A Long Hot Summer
On Suffering and Love
You might have noticed the heat wave here in Texas. The highs over the weekend here in Abilene were around 108 and 109 degrees. Today the predicted high is 104. I'll be out at the prison tonight.
Last Monday the high was 106. The prison is not air-conditioned. This wasn't a problem in the past. Before COVID, our classes were held in the chapel, which is located in the administration building. The administration building does have AC. So our class was cool during the Texas summers, and a welcome relief from the heat for the men attending the study.
But having started back up after COVID, due to understaffing, our study is no longer in the chapel but in a multipurpose room in one of the inmate buildings. Like the entire building where the inmates live, the multipurpose room has no AC.
I hoped that we would have had more time. Last May and June was wet and cool. But this year, summer heat arrived early and with a vengeance. Record setting temps almost every day.
Last week, given the heat, I faced a tradeoff. There is a massive fan in the multipurpose room, so large it roars like an airplane. But the fan helps move the air and is the only tool we have to fight the heat. Trouble is, with that roar you can't hear anyone speaking in a conversational voice. You have to practically yell. And the class is two hours long. More worried about the heat, I said let the fan rip and I'll yell. So I yelled through a class studying the book of 2 Corinthians. I yelled myself hoarse and left the study dripping with sweat.
Tonight will be exactly the same, and won't change much at all until September.
My theology is weird enough that I'm sort of grateful for having this experience. I feel like, in a small way, I'm sharing in the suffering that the men experience every minute of every day. My raw, rasping voice and shirt soaked in sweat is a participation in the sufferings of Christ. Christians used to think like that. I think that is what Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians, in a text I yelled about last week:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
I'm not completely sure what Paul is saying in this passage, but I think he's talking about the cost of love. When we love we suffer to give life to others. I know that notion will seem deeply problematic to many, very medieval and masochistic. But I'm not talking about suffering for the sake of suffering, or the suffering of abuse victims. I'm talking about why Jesus suffered. Why Paul suffered for the church he planted. They suffered because of love. Death was at work in them to give life to others. I think that is what love does. And if you have loved, I think you know what I'm talking about.
But if that is not your truth, hey, that's fine. It is my truth. My truth this evening, and every Monday evening during a long hot summer.