The Neighborhood Liturgies


Giving Life and Being Love

I was 21 years old laying in bed with my alarm clock beeping and beeping an beeping trying to get up to go to school but I couldn't. My eyes wouldn't open and my arms wouldn't move. I was completely aware and awake but I couldn't move. This was different than sleep paralysis, something was wrong. Very, very wrong. I let out a whimper and my older brother Rob came over and turned me on my side and turned off my alarm. I had crossed a threshold while battling kidney disease and I will never forget that moment. It's the first time in my life I was truly terrified! I remember waiting until Rob left the room and I sobbed. My body was weak and it hit me for the first time that as my kidneys failed it meant I was slowly dying. 

Death is a weird process. You can ask anyone who has suffered with a life threatening illness and they will tell you the same. When you're conscious of death you really, truly want to live. I remember hanging onto every word that people said. I gave them my full attention and became steeped in conversation. Food smelled incredible (even the hostess pies that were the only thing I could stomach) and water was the most refreshing experience even though I couldn't have much. I think that's the time in my life I became a mystic since my body started to forget whether I ate or not and wouldn't tell me if I was hungry. Life was full. My heart was full. It's the time in my life I learned to love people. 

Eventually, I was gifted with an organ transplant from my hero named Judy. I sometimes joke that the reason I cry during movies now is because I have a female kidney! Honestly, death made me appreciate life and the willingness of Judy to lay her life down transformed me.

"We believe in life and that all people have a right to live freely and are bound only by a responsibility to love."

Life is precious. It's fleeting and beautiful. When your breath gets shallow as death feels near you feel like life is bursting from within you. There's a freedom in those breaths that is indescribable. Nobody tries to tell you that life is meaningless in those moments and they show so much love. 

Why can't we live like that all the time? Tender and kind. Growing up in the church I heard how being pro-life meant anti-abortion and that was it. I remember people feeling like they accomplished world peace by placing red tape over their mouth at planned parenthood. We acted like we spoke up for the voiceless by shaming those who maybe were disenfranchised here now. As pro-life as we were we surely believed the death penalty and capital punishment was justified. "God killed Jesus on the cross by using the state and didn't remove the criminals next to him" was our wicked stance. We were not pro-life, we were anti-abortion and pro-death penalty.

When I think of advocating for life an freedom I think of Abraham and Jesus. Both showed exceeding desire for life. In Genesis 18 we see "God" come to lay waste to Sodom and Abraham pleads for the lives of those in the city. He stands with God begging that if he can just find anything good in the city that it might be spared. We see a person willing to stand in the way for others even if there is no benefit for them. I love that Abraham says to God "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" and advocates even for those who might be "wicked", 

Jesus, says it most beautifully in John 15 "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends". We have a responsibility to each other and love even to the point that we could face death. There's something transforming inside the human heart when somebody is willing to risk everything to see you live and to live well. Jesus was the greatest example of sacrificial love that his love even took him to the cross. All of human history has been marked from this event of Jesus willingly giving himself for others even into death.

I was privileged to have a long conversation with Shane Claiborne on his book Executing Grace. He told a story of a mother who asked a pastor in Texas if she believed in the death penalty in a revival meeting. This pastor said yes as the mother collapsed crying that her son was set to be put to death by the state of Texas and she just needed somebody. This changed the pastor's heart and her and the mother walked this path with the son advocating for his re-sentencing. It never came. It was too unbearable for the mother to watch so the pastor was the witness to the execution. This man, this son, raised his hand before they injected him and said "I want to ask forgiveness for those I've hurt and for those who are about to hurt me." and then he was executed. His official death certificate now reads death by homicide from the state of Texas. This mother got to identify the body and touch her son for the first time in 10 years except this time he was cold. She had wished she could feel a warm hug from her son one last time but it will never come.

Freedom in life is found in forgiveness and forgiveness is rooted in love. 

May we have the courage to love and forgive so that we might all be truly free.

-Charlie P.


Charles PorterComment