Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

The Strange Work of Tears

Emotions are funny. You read a column, you watch a movie, or you read a book. And there is a line, a tension releasing moment, a musical score—something that opens the emotive gate, and tears well up. One of the reasons I miss the show, Parenthood, is that there was in almost every episode a moment when an Asperger son did something that broke my heart—or thrilled my heart—or a parent came to the end of himself or herself. And I would be at the end of myself, with the same tears. It’s why I often watched the travails of the Braverman family alone.

It’s like viewing Thirteen Days with Kevin Costner. I have probably seen the movie twenty times. I show it for my 506 leadership class because it is a great film on leading. Everything is on the line. If Kennedy makes the wrong move, the world just might end. Costner plays the role of presidential counsel, and the movie is filled with great tension throughout. Dobbs’ book One Minute Till l Midnight captures the perilous week better than anything I have ever read. The real life week in 1962 was actually scarier than the movie portrayed it. It’s towards the end of the movie, when the Cuban missile crisis is settled and WW III is averted, that Costner collapses at the family table. The direct line to the White House rings, and he has no more strength to pick up the phone. And when his face collapses into his hands, and he cries, I cry. I am not sure why. Something begs to be released inside of me in that moment. I have to compose myself and end the class with some stability.

Preaching can be this way. I would not consider myself a weepy preacher (my congregation can attest to this), but there come these moments that blindside you. Like hitting a pothole you were not prepared for, there are these bumps along the way in preaching. The theme of grace often does this. I get caught up with God’s mercy in a text, and I am suddenly ruined (in a good way).

I was reading John Canzano’s latest column in The Oregonian, “A Life Lesson at the Intersection of Marcus Mariota and Damian Lillard”. There were those tears circling, ready to strike again. It’s the story of two great athletes who stop by Room 406 to visit Preston Miller, who is dying of cancer (and died this past week). Canzano writes the story in a way that captures tenacity and courage and compassion and loss. It’s the stuff of life. I can’t help but stop and lay my life before God and simply say—“O God, we are desperate for you.” I move on to attend to my work, but seeing ahead is like looking through a car windshield during a pouring rain.

These moments are never predictable, but they are surely divinely ordained. I am working through my own issues of life, and then God breaks in. He did it this morning. I was hanging my bike clothes to dry in an outer office, after riding to Village in a driving rain. Stepping back to my office, I realized I allowed the door to close behind me, and I was locked out. Someone please be on campus! And then, across the way, I saw Paul, one of our custodians. He rescued me from standing outside. We stopped to catch up. Paul lost his job in the engineering world four years ago, and now he feels like some unused item that is out of date. He works two custodial jobs, over fifty hours a week, to support a wife and two sons (a wife going through her own severe physical issues). He still hopes, but like many, he wonders if the world has just moved on. And so we stopped and talked—and prayed. I was reminded again how hard life is for so many I casually walk by. Back in my office, there were again those tears.

Later today, one of my closest friends will sit through a service in New Jersey. He and his family will be remembering their son, who a week ago took his life. His son, at one point, was one of my son’s best friends. I will stop to remember a time in Holland when they used to hang out in our home, eating and playing and doing the crazy stuff 9 year olds do. Two bright, innocent, and quirky young boys, who may or may not find their way. Sadly, Buddy lost his way. And I am sure, as I reflect, those pesky tears will come back. Which is okay. Like perspiration, they have a way of cleansing. They clean the eyes and clear the sight. I find that God uses them to restore the soul and right the ship. In His gracious way, God sends the needed moisture—both outside and inside.

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