Monday, January 19, 2009

Lost in Space

Brother to Brother Column

Lost In Space

By John W. Fountain

Man, the brother could play. His fingers floated effortlessly, the sounds of the instrument that he must have been born to play, lifting the saints in song and foot-stomping praise that could make the walls sometimes seem as if they were crumbling down.

A good family man, he was handsome, articulate and devout. He and I were brothers in Christ—brothers at a branch of Zion in a city where we once attended the same church with our families, brothers in the struggle.

So I sat stunned for a while, years later, while visiting another brother in Christ as he conveyed to me the sad news. The news that our brother had disappeared—from the church, from his musical perch, from his deaconship, but most importantly from his home, his family.

Only more disturbing was the news that he had gotten ensnared by an old drug habit and was reportedly living somewhere on the street, exact whereabouts unknown. Most disturbing was that I also knew that none of his “brothers” who worshipped with him, broke bread, and fellowshipped with him had gone looking for him, nor would they.

Endangered Species

Such is the fate of lost souls. Of men who stumble and stray from that narrow path and who find ourselves lost in space.
But it has unfortunately become the lot of the lost to find their way back to the peace of emerald pastures where His still waters still flow. Except, so many cannot—will not—and seem destined to be forever lost prodigals, unless there is some beacon to guide—lead—them, us, safely back home.

I see them. On street corners, staggering in the old Chicago West Side neighborhood where I grew up, inebriated, dazed by substance and by circumstance, by the ill-decisions that can land a brother jobless, education-less and hopeless. That can leave a brother stifled sometimes by our own past irresponsibility, addictions and demons that gnaw at our psyches and souls.

I have seen them—us—in a Washington, D.C. homeless shelter where I and another brother once held bible study, in other shelters I have visited across this country and even here in Chicago, in the stares of black men wearing orange suits on a prison work line in a small prairie town. I have seen them, staring out from prison bars, separated by time and space—a nation of men who too often by our own hands have rendered ourselves an endangered species.

For despite racial discrimination and the difficulties of climbing from the pit of paltry socioeconomic circumstance, I, for one, know that we as black men have no excuses.

Adams Where art Thou?

What I also believe is inexcusable is the ease with which we in the church discard men who were one day our “brothers” and whom we soon forget the next day because of their own inner turmoil and demons with which they wrestle, and which sometimes win, cause them—us—to be lost again, swirling in pitch black spaces, in far-from-home places.

Inexcusable is the lack of empathy or grace. Inexcusable are the tongues too quick to assess a wayward brother’s former healthy spiritual state or conscientious commitment and to relegate him to all along having been a pretender of the faith to have now fallen back to his previous sinful state. Inexcusable is the sense that those men who remain in the fold are somehow better, are somehow not without their own sins and struggles—men who are merely constant redeemers of the coupon called grace. He is a God who, according to Genesis 3:8-9, went calling out to Adam after he had sinned, seeking Him to move from the place of shame and sin to repentance and restoration.

Which of us will do His beckoning now? Adams, where art thou?

How many times, I have thought about my brother, or been moved to tears by the loss of his family, by memories of his faithfulness and the light of sobriety and hope and wellness I remember seeing in his eyes. I have wondered whether he might, like the biblical Prodigal Son, come to himself.

If I close my eyes, I can still see him playing, still hear the music emanating from his God-inspired soul. And I pray for his return, not to that church in that city now far away where we once worshipped together, but to the fellowship of the body of Christ, to his wife and to his beautiful family.

And to that end, I also pray that the Lord will send a few faithful men to help redeem those brothers lost in space.

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