Light in the Darkness

No boats arrived last night. 

This is a very good thing because of the cold weather and very rough seas. Any boat trying to get over probably would not have made it. 

However, boat or no boat, life at the lighthouse night shift is the same every day as it has been since this site was organized in response to the thousands of refugees washing ashore after the five mile journey from Turkey. The reason the lighthouse site was founded, and its primary mission, is to spot boats in the Aegean Sea early enough to call in the coast guard and divert the boat to a safer landing area. Many boats are understandably drawn to the bright lights of the lighthouse, not recognizing that they stand as warning. Instead they are lured by the light, but if they get to the lighthouse they find a rocky, treacherous landing awaits. So we are divided into three watches. There are two to three of us on each watch. The rest of the team attempts to sleep on tents along the back of the lighthouse while one team watches the water using regular and night vision binoculars. If a boat is spotted, everyone is awakened and immediately follows a set protocol. This happened only once for us around 1:30 in the morning, but it turned out to be a false alarm. 

As we watch and wait, we have come to know these beautiful people who lead us, people like Jade, who told me as we stood on the hillside far above the lighthouse looking out on the sea, “Do you know that all of this, all that is happening on this island is the result of volunteers? When I grew up I had a negative view of humanity. No more. You always hear how many died. But what about all who lived, and that was all because people, just regular people like you and me, we decided to come. It’s so beautiful. It’s so wonderful.” 

Thanks for the ongoing prayers for the refugees and this sea of volunteers working to insure their safety. We were told yesterday these are not so much volunteers as those who stand in solidarity with fellow human beings.  It is an accurate reflection of the spirit of those we have met and certainly our spirit as well. We stand with them because we believe Christ’s call to love all knows no boundaries. 

Unfortunately, as you can see, many boats do attempt to land here. Some have died. 

Many more have lived. 

Thanks be to God for all who have answered the call to love neighbor as they love thenselves. When that happens beauty and wonder are brought forth and impact the world. We are seeing that on this tiny island and glad to play a small part in this miracle of grace. 

   
    
    
    
  Photos – Jade, above, making a potent Greek coffee, a light in the small lighthouse room where the fire and coffee keep shifts warm. Photos of beach after sunrise and the life vests and boats left behind from crossings and rescues. 

Below – Harding keeping watch at sunrise. The light shines in the darkness. 

  

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A Note from Cathy McCall

Here are some words from yesterday from Cathy McCall. Since she wrote it we’ve had a twelve hour shift on the beach. After some sleep, I will update the blog wih photos and words about that shift and all that has happened. For now, enjoy these great words from Cathy: 

We enjoyed a good first night of sleep before being briefed by Arnab volunteer with Disaster Medics & Aleya, a volunteer with Lighthouse Relief. We will all be taking the night shift tonight- half of us at the Lighthouse Medic camp receiving and half at the Lighthouse Beach Patrol watching for boats. The seas are extremely choppy here the past two days. We found our that sadly the Refugees are being given a discount of half off the fare paid to the smugglers to make the crossing. Please keep these refugee families, those who have been here receiving them and our team in your prayers as we work together for safety and relief. 

 

Kairos

After we got to Athens and started seeing all the Greek words, Claire – our leader – said she assumed I knew Greek. I had to say I knew ( and let’s use the term “knew” loosely here) a form of Greek that was pretty much a dead language now, the Greek spoken in the time of Jesus.

But I was struck as we made our way first to Newark, then Zurich, then Athens, and finally Lesvos, how appropriate one Greek word is to what is happening in this place, and among us.

The word is “kairos,” and it means in the most literal sense, “time.” But as with many words in Greek, there are several words for time. The most common is “chronos,” which is where we get the word “chronological.” It means simply clock time, time we can measure. We did a lot of that kind of measuring as we flew forward across eight times zones and dealt with the fatigue of over 24 hours of travel.

But we also sensed the presence of another kind of time, which the Greek language calls “kairos.” This is God’s time, the fullness of time, the sense of the inbreaking of grace into chronological time, transforming it and giving it new meaning.

This island is beautiful. As we drove into it for the first time last night, we noticed Christmas lights all around, bustling villages, and breathtaking landscapes. It was good to see life going on as normal here as it has for millennia.

But in the midst of this beauty and normalcy, signs are present everywhere of the fact that hundreds of thousands of refugees have made their way to these shores and still come by the scores every day and night. This is the kairos moment existing in the midst of the routine chronos.

The woman who runs the car rental agency extended great hospitality to us and said, “We are so glad you are here. There are not enough of us on the island to handle it alone.” We are glad to be here as well, if only for a week. We hope our presence, and the presence of many others we’ve already had the chance to meet, will be a sign of the kairos time of God breaking in to God’s world and into all our hearts with peace.

As of now it looks like our team of nine from First Presbyterian will be divided into two teams. We will work two shifts – one from 5:00- midnight, and the other from midnight-8 a.m. Our job will be to patrol a portion of the beach and be prepared to welcome and assist boats of refugees as they come ashore.

I have a few travel photos here. Not sure the quality is the best, but we will have more photos and reflections from the team here as we are able in coming days. Thank you for your prayers. Please continue to pray that we will see and follow God’s kairos time in this place.

Our crew below (l-r top row – Tony Inglis, Kim Joiner, me, Robin Pulliam, Cathy McCall, Harding McCall. l-r bottom row – Elizabeth Stiver, Claire Crunk, and Lexie Pulliam).  
  Above- Zurich Airport. Below – Our team in Athens airport with luggage and supplies 
  Above- the tiny airport in Lesvos. Below – photo from plane of Swiss Alps. 
 Above – enjoying Italian food while on a long layover in Athens airport

Twenty-Four Frames

I am a big fan of Jason Isbell’s music. He hails from my hometown, and I find his music, both when he was the lead singer for Drive By Truckers, and now that he has a thriving solo career, gives voice to a sense of place and home.

I was at first disturbed by a new single from Isbell getting lots of play on independent radio here in Nashville. It is called “Twenty-Four Frames,” which is a reference to the number of frames in a 35 millimeter film comprising one second. He wrote the song after he and his wife divorced due to his substance abuse and his reflections following time in a treatment program.

The refrain is a theological reflection:

You thought God was an architect,

Now you know

He’s something like a pipe bomb

Ready to blow,

And everything you’ve built

That’s all for show

Goes up in flames

In twenty-four frames.

I bristled at the image of God as a pipe bomb, especially in this day of terrorism, and the inherent violence in it. I voiced theological assertions that God was no destroyer, that God is indeed a Creator, an architect, the source of all that is.

The song has been playing quite a bit this Advent, and for the first time I heard something in the refrain I had not heard before, something that made me re-evaluate my misgivings.

“And everything you’ve built, that’s all for show, goes up in flames.”

In these last days of Advent, with many of us gathering in candle-lit sanctuaries tomorrow night to tell the story of God’s in-breaking through the Holy Child of Bethlehem, perhaps we should take a moment to consider that for which we pray in Advent. We pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.” We pray for the dawning of God’s new day.

When that day comes – and we believe its light breaks forth even now – everything we’ve built that’s all for show will cease. Paul said it best, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now, faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

Throughout Advent, we have gathered around the wreath in our home, lit the candles, and shared in a time of reflection and prayer. The first night, Chandler’s dear friend Maggie was with us and joined us in that circle. Last night, my brother Rory was in the circle. Both nights, we felt bound together by faith, hope, and love.

It is humbling to know that all the trappings surrounding us on those nights around the wreath – the home we live in a nice neighborhood, the gifts scattered under the tree, all the things we’ve accumulated, all the things in which I take so much pride – all of it will cease. It will go, like we ourselves, to the dust. But what we shared around the wreath, together, will remain, and will remain throughout eternity.

Things can change quickly, in as little as twenty-four frames. Our family knows that this year in a more profound way than ever before. In those moments, what remains are the things born in faith, hope, and love. And, as we discovered, they are more than enough. They are all we need.

Isbell sings,

This is how you make yourself call your mother,

And this is how you make yourself closer to your brother.

His reflections lead him to consider what remains and, though he doesn’t use these words, they seem to be implied – what remains are faith, hope, and love.

And so, yes, one day God will bring the Kingdom in its fullness, and, like a pipe bomb, all that is just for show will be blown apart by the realization of our futile pride in the face of God’s presence. All that is essential, all that makes for abundant life, will remain. And with what remains, God the architect will make all things new.

So here, on this last day of Advent, let us pray:

“Come, Lord Jesus.”