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Monday, February 2, 2015

The Man Who Sold Cigarettes

By now many have seen it. The video tape of the atrocity. Shouldn't the eyes film, watching officers of the police force become officers of a police gang that strangles an unarmed man for verbally resisting arrest? Shouldn't the heart just reel out beats? Shouldn't the heart feel what the eyes see and the ears hear, whether or not it's witnessed in "real" life or in, what? In life on video so it's not really real?

Is the heart meant to take daily doses of a world of hurts broadcast over the world news and not become as petrified flesh, hard as stone?

Didn't God write the law of love on the heart and turn it from hard stone to flesh that feels?

And are our eyes bulging dry because we are being strangled by a law that is barely alive to His love but is to a fear that He never intended for us to have?

I guess I'm feeling gritty over the whole thing. Really, I'm just disturbed by the scene and more disturbed by a heart condition that might be called "Petrified Heart." Have I developed symptoms of this condition? Is it in the air I breathe? My heart broke watching the video clip, but it broke sharp and jagged like shale, not soft tear like flesh. I felt it break like this. It felt wrong and it sounded wrong in my spirit.

What does it mean when a man is being choked on a crowded sidewalk in the middle of the day by the strong arm of the law, literally, until the very breath of his life gasps from panicking lungs, "I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe." And then stops breathing?

It was audible plea.

I heard it on the video.

It was audible enough to be heard through the thick bodies of five law officers, and heard past the violent scuffle, and heard in voice of the amateur taping the scene on video, "He's my brother." His voice was as shadow from the other side of the camera. As shadow, because that's how the voice sounds when the eyes can't believe what they are seeing and a brother's heart can't feel for a moment because "I can't breathe" plea looses air and goes silent and death like this just hangs dark thick shadow.

A policeman's thick hand shoves the video camera into the face of the brother behind it with no regard for the dead. Just anger. Just violence. Just a rush of adrenaline, and just only one thought, "Cover up what happened as quickly as possible." Shame wants no witnesses and pride lacks reverence, and the loud order from the law itself to curious on-lookers, "Get back lest you are arrested, or worse, for being here!" is the voice of a law that just sent a man to his death in a state that abolished the death sentence years ago.

Officer hands strangled a man who committed not the heinous crimes. No. This man didn't murder anyone; he sold cigarettes. Sold cigarettes on a sidewalk. He didn't have a permit, and I wonder if he could have afforded one. He'd been jailed for doing this before and didn't want to go back to jail and said so. Heinous? No. Was he read his rights, or even handcuffed in an effort to give him the slightest protection that rights read and handcuffs would have given him? No. Shouldn't the law read us our rights to protect us from loosing them? Shouldn't the law provide handcuffs to protect us from being cuffed by it? It seems the law had only blood thirst right there on the sidewalk in broad daylight and never mind taking precautions to protect passing people from what was about to go down.

And the man who sold cigarettes wasn't cuffed, but strangled.

The Man Who Sold Cigarettes

I live on this sidewalk; walk through this world as a passerby, and I've never kept the law perfectly. Not God's; not even man's. I've gone over the speed limit before. I've not replaced my car registration sticker on the the windshield before it expired. I've been pulled over, and read my rights, for having out of state plates. Yeah, really. Somehow I've never been ticketed.

I live here like this, and sometimes I look up and press my heart deep and right into the night sky. I do, now, and my eyes film at the beauty I see till I breathe audible need to the One whose law is love a song that comes to mind, "This is the air I breathe, and I'm desperate for You."

I can breathe. Maybe it's because I refuse to watch nearly everything broadcast, and this man who sold cigarettes is the only bit of news I've laid eyes on for a really, really long time. And my big husband, the German whose name means "The Grace of God," keeps me as up-to-date on world news as I ought to be. He knows the difference between what I ought to know and what will just keep me awake at night because I'm too visual for my own good. There's not much I need to know. The important stuff has already been broadcast in the Good News; hard facts taken from the journals of the prophets.

So I look up and see this very long, and only, cloud above me. Odd that it's the only one I can see. Odd that there isn't one stray wisp. It's as if the cloud is a river, shored on each bank by nothing but darkest indigo night. The cloud runs white because it's really vapor caught in moon light. Night shores this river of moonlit vapor and it flows long and winds slight curve from far behind me to as far ahead of me as I can see as if it is jet stream and not cloud.

But it is a cloud, and it's dividing the stars. It's a cloud lit white by moon light in the otherwise dark sky. It's sorting constellations that hang over city sidewalks and my patio. I wonder if those lit by His light, those who shine like lamps on the sidewalks and patios and all over earth, unknowingly form constellations that God can see as He walks the star dust? I'm assured by this. Assured that the light of God, in this dark world, sorts too.

I can't say I've ever seen a single cloud like it before. It seems staged. Seems like a painted backdrop hanging over this patio where this woman is looking up disturbed by images on a video tape that look a lot like war footage. My thoughts follow the trail they're on and, "God? I wonder. But, no. It's too fantastic."

