Write Thanks On My Arms
It’s the end of the week. A lot can happen in seven days, and I wonder where you find yourself this morning? I wonder what your days have been like, recently.
This post comes at the tail end of arguments, and struggle, and tension. The consequence of heavy and tired conversations. And I am thankful that the world cannot watch my week like The Truman Show, let alone see my heart.
But I do believe that grace is new this morning.
Three weeks ago I was driving through Northern New Mexico with two of my friends, and a son. But the father is a son, too, and we’re all sons who either are, or hope to be, fathers. And we’ve all experienced the brokenness of our groaning world as it applies itself to those relationships, in some way.
I narrated sections of Jamie Tworkowski's If You Feel Too Much aloud in the car as we neared Taos, New Mexico - green as I’ve ever seen it after a wet summer, like the life in the words I was reading. I'd already been through the book once, but it stayed close beside me. I’m nearly a third time through, now. I’ve been reading it to my wife. It makes me feel the way I felt as a high school sophomore reading through Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz - I suppose the place Don's book holds in my heart is something Jamie and I have in common, among other things. Maybe it’s time to re-read that one, too. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak on suicide at a church here in Albuquerque - my hometown - and I read some of Jamie’s book to them there, as well.
Save the BadChristian interview in January, I haven’t really talked much about my family’s loss in the past year. My dad’s suicide used to be a nightly regular on tour - so much of the Levi The Poet content surrounded it - but with a change in seasons out of Seasons, I put it away.
To be honest, I sometimes worry about becoming a broken record. Like at what point does your tragedy become sob story become cliche? I’m not saying that’s the right way to think about it - I’m just saying I think about it.
I’ve watched Straight Outta Compton twice now. (Surely it doesn’t need a spoiler alert, but here it is, in case you were born yesterday.) There’s a spot in the film where Eazy-E drives around Los Angeles, with advertisements boasting Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and over five million albums sold post-Ruthless Records, and you see Eazy’s eyes swell with regret that manifests in something like an apology shortly thereafter. He’s suffering. Consequential suffering, but suffering nonetheless. His broken relationships begin to couple with his broken body, and he is diagnosed HIV-positive with six months to live. And my thought, in those moments, was this:
Suffering levels the playing field, and both paupers and princes play in it together.
I understand more about what To Write Love On Her Arms is after reading Jamie’s book, and I feel more thankful than ever to have had them play a part in telling my family’s story.
I think that, even as we were working on shooting that story together, there was a part of me that was uncomfortable with TWLOHA. Honestly, it was probably because - at the time - I had my head buried in books talking about the error of social gospels that didn’t go far enough in explicitly declaring Jesus as savior, and I think I chalked them up to being the guys that clothed the homeless and fed the poor and stopped short of gospel presentation (essentially, the presumption I held with most anyone who didn’t look the same as my tribal leaders). Arguments are made that people don’t want to offend, and for what it's worth, that's a reasonable argument - the gospel is certainly offensive - but it assumes that everyone is a replica of the critic, searing their consciences by avoiding clarity. So many of those kinds of declarations are misplaced judgements that rely on presumption and ascribed motives, assuming that we are all called to the same type of interaction with this world. I’m not going to speak on behalf of a group of people that I do not represent, especially when all they have done is represented our family well. Nor am I convinced that those kinds of critiques are even applicable to an organization that never claimed to be a "ministry" in the first place.
But what I do know is that if N.W.A lost their friend to HIV and my middle school student’s dad left him and my mom lost her husband and Robin Williams’ daughter lost her father and Rick Warren lost a son and the hundreds of kids that I’ve talked to on the road in the last seven years of touring and sharing this life with them are still cutting their legs where their parents can’t see and if suffering levels the playing fields and no one is exempt from it - then I hope that even "social gospels" can be common graces to a world that is in desperate need of love.
And I still believe in a God who is sovereign. In my case, Rearview Memories has been a bridge to specifics that would have never been possible without it. And I’m thankful for that. But surely our love as people saved by grace should not be withheld from those who have not yet been. Surely our love for others should not be predicated upon whether they’ve proclaimed the same faith as we have. As though it were a monthly service and “love” was an exclusive benefit for the subscribers.
The hope that I read in Jamie’s book reminds me of the hope of a person who has seen an earth subjected to futility, bonded to corruption, groaning in pain, and hoping for what he does not see, and inviting others to wait for it with him, in patience. At least, that’s what it made me hope for. A man who knows that in suffering, there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, rich nor poor, upper middle class nor lower middle class nor billionaire nor bankrupt. I can’t speak on Jamie’s behalf, but I think that there is another place where those things are true as well. And that place is the hope.
I believe in Jesus Christ as the living Son of God and savior of my life - the hope for my healing and the redeemer of my suffering - and I also believe that Jesus loves those of you who do not believe that. I think he wants you to believe it. I want you to believe it, and I want to love you regardless of whether you do, or not. I don’t want to stop short of proclaiming the good news of the grace that I think is available, and I do not want to ostracize you before you know that you are worthy of love and invited into it. Besides, if it is truly the kindness of God that leads us to repentance, then love - true love - will be the only hope for belief anyway.
Maybe it could be through me.
Maybe TWLOHA could be a conduit.
Maybe love will be hard and strip us of everything that we think gives us value and worth and remind us that we were already valuable and worthy as the reflected images of a creator who knows us the way that we want to believe we are known.
I guess I don’t know what this blog is. It's at least working some thoughts out. Maybe it was meant to be a confession. A thank you. To just say,
“guys, forgive my pride,
and thank you so much for loving so many of us who so often believe that we are unlovable.
Thanks for knowing that we’re not projects.
Thanks for going out instead of waiting for us to come in.
Thanks for paying forward the hope that you’ve received.
Thanks for writing love on our arms.
And Chad, thanks for the friendship.
And Jamie, thanks for the book."
Watch The Story of Rearview Memories with TWLOHA, here: