But the LORD is righteous;
he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked." Psalm 129:4
On his way home from his job at the packing plant, Phet had to cross the Missouri River, then travel up the freeway toward his home in Morningside. Along the way, stood—well, floated—a huge and comely riverboat casino, the finest, fanciest gambling joint in the region. Sometimes—often, by his recounting—he’d stop and spend the rest of the day and night amid the smoky jangling slots. He wasn’t stressing his marriage; often as not, his wife was right there at his side.
Then he became a Christian, left the casino, lost his wife, and gained another. When I asked him what it meant to be a Christian, he answered by drawing out the dimensions of his new life. Although he was still working at the packing plant, he was living in a new house with a new wife, and he was going to church, had become a deacon. But mostly, to Phet, being a Christian meant he no longer stopped at the riverboat. He was done with all that, done with gambling.
Deacon Phet got himself enabled.
Sasumu Nashimoto, a petty thief from Yokohama, Japan, used to listen to Christian radio while doing all kinds of late-night petty theft. One night he was going after some stuff behind a factory when he started to think about the clear plastic that stretched over waste materials, the stuff he grabbed and sold elsewhere, putting the bucks in his own pockets. If that plastic were black, not clear, he thought, he could really turn a profit. But who could create a miracle like that, he thought, chuckling. With his truck radio playing a sermon, he kept mulling over the question—who turns black to white? who can create miracles? Why, only God can. It came to him as a revelation, he told me. Today, no longer a criminal, he’s a leader in his faith community.
Elder Nashimoto got himself enabled too.
Walker Percy’s genealogy of distinguished ancestors still overflows with grim sadness--Civil War heroes, Mississippi statesmen, and two unforgettable suicides. Both his father and his grandfather ended their lives with a shotgun. Two years after his father’s death, Percy’s mother was killed in an automobile accident. For a profession, Walker Percy, a medical doctor, chose to be a pathologist, someone whose daily work meant working over corpses. But early on in his profession, he contacted tuberculosis, spent some years at a sanitarium, read Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky, among others, then converted to Christianity in 1947.
Walker Percy was enabled also.
I don’t know everything there is to know about Walker Percy; but I believe I can guess, given the outline of his life and the themes of his novels, how Percy too might think about this line from Psalm 129, because he must have felt himself, in his own way, enabled.
A cloud of witnesses all around profess their faith through a spacious library of stories, none of them exactly the same except in divine trajectory. What astonishes me is the sheer breadth of the experience of the Christian faith; there’s a million stories because the faith itself is immensely spacious, even though all of those stories end in redemption.
There is so much elbow room in how it is we come to faith, space enough for all our stories. Nobody’s stripes are exactly the same, but somehow we all get healed—we all are enabled, we all get cut free from the cords of the wicked.
We read the same words here, but we piece together that meaning with an unending list of experiences, each of which recount just exactly how it was that we too found ourselves so cut free, so divinely enabled.