"What do you wonder?" He prompts me.

"Well, I just wonder," I pause to gather the courage to sound like a crazy woman, and start over. "Was it staged? Was it a performance unknowingly acted out by the man who sold cigarettes, and by the man who said, "He's my brother," from behind a video camera that he just happened to have on site and rolling while the whole scene began? And who carries a video camera around unless they're a tourist, which he wasn't? And what about the police officers? Why were there three more officers who suddenly came into view as if waiting for their cue to dog pile the cigarette man? Where'd they come from?" It's a crazy thought, but there it is broadcast in front of God and everyone.

"We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." It's His answer, from Ephesians 6:12, and it makes me feel less crazy. This is the war. God's soldiers take their orders from Him.

We don't always know if what we say or do is scripted in His book, but sometimes we find out later that it must have been. Could it be that it works like this from the other side of the battle line, too? Could it be that The Man Who Sold Cigarettes was a scene played out in it's atrocity through unsuspecting people, including the officers who may have felt a bit out of control doing their job, because maybe they were? Could it be that they played their parts because it's written that the war is fought on this earth, with real people, employed as soldiers on one side or the other of the battle field in the heavenly places? I'm crazy enough to think this is a real possibility. And Christ's words from Luke 23:34 come to mind, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." It's true. We don't always know what we are doing because sometimes orders are just taken and acted out and we're not in control.

I'm convicted by His words. I need to forgive the police officers.

I lay awake in bed, just flayed open before Him. "It shouldn't sound like this when my heart breaks, Lord. Not like a sharp tongue. Is my heart getting brittle? Why have my eyes stayed so dry?"

He says nothing and I've learned to be silent when He is. Silence in a dark room. Isn't this where something holy can grow?  Didn't the presence of Jesus form in a silent dark room with walls of maiden flesh? I think about this in the dark because I'm thinking about a silence and darkness in my heart. I make myself be still. It's how I'm told I can know God. He said it; "Be still, and know that I am God."

I lay still and know Him. I lay still. I deliberately let Him reach slow like light across me because maybe I want to hear flesh tear; not shale shatter. I do. It happens in the quiet stillness. My heart starts tearing.

"Take this broken heart and make it pure." It hurts to feel some things.

"Take these dry eyes and make them weep." And I let it happen. The weeping. It's just thin film. The man who sold cigarettes is pleading, "I can't breathe." The words echo. The man who sold cigarettes goes silent. The video is shoved back, and now the film runs from the corners of my eyes across my temples and, yes, into my ears as I lay on my pillow.

"Take this indignation and make it forgiveness." I reach for the words, 'I choose to forgive the police officers, Lord."

The Cloud at Orion's Feet

"Clouds are the dust of My feet." The Lord softly reminds me of this. I open the Book of books, the one true word, and turn the pages of truth after truth and find the book of Nahum. "The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked. The Lord has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet" (Nahum 1:3).

My eyes scan the words again and again while truth finds its place and I feel the belt of truth cinch secure and the gap close. I stand, having girded my waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod my feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; and above all, taken the shield of faith with which I am able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one" (Ephesians 6:14-16).

I lift my shield of faith and it bears the pock marks and burns from those darts. "I'm using the darts to your advantage." He explains. Should I thank Him?

"You're welcome," He reads my thoughts with gentle amusement. "The darts. They mark where you are most vulnerable. The flames. They provide the fire to forge your faith till it's strengthened."

"Ohh," I'm seeing fiery darts from a new angle. For me, trust has been under fire the most. And I've learned, written books on it, that it takes strengthened faith to forgive. And forgiveness is needed when faith is weakened, and faith is weakened when trust has been burned.

I've had a lot of practice forgiving. "I choose to forgive the police officers, Lord. Increase my faith."
Faith and forgiveness run together and I keep choosing this race, even when officers, it seems, can kill a man for selling cigarettes without a permit. "Increase my faith," because they incited terror on that city sidewalk. "Increase my faith," because no one dared speak against what they were doing or come to the man's defense. "Increase my faith," because fear is big but Love is bigger.

Fear is a way wide enough to swallow this wide world in one giant gulp; but love that casts fear out is the narrow way. Few find it. Few. Many believe they have found it, but many will say "Lord, "Lord!  We did all these things in Your name;" and He will say, "I never knew you."

"I don't want to run on hard paved sidewalks where many do much in Your name but haven't taken the narrow way." And I really don't; but sometimes I fear that I am.

"I've shown you the bright dust where My feet walked right here above you. I've reminded you that I have My way in the whirlwinds, and storms, on city sidewalks, and patios. I will not acquit the wicked. I have fulfilled the law, and I have the upper hand."

He says it like this and I feel the growth pains of faith as He speaks. I picture His hands that took the fiery darts, and His feet that were nailed to the narrow way.

"The way is so narrow, Lord."

"Run as vapor on cloud dust." He showed me that odd cloud for such a time as this.

written by; Carolyn-Elizabeth Roehrig

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