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Smiling through the Storm

The theologian, Miroslav Volf, wrote “Whatever else the world is, it is a theater of divine love.” Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? But how can he make such a statement? There are more than eighteen million people in the Sahel region of Africa affected by a food crisis, Israel and Hamas are killing each other’s children, and areas, such as Staten Island, remain utterly decimated by Superstorm Sandy. With all of these conflicts, it is hard to see the world as a theater of divine love.

May God forgive me, but I am currently preoccupied with a much smaller conflict that, while trivial in the grand scheme of things, is nonetheless throwing my household into turmoil. Recently, I have learned that the term, colicky, neither describes a fresh water fish in the Colorado River nor a little used tool in a car mechanic’s garage. Colicky is the medical term for when my newborn son, Sam, throws himself into such a state of rage that he is literally gasping for breath . . . so that he can scream even louder!

I have a variety of methods for calming him down. I sing songs and coo assurances; I bounce him, pat him, massage him; I rock up a storm in the nursery and pace all over the rest of the house. Sometimes I just hand him over to my wife! While each one of these methods is different, they all have one thing in common: none of them really work. It seems that Sam just has to work through it.

Child development experts, like T. Berry Brazelton, believe that colic is not really about physical discomfort; rather it comes from over-stimulation. Sam looks at the world in ferocious intensity with those big blue eyes of his, like he is trying to memorize every object at once. Eventually, he simply wears himself out. Exhausted, his focused concentration gives way to a purple-faced, gum-bearing fury! But, as heart-breaking and ear-splitting as this is, it is important to remember that such behavior is a natural part of his development. There must be periods of instability, even pain, in order for him to grow.

Other social scientists have applied similar theories to group development. Bruce Tuckman originally proposed that a team of people must pass through four stages in order to work most effectively. These stages are forming, storming, norming, and performing. After an initial gathering or “forming” stage, Tuckman believes that people must experience a period of conflict known as “storming.” As the name suggests, this stage can be contentious, unpleasant, and even painful. Groups must also go through this colicky stage in which problems are identified and different ideas compete for consideration. Through the struggle, the best solutions are ultimately achieved.

Of course, this is easier to say than it is to actually live. I know intellectually that Sam is developing during his crying spells; but, my God, I would prefer that he go straight to sleep! Likewise we would all like for our church committee meetings to run smoothly, wouldn’t we?

It strikes me that these concepts relate to our current reality in this country. After a contentious and divisive election season, we are now entering the holidays. Thanksgiving is a time for good cheer, right? For turkey, not political debates; for pumpkin pie, not shouting matches. It is tempting to brush aside our differences just as easily as we might clear away the dirty dishes from the dining room table after a big meal; tempting to keep the peace by collapsing in a food coma on the couch to watch football with our eyes closed.

But as appealing as this willful avoidance might be, I think that we would forfeit a great opportunity. Our nation, indeed our world, longs for people who can compromise. We need people of faith who move forward together despite our disagreements; disciples who are willing to work with people who look differently and think differently.

Maybe, then, we Christians should not be so willing to enter into a false peace, whereby everyone pretends to get along simply because we don’t talk about anything meaningful or substantial.

Again, Miroslav Volf said that, “Whatever else the world is, it is a theater of divine love.” In turn, I am reminded that God so loved the world that a gift of sacrifice was offered. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ celebrate a love that has an edge to it, not sentimental mush, but rather whole-hearted conviction. It is a love that inspires us to ride out the storm, to pass through the dark night of the soul, to work for lasting peace by insisting upon societies of justice.

To put it another way, do you know the stage in a child’s development that comes after colic?

The smile!

Now, that’s something to work towards.

About Andrew Taylor-Troutman

I am a pastor and a preacher, a writer, a husband and a father. My professional and personal lives are deeply involved with story-telling: stories that are silly and poignant or profound and commonplace. Stories that are tear-jerkers and belly-shakers. Stories about my son, Sam, and the congregation I serve, New Dublin Presbyterian Church. Each in its own way, these personal narratives shed light on the great story that God is writing with humankind and all of creation.

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