and despair of being confined to home after years of independence and self-reliance.
One of the reasons that I am so committed to the intergenerational nature of our life together — and I yearn for us to do it better — is that young people in this faith community might have the opportunity of being lifted from their self-concern to contemplate the broad scope of human experience. And by being part of this faith community, our older members might sometimes soar with the optimism of youth, and see beyond their own family circles. But there’s more.
By being part of this faith community, we are confronted with chronic homelessness and grinding poverty even if we live comfortably at some distance from the urban core. By being part of this faith community, we can know by name and life history people with very different backgrounds and experiences than our own. By being part of this faith community, we learn of the struggles of rural villagers in Cambodia and Thailand, and battered women in Tijuana, and typhoon victims in the Philippines, and we come alongside them, if only indirectly. And when we live with this kind of connectedness and knowledge, our own “worst days” are relativized and put into perspective.
There are some fundamental convictions that Christians can bring to our own “worst days,” convictions that may be utterly foreign even to the most healthy-minded and ethically admirable secular folk. Yes, life is often spectacularly unfair. Just ask Job. Often we are the victims of the bad decisions and bad actions of others. (Note that we are also sometimes the undeserving beneficiaries of the good decisions and good actions of others.)
In all of this Christian believers are called to acknowledge our own complicity — “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” — and at the same time invited to rejoice in God’s wonderful provision for us — “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). In all of this Christian believers are assured that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), and though “weeping may remain for a night, joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
A great old hymn that Baptists often sing in association with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper reminds us of how members of Christian community are called to approach those “worst days” together, and thus break their isolating and discouraging spell. “Before our Father’s throne, we pour our ardent prayers: / Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts and our cares. / We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear; / And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear” (“Blest Be the Tie”).
— Dr. David L. Wheeler