The most delicious mango juice I ever tasted was in a brothel in a slum in Mumbai. It was bought for me by 3 girls who paid for it with the money they had been paid for sex. This white woman had walked into their home and workplace with no other agenda than to say hi and to be there for a while and those visits were their lifeline. Men came and went as we sat together. One or other of them were chosen and taken away and brought back a few minutes later. And we laughed at my dreadful Hindi and their nervous attempts at English and we drank mango juice. And they taught me one of life’s essential lessons in an unforgettable way; there is always beauty to be found in brokenness…sometimes we just need to look for it, really hard.
I remembered that mango juice on Friday when I had the privilege of sharing a meal with two new friends who were released from Yongah Hill detention centre, after spending 10 years locked up for arriving in Australia, by boat (not Ned, yet). On Thursday afternoon, arbitrarily their names were selected and 30 minutes later they were free. Stunned, shell-shocked, excited and with nothing, they welcomed me into their temporary home and invited me to sit and eat with them. We had a satsuma and a strawberry as they talked about their very real joy and tried to hide their fears. And their bruised bodies and bashed teeth said many things that their words didn’t. And there too, there was pure beauty, right in the midst of real brokenness.
This Friday was remembrance day where many parts of the world paused and lamented over the atrocities that humanity can inflict on one another; where many people remember those who have died and commit to being part of the living who will pursue peace – to being those who will pursue beauty in the places of brokenness.
And then this morning we heard that awful gospel reading, predicting the destruction of the temple, and the desolation that humankind would inflict on itself and others for millennia to come and it stinks of brokenness, doesn’t it?
Not one stone will be left upon another – all will be thrown down – wars and insurrections – terror – nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom – earthquakes, famines and plagues – you will be arrested and persecuted – you will be betrayed and hated – you will even be put to death. Wow.
And yet, I can’t get away from these 4 words in that first verse; ‘adorned with beautiful stones’. The temple was adorned with beautiful stones and even when it was destroyed, and lay in ruins, I wonder if those stones were still visible. I wonder if they still glinted, you know? In the middle of all that destruction, I wonder if their beauty was still evident.
And while that passage is about a historical moment in time, about an actual event that was going to happen, it was also deeply prophetic and sadly speaks about every generation since…and ever more, because was there ever a time where war and conflict and natural disasters and feuds and fear were not a thing?
One look at the ABC news homepage speaks of ‘friction’ in Taiwan, Ukraine, North Korea and Myanmar. It tells how global greenhouse gases are at an all-time high; how the Taliban have slapped new bans on women in their latest oppressive move; it reports on floods and drug trafficking and corrupt elections and nation rising against nation.
But, friends, we worship a creator and a redeemer and humanity is made in God’s image and we have the capacity – the God-given gift – to be those who create beauty and be beauty where there is brokenness, people who bring hope to despair and speak truth against falsehood. We have the ability – the calling – to be beautiful stones, even when the temple is being destroyed.
And just as Jesus had instructions for those first followers, so he has instructions for us too. He says, ‘I will give you words and wisdom that nobody will be able to withstand or contradict…and not a hair on your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls’.
Those promises are amazing. And it’s hard to believe that not a hair on our heads will perish because war and persecution and destruction are abhorrent…and the anguish humans inflict on others is beyond comprehension – so I don’t know about that – but I think the message remains that we need to endure; when all is falling apart and raging around us, we need to press on, and endure…and yes, look out for that beauty that is sure to be found.
The thing is humanity can be really horrific to one another. We really can create the most horrendous situations and vast amounts of hurt BUT we can also be incredibly beautiful. We can show outrageous kindness, absolute grace, unconditional love and acceptance, care and concern, advocacy for those who can’t speak for themselves, shelter for those who are homeless. We can provide food for the hungry and lobby politicians to make choices that show humanity in its very best light. We can give time and money and resources and attention to those who are in need. We can be beautiful stones adorning a temple that is being destroyed. We can be sweet mango juice in brothels and tangerines in temporary housing.
Shining brightly in places of darkness, bringing love in place of hate, speaking peace in times of war, standing up for truth when all around us is falsehood and lies – this is counter cultural! This is radical living, radical discipleship and it is the call of the Jesus-follower. And if we keep on doing that, over and over again, when we feel strong and when we feel weak – when we have energy and when we have none – if we show that level of endurance we will gain (h)our souls…but not only that, perhaps we might even strengthen and enliven the lives and souls of others too.
So I urge and encourage you to look for the beauty wherever you find brokenness and if you can’t find it…be it.