I’ve written about evil and beauty and perversion this week. There is so much more I could say about these things. Stories to tell, pictures to recreate in words. Experiences, memories. The depth of human depravity and the glory of God’s creation are indeed endless. I’ve kept myself sheltered from experiencing these in their fullness, but I’ve been a front-row spectator. After living in a dozen countries, most of which rated bottom ranking on the poverty charts or top ranking on the corruption or violence-against-women charts, I was working in revolutionary Egypt – my cushiest posting by far. I remember one day going on a boat ride up the Nile through downtown Cairo with a group of people, and this woman struck up a conversation with me. I have no memory whatsoever of what we were talking about, but she then made the comment, “You’re not very adventurous, are you?” I was stunned. No one has ever called me not-adventurous before, and indeed, I wear adventurous as a badge of honour! But by the time I got to Egypt, the adventure had been pretty much washed out of me like a bad dye. By the time I got to Egypt, I never went out at night and my colleagues had to drag me kicking and screaming on a midnight climb up Sinai (which was well worth it).
But all that is to say… I realised after talking to that woman on the Nile that I could have experienced the evil, beauty and perversion so much more closely and intimately than I did. By aid worker standards, it turns out I’m not all that adventurous after all. But I’m adventurous enough to know what it looks like.
And yet the most precious bit of this humanitarian life, the true deep beauty that goes beyond any spectacular beaches or mountains or jungles or deserts or sunsets, is redemption.
Today, I sit here in stable cushy London in awe of the redemption I get to see. In awe, but ravenous for more. The stories of redemption feed me: they replenish a heart that’s worn dry and a brighten a soul that’s washed bland.
They’re a balm. For a long time I felt like a gas tank with the little yellow light blinking EMPTY, wondering how much longer I’d run before simply collapsing for lack of fuel. After all, I take arms length very personally.
But then these moments of redemption poke their little faces out, and not only do they fill my heart, but they begin to nudge. Where can I go, what can I do, to see more redemption?
Lately, redemption has come in the form of a group of friends mobilising themselves and their resources in one country to welcome refugees from another country. My friends don’t do it because they’re supposed to help people, and they’re not receiving any help other than the help they themselves recruit. They are genuinely enjoying it.
Redemption came in the moment that a Muslim woman friend of mine who studied Islamic law turned to a Christian male friend of mine who happens to be a pastor, and said that she’s just like him because they both witness to their respective religions. And they became friends.
Redemption came in remembering that above the layer of alcohol-induced orgies I was witnessing at work, there was a mother who took in a teenage girl who needed a place to stay. And just down the street from where very possibly a colleague may have molested a coworker, there was another mother putting on puppet shows for children whose school had been destroyed. And while I sit in conversations about how many millions of dollars we can raise to set up a centre for refugees, there are spoiled middle-class teenagers visiting homeless refugees and breaking bread with them.
Redemption came in seeing social norms and walls crumble down, religious stereotypes fizzle away even if sectarian bombing still takes place down the street. I saw redemption when people told me they helped the poor and the downtrodden, because it used to be them and it might be them again.
I’ve seen miracles these last few months, true miracles. And the filth and the guilt, the sadness from the evil, the disgust with the perverted world we live in, my desperate attempts to cling to beauty because of how it contrasts with its surroundings… all of those somehow have become a burden worth bearing, manageable risk if you will, because redemption is coming.