Mike Goodman, First UMC, Homestead
A Very Black Friday
The Atlantic churns to salty foam all around us as we don our gear and prepare to submerge. An intensifying, charcoal-black storm has been working its way up from Key West all morning, and, at just after two p.m., it’s finally on us. Widely scattered lightning amplifies staccato cracks and echoes throaty booms past us and northward up Hawk Channel, resonating to whispers out over the Gulf Stream.
As I steady myself on the rocking platform of the forty-six foot Newton dive boat, I slip on my full-foot race fins, and mindfully run through my pre-dive safety check for the fifth and final time. I turn to my buddy, Evan, my good friend from Asbury. I arch my right thumb and index finger into an okay sign: “Good to go?”
“Good to go,” he reciprocates.
My thoughts are as percussive as my entry into the saline underworld over Davis Reef this third of May, 2013, and as numerous as the myriad lightning-illuminated bubbles around me. I envision the world’s economy as a freight train carrying a time bomb speeding down an unfinished track. The ground on either side is covered by the bones of expired people. They belong to people from Rwanda, Liberia, and Gabon. But they’re not just from slaughters in Africa. They’re from all continents, and they’re from all walks of life. They’re people who filled their distended bellies with malaria-ridden water. They’re sex-trafficked little girls who died with fistula complications in Asia, and they’re Mexicans who died in labor camps in Homestead when I was a boy. I also see dead soldiers—some are American soldiers who fought in The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Iraq War. But who cares? Right? Our government isn’t of the people anymore, but of some loosely formed aristocracy. The people have the ability to vote in change, but they never will, because the people are too lazy to run for government. So, we just keep re-electing the same handful of self-possessed, career bureaucrats. People toss around terms like “revolution,” and “civil war,” in dinner table conversation. Conspiracy theories are rampant. It’s only a matter of time before someone sneaks a nuke through TSA. I hear the Port of Miami only checks one percent of incoming shipping containers. One percent? That’s ridiculous! Thanks to the rambunctious foreign policies of a few former presidents, everybody hates us. The only thing surprising about the Boston Marathon bombing is that it didn’t happen ten years ago, and then that it wasn’t repeated in every major city in the U.S. We’re dead! We’re all dead. Even if we’re not, China supposedly owns us anyway. We’re all washed up. It’s time to throw in the towel. Capitalism has destroyed democracy.
Abstract images flit through my mind, both political and religious: a Chinese student bravely standing alone in front of a line of tanks, a war-torn American flag, Kim Jung Un shaking his fist in the air, soldiers at Iwo Jima, the altar at my church, a nuclear bomb test over the Pacific Ocean, Nixon saying, “I’m not a crook,” the killing fields of genocide-ridden countries, scorched, naked people running through the streets of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. My mind turns to see three crosses on a horizon, backlit by a sinking, molten orange sun. Where is Christ in all this?
My breathing is deliberate. I inhale long, and slowly exhale. Sluggish bubbles push past my face toward the dimly illuminated ocean ceiling above. I turn to see waves on the surface refract light from the inconsistent electrical charges produced by the sky. The aquatic environment around me is alive. Tricked into their instinctive nighttime behavior by the storm overhead, lobsters prowl the sea floor, and sharks actively navigate over and around coral profiles in search of unsuspecting prey. Tiny coral polyps fully extend their squid-like arms, and sway back and forth in the gentle surge of the changing tide. I chuckle through my regulator at the thought that these rocks are praising their creator. Amidst a forest of amber soft corals and purple gorgonian sea fans moving in the moderate current, I remember to praise God.
“Thank you, Lord. I thank you for all of this amazing world you’ve created. From this beautiful, unfettered barrier reef, I thank you for the Florida Keys, and for your Atlantic wrapped around me, saturating me like your Spirit. I thank you for the Everglades slough, and for the flight and swim of its anhingas. I thank you for our gorgeous coastal beaches, and I love you through an admiration of the artistry of the works of your hands, through your sculpture of the Earth. I love you from Florida, and into the misty mountains of Appalachia, which always beckon me to their wiles where the cacophony of man doesn’t drown out your whisper on the wind. I love you from the United States to Central and South America, from Baja California to Cape Horn. I love you from Iceland to Greece. I love you from Moscow to Shanghai. I love you from Morocco to Cape Town. I love you from Istanbul to Sri Lanka. And I love you from Singapore to Melbourne. I love you out of our atmosphere and out of our solar system. I love you through the Milky Way and reddened gaseous nebulae. I love you into supernovas and the birthing of stars hundreds of thousands of light years away. And I love you as I blow my mind up wondering about cosmology and how you unraveled the universe before time existed. I love you in the vast expanses of your unimaginable enormity, and I love you in the vast expanses of your unimaginable goodness. I call on you, Lord, to pour your goodness out on this planet. Heal this place. Heal your sculpture, and heal your children. We’ve grown to let greed and selfishness inhabit the foundations of our cultures. We don’t know how to undo it. We just know that it’s hurting the place and the people of this good Earth. Help us globally, to replace greed and selfish ambition with your unending love. Help all of us humans to love all of us humans.”
I hear myself breathing. I’m crying. I realize my eyes have been closed for long moments. I open them to a strange sight: a bottle-nose dolphin is staring at me. In hundreds of dives I’ve never seen one in the wild. He looks like he’s smiling as he swims away. We finish the dive while the lightning subsides, and the storm moves away. We emerge to a beautiful, sunshiny day.
As I wiggle out of my cumbersome gear, and peel off my three mil wetsuit, my mind turns to my new charge as the coordinator of the new young adult ministry at FUMC Homestead. How can I instill in young adults a powerful message of love? How can I share with them something so moving that it motivates them to action? As God creates a disciple out of this parishioner, how can I make more disciples rather than simply more parishioners? I’ll show them. I won’t just talk about Angola; I’ll go. I’ll share a message of faith, hope and love. Then I’ll bring it back home to young adults in Florida. And that’s how I’ll get started. I thought about running for congress, but I’d hate to leave my young adult position and lose all that influence.
My car is headed North over the Jewfish creek bridge, and I see the sun is setting across the southernmost expanse of Everglades National Park. A smile crosses my lips, because I finally understand hope, and I know as surely as I know I am that my church is about to explode in the unquenchable flames of the Holy Spirit.
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6b
Note: The events described in this story occurred during two dives on the same dive trip. I eliminated that explanation, because it was wordy, and seemed unnecessary.
Up October 15…
The Team that will not Go Away
Introduction: This is a story about a blessing that occurred for a volunteer work team at Plantation, Florida United Methodist Church (PUMC) starting in year 2004 after several hurricanes hit South Florida and that blessing has continued to this day.
The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church
450 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue
Lakeland, FL 33815
(863) 688-5563 or toll free (800) 282-8011