The University of Adversity, by Avery Blakeney, Inward/Outward July 12, 2006.
I think I can say with some measure of accuracy that I did not come down from heaven, but I've come up from hell.
I grew up in the inner-city of Washington, DC, and was exposed to and participated in all of the "marginal" behavior that qualified me for disenfranchisement. My matriculation through the academy of life was not filled with day school classes, classes where I could learn how to balance my bank books and develop my portfolio. Those were classes that were offered only in the day while the sun shone bright.
I spent most of my life attending the University of Adversity, where I went to night school. There I learned enough to keep me in the grips of substance abuse for 20 years and to know what it felt like to be facing 11-25 years in prison. I remember one class where I learned what it looked like and felt like to watch your own blood pour out of your body with every beat of your heart from wounds resulting from being stabbed. Six overdoses of drugs - one in particular that caused the physician to say that if I had stopped at another stoplight as I was being brought to the hospital, I surely would have died. This list goes on and on, but let me just assure you that I graduated with honors from that University of Adversity.
Many people around me at that time in my life attended church, and there was no shortage of well-intentioned church attenders who would point their fingers at me and say with what seemed to be sincerity, "You need to get yourself together." When I stood still long enough to ask them how to go about getting myself together, no one seemed to have a solid answer. "Just pray about it," was the blanket statement that was offered for warmth during a night experience that was for me awfully dark and terribly cold.
I share these glimpses of my life with you not for the purpose of soliciting any sympathy. On the contrary, it is my hope to share the depths of my darkness as context and testimony of God's ability to take that which the world has thrown away and mold us and make us over by God's use of the unusable.'
Maybe God wanted to make the statement that there is no one too dirty to be washed, too low to be lifted or too far out to be beyond the reach of God's love. My experience has been that God waited until I had totally exhausted all of my plans as to how I could pull my life together. God waited until I had totally given up, having gone down for the third time, before jumping me and saving me.
Initially, I was frustrated and angry at those traditional church structures because they were not able to triage me, to prepare me to meet the Great Physician. However, the more I have considered my former condition, there is less and less room for being hateful. It's hard to be hateful if you are indeed grateful. Today I spend most of my time trying to learn more and more creative ways to say thank you to the Almighty for saving me and giving me, literally, another chance to live.
Having been frustrated by traditional church structures, I am thankful for the principles and practices of this community, which have been for me an oasis in the midst of a dry desert experience. I am thankful that I have been able to find both context and language that address some of my deepest anguish.
Someone once said to me, "God wanted us to be spiritual and having failed that, we settled for being religious." Spirituality that is lived out in our everyday lives gives us a glimpse of the kingdom of God and what it would look like here on earth. I've seen just enough to realize that I can never go back home again.
Avery Blakeney used his education in the University of Adversity to become a minister of the gospel of reconciliation. He also practices this calling as an employment specialist at the Perry School in Washington, DC.
This is from Inward/Outward, The Church of the Saviour, Wash., D.C.