A Here-But-Not-Yet World

ND Marching Band by Tostie14 at Flickr

Our Lady’s Marching Band

Huddled in front of my laptop on a sketchy website breaking all sorts of copyright laws and loaded with a hospital ward full of viruses, I had to bite my hand to stop myself from screaming.  It was 3:00AM and I didn’t want to wake up the brother Jesuits asleep in the neighboring rooms.  It’s the kind of thing that happens now that I live in Dar es Salaam, half a world away from anyplace that cared enough about (American) football to watch a game at 3:00PM, much less its nighttime mirror.

But, through the power of the interwebs, there I was, unsuccessfully fighting back tears as they interviewed our (yes our) star player after the game, basking in one of Notre Dame’s greatest victories in the last twenty years – a 22-13 victory over our hated extremely-disliked rivals from the University of Southern California1

It was like I was right there watching with my fellow Domer friends and family.  Except I wasn’t.  I was alone in my bedroom as the world around me slept.  As much as it made me feel connected to the people that I love, it was also a – yet another – painful reminder that I am far, far away from them.

This has been happening a lot lately.  In yet another living-in-2012-is-bizarre moment, I was able to watch the live streaming of two close friends’ wedding in California.  I was in Tanzania, but I could see their joy and love from here.  Except I wasn’t able to share in it.

***

One of my good friends is from Italy.  We both see ourselves as citizens of the world and enjoy cuisine from distant parts of the globe where we have no personal connections – as is quite normal in 2012.  At the same time, our musical tastes have almost nothing in common.  He sends me videos of his favorite music, and what to him is a song full of passion looks to me like an emotionally unbalanced woman screaming and wearing funny clothes.

He can send me YouTube videos of music that he loves and knows that I will hate, and I can send him videos of my life here.  Likewise, I can talk and laugh with my friends on Skype.  It’s a way of communicating that not long ago would have been unthinkable.  Hearing that laughter is wonderful, and I don’t mean to take it for granted, but something’s still missing.  There’s something about all this blessed digital contact that makes me want to laugh with my friends around a table, in person, over good food and a bottle of white wine.  That, however, is not my current reality.

***

I have recently been thinking a lot about the Kingdom of God and its “here-but-not-yetness.”  It’s a lot like this digital contact if you ask me.  Just like I’m able to be – really be – with my friends and family in significant ways, so the Kingdom of God is – really is – already present.2

At the same time, just as I taste the pain of not really being with those halfway around the world, it takes very little effort to see how the Kingdom of God has not fully unfolded among us.

We live in a “broken but lovable world.”3

And still, my students walk around radiating the glory of God.

I pray in gratitude for getting to soak in their rays on a daily basis;4 I should seriously be wearing sunglasses. I primarily teach 14-year-olds, most of whom are are still so innocent and who illustrate Jesus’ words that the Kingdom, the one that’s really already here, belongs to them.

At the same time, at least a few of these children have seen far more of the brokenness of our world than I, despite my being twice their age.  I grew up as the only kid among the 75 in my grade during elementary school who had lost a parent.  Here I cannot count on my hands the number of my students who have lost a parent or sibling, or who face realities that I thought only existed in a newspaper when I was their age.

The full Kingdom is not yet here.

***

So what do I do?  In my lesser moments, I focus on the broken “not-yetness.”  It’s then that I pray angry prayers, and beg that thy Kingdom come to our valley of tears – as if the Kingdom comes entirely outside of us and in spite of us.  In my better moments, I pray that Kingdom continue to unfold; just as thy Kingdom has already come, I pray that it may continue to come and that I may work to promote its fuller flourishing.

Just like when Kareem bet Larry Bird that he couldn’t eat just one potato chip (or “crisps,” as I’m learning to call them here), one taste of the Kingdom is never enough. Which is why seeing but not participating in my friends’ wedding is so hard.  And why laughing with my old buddies on Skype is fantastic, but still leaves something missing.  It’s why it’s so hard – and so easy – to live in a here-but-not-yet world, because the Kingdom has come, but not yet.

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  1. Yes, I realize this comment is an invitation to all sorts of Notre Dame bashing in that we have not had a really good team in twenty years.  After four mediocre years while a student (and after witnessing the “Bush Push” in person), just let me enjoy this regular season – especially this victory over USC – ok?
  2. Note: this is especially true over the next 40 some-odd days for us Notre Dame fans.  After all, an undefeated Notre Dame means that the Kingdom is most definitely present.
  3. Jesuit General Congregation 35, Decree 6
  4. I admittedly do not always remember this when I am teaching religion to a classroom full of 90 16-year-olds and I’m trying to get them to be quiet and pay attention.