My Iona Overrun by the Mist
The power of place. Time. Sight. Smell. Music. A cool breeze on your face. The sun. The water. Mountains. Crisp air. Wrestling with God and yourself and others and the implications of it all. Ancient theology. Modern application. Figuring out how life works. A City. Strange cultures, ideas, languages, and people. Brokenness. Pain. Beauty. Redemption. Healing. Anger. Prayer. Faith. Hope. Love. Despair. Hope, Hope, Hope. The Nations all gathered together in Sodom by the Bay with God working every day to bring life forth.
22 years old. A walk in the night in Mississippi when God told me to go to California. Go to San Francisco. Go to Golden Gate. 23. 24. 25. A young wife. Arriving from the other side of the continent poor with few possessions. Eventually, though, a new born daughter. Dreams. Friends. Change. City streets and street kids. Vagabonds from all over the country and the world with Piercings, Tattoos, and Flowers in their hair. Summer of Love 30 years later. Leftovers and left outs. Church planters. Wild eyed missionaries. City Reachers. A park and a hill and a drum circle. Days old bread given away. Gay, straight, transgendered, broken made whole. Homeless people sleeping on benches and in doorways and under trees or dumpster diving. Love and prayer. Prayer and love. Drug addicts and sweet rolls given out with cups of juice and clean socks in the early morning with many prayers and embraces shared and given. A 150 year old church, the first Baptist church in California founded during the Gold Rush. 26 nations worshiping together. A Homeless Church and a missionary band sharing and holding out life that would soon go all over the world one by one to do the same. A Bridge and an Ocean and a Bay and History in a City that never stopped moving but seemed rooted somewhere in the mist of time churning over the people who could not keep up – or who could.
Books. Saints. Theologians. Disputes, ideas, words, more ideas. Words, words, words. Late night discussions. Coffee. A shared meal. Stories of far off lands and people devoted and violent times and a Bloody Cross as the Hinge of History and the movement that it birthed. “The gospel that comes to you must now go through you” said the old pastor-missionary-theologian from the barrios of East L.A. who came to teach us. Missionaries and scholars and those barely making the cut. The harried and flustered and wondering and resolute. Certainty and doubt and questions and answers. And more questions. Where are you going? What are you doing? Where will life take you? What is God saying? What does it all mean? What should we do now?
Late nights writing papers. Memorizing. Reading hundreds of pages. Thousands of pages. Processing. Thinking. Being questioned and tested. Debates and discussions in hallways and sitting on benches overlooking everything through the mist and fog hovering over the Bay and the City. Prayers and tears and asking God to work in ways we could only dream. Seeing God work in ways we did not expect. So certain of ourselves. So wrong in so many ways. But, so right too.
Opposition. Incredible wealth all around us. Arrogance. Brokenness. Disdain. Poor people too, barely making it. Amazing beauty and grandeur. The whole world lapping up against the shores of the Bay. City streets acting as unforgiving teachers, yet insightful ones. The Square in Mill Valley, our Mars Hill, where old men played chess and philosophers were quoted in arguments. Grace breaking through, often unexpectedly. Bitter cold wind blowing on your face. Ocean waves crashing from the Pacific, bringing in the cold from Alaska. Redwoods and Muir Woods and Mount Tamalpais looming over us all, keeping watch. Sometimes the ground moved under your feet. Northernmost point of the Southwest. Southernmost point of the Northwest. Where worlds and cultures and languages and land and sea collided. Where Heaven and Earth Collided.
Alive and young. Everything seemed possible. Our questions were filled with hope – hope in the God of History who was bringing everything toward the final act as the Gospel would be preached in the whole world and then the end would come. Through us, at least in part. Some day. Not today, but some day. One day. We were seeing it unfold before our eyes.
I received word the other day that my seminary, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (GGBTS) was moving from Mill Valley, California to the Los Angeles area. The campus that was my Iona, on a little peninsula jutting out into the Bay, would be no more. Just like Scottish Iona of the Celts, that monastic place of learning and worship destroyed by the Vikings centuries ago, all things come to an end. Perhaps this is a good thing in the long run, but it has caused a wave of memories and emotions to rush over me like so many waters. The place of my formation spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually will be transformed into million dollar homes or something else. It will pass into the realm of memory and be overrun by the mist rushing down from the Marin Headlands every morning to take it back out to sea. And, take my youth and the memories of my idealism with it, I suppose.
I grow weary. Still searching and questioning. I have many of the answers, or at least more questions. I see God’s Hand at work, but, like a wave, the memories come crashing onto my shore and unearth things long forgotten and buried under the rocks of time – heavy rocks full of daily duties and obligations that cause me to forget the things I swore I would always remember. Tonight, I remember – at least for tonight.
Strangely, I feel rootless, like an anchor in my life has broken loose leaving me drifting. It was just a school. A place in the past. Why do I care? Why would anyone care? Our society is throw away, isn’t it? Nothing lasts. I know that. Why does this bother me? I am confused and frustrated with myself. This is the way of things, I tell myself. Move on, self. But, another anchor… I remember feeling this way when my parents divorced. When Katrina hit my homeland on the Gulf Coast. When my son had cancer. It isn’t the same, of course. No one has died. No one is sick. The feeling will pass. Everything does. But, it feels like someone dear has died. Why is that? It was just a place. A real place, though. The time spent there will pass into memory as well and the memories will no longer be rooted in rock and land and water and air in space and time. It will just be Nostalgia as nothing really lasts. Not really. Not in this world. So, I grieve again.
Growing older teaches us hard lessons. The impermanence of it all. Beauty gives way to decay and artificial solutions are given quickly, without thought, to ancient problems. Very little goes deep. Things are up for grabs. Things have a price. We are the Wanderers. From place to place and relationship to relationship. The center does not hold, at least not on the surface, not the way we often like. Things fall apart, given enough time – including us. Loved ones die. We too shall pass. We are but dust and will exist only in the memories of those we loved until they too are gone. Golden Gate in Mill Valley will be unbuilt and the memories attached to it will become disembodied from an actual place to float only at the edges of our minds. Eventually, they will fade as all things do. As we do.
What remains – what will remain – is what was implanted in me there, what points to a greater meeting place and sanctuary and love everlasting. The ways I met with God and learned to love others – and be loved and taught and cared for. I am not just looking forward to another meeting place where ideas are exchanged and where minds and hearts are formed in and for this world and even eternity. But, a Meeting Place where we are finally, fully reconciled back to our Creator – and to one another. What I have longed for and long for now and what exists at the margins at some place in the past/future will one day be fulfilled. In Him. And, I will finally be made whole. All of us who know Him will. That day will come and our speculation and questions and hopes and dreams and longings will be answered and fulfilled and find a landing place. A real place. Not a place that can be bought and sold and traded and ripped apart. A place that will last forever. A place of rest and healing. And hope. Hope. Faith. Love.
And that Love will last and remain and like the waves falling upon the rocks at the Cliff House where I would sit and pray and dream and the mist flying over the Headlands that greeted me each morning when I awoke, it will overtake us.
And, we will finally be Home.