Seventy Times Seven

I truly did not mean for my absence to be a full three weeks, Reader; I’m trying to stay to the every-other-week model, but oh, the shit that has derailed me of late.

I’m back in the Wicket Gate, having yet again said good-bye to the Land of Pilgrims and marveled that my heart did not fall out of my chest.  And classes have started up again.  But the main thing that’s consuming my days is the fallout of having had a subletter this summer who not only was careless herself but left the door open—literally—to any and all who decided to wander in, which in my  neighborhood means rather a lot of drug addicts, prostitutes, and thieves.  So the last two weeks have been cleaning (as in I’ve-gone-through-three-rolls-of-Clorox-bleach-wipes and I-had-to-buy-gloves-for-this deep cleaning) and trying to figure out what can be fixed.  It’s been convincing myself that I can live with the burn marks now on my nightstand even after I dumped the drawers full of cigarette butts.  It’s been washing the walls and ceilings over and over again trying to get the smell of smoke to at least be palatable and not give me such a headache.

pain-blue-man-bent-overAnd it’s been grieving at the daily discoveries of what is lost.  There’re the concrete panics, like the fact that someone unearthed my social security card and now I have to deal with the possibilities of identity theft, but there are also the suckerpunches of what I can’t replace.  I can get a new pillow and new spoons and new towels, but I can’t get a new rosary blessed by the Pope from Italy from my parents’ visit to the Vatican.  I can’t get a new high school class ring.  I can’t get new notes from last year’s sermons at my church.  It’s not every camel and the death of all my children, but it is a deep and abiding loss.

I have been fortunate—immensely fortunate, more than I can express—to have a community here in my fellow students spring into action.  People have given me time, have given me a mattress, have given me access to their washers so I can launder the clothes that remain.  People have given me so much and that has been amazing.  But it doesn’t replace that which is lost, and it doesn’t cover the pain of it.

Some folks have, in a sincere and likely well-intentioned desire to help, asked if I’m angry.  No—I am furious.  I am horrified, I am enraged, I am wrathful.  I want to punch things until I can’t feel my hands, I want to scream, I want to harm her for the harm done to me.  The sorrow and hatred and pain and sheer outrage are coiled just beneath the surface of everything I do right now, and it is taking everything I have to avoid touching that surface lest the bubble break, lest I be overwhelmed by the immense power of those emotions and lose myself in them.

Because what would it gain me?  She is gone I know not where.  I don’t have the money to chase her through the legal system, though I have filed a police report and am certainly not shy about telling authorities anything I know of her information.  And I don’t have the time—I work two jobs and am taking five classes as well as holding two offices in student associations on top of the slow and painful reclamation of this space.  Vengeance just doesn’t fit on my schedule.

And vengeance it would be.  I know enough of this woman to know she has even less than I do in finance, support, sanity.  What good is blood from a stone?  And I’ve been wrestling most in the last week or so with the promise that “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

One of the many hard things about Christianity is that it demands that its adherents forgive.  This does not mean excuse.  The police report remains.  The crime of this remains.  It is not okay that this happened to me and I cannot believe that God would ever expect me to say it’s not a problem.  The grief of this is very, very real.  The shock of it is real.  The pain of it is real, and no loving God would ask me to pretend that any of that is dismissible as though my reactions don’t matter.  Jesus says flat out, “If your brother or sister in God’s family does something wrong, go and tell them what they did wrong” (Mt 18:15).  Forgiveness, if it is to have any value at all, cannot come at the expense of my emotional validity.

But it must come.

Over and over again, Jesus says to His followers that we must return to the relationships that hurt not because we are called to be doormats but because we cannot hold others’ sins close to us in anger and hate.  They will poison us, as surely as our own sins do—and we have our own sins.  have my own sins, to be sure, and I cannot ask God to forgive them if I am utterly unwilling to forgive another’s.  I cannot ask for the mercy I refuse to grant.

I am human—very, very human, and I am angry, and I am hurt, and I will take a very long time to get to anything approaching forgiveness for this betrayal.  But I must recognize that I have to walk that direction precisely because it goes against everything in me, precisely because I am so pissed that God would be cruel enough to ask me to do anything other than put spikes around my broken heart and never trust again.  Four hundred and ninety times I am called to forgive these people who are awful and deserve punishment.

May I eventually have the strength for the very first time.

 

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, when someone won’t stop doing wrong to me, how many times must I forgive them? Seven times?”   Jesus answered, “I tell you, you must forgive them more than seven times. You must continue to forgive them even if they do wrong to you seventy-seven times.”  (Matthew 18:21-22, ERV)

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Patriotism, Racism, and Christianity Walk into a Bar

And Christianity goes to meet its friends over in the corner, Mercy, Hope, and Peace, and never talks to the two ideas it happened to walk in with because they are totally antithetical to it.

Is how that should go, right?  So even someone like me who lives under a rock (a.k.a. in a hospital pretty much ALL THE TIME—I had my last 24-hour shift this past weekend and it was brutal) is aware that shit went down this week in Charlottesville, Virginia.  And as a white person, it is incumbent on me to take every platform on which I have a voice to say unequivocally that I denounce that violence, that I denounce that idolism, that I denounce the idea that it is ever okay to talk about “getting our country back” as though it was ever ours and as though there’s some kind of fight over it right now.  It is incumbent on me to call out racism and refuse to accept it in any form because, being white, my voice has the kind of power that carries.  It is incumbent on me to work to dismantle that kind of power because my black and brown brothers and sisters are fierce and wonderful creations of God who deserve every ounce of humanity given them at their very birth.

dheuw7hu0aai9bqBecause here’s the thing—so much of the alt-right/Nazi-istic/KKK shit going down in Virginia claims connection to Christianity and that does not work.  Christianity is a religion built around a brown Jew from a poor provincial town, an insignificant carpenter’s son Who was executed for threatening the secular power system by saying things like hey, maybe we shouldn’t put God and money on the same level and perhaps prostitutes are people, too.  There is literally no place in the Bible where I can see any kind of support for violently marching through a town in defense of an icon of a treasonous general supporting a slave state based on the color of people’s skin, and yes I am including the Old Testament in that statement.  If you feel like I’ve missed something, I very seriously and honestly want you to let me know because there is no Christ in the Christianity I hear from the alt-right.  There is no love, there is no reverence for life, there is no hope, there is nothing but hate and blindness in the dim light of those tiki torches.

It is not only my color that demands I speak against this but my faith.  I am a preacher, I am a chaplain, I am a pastor, I am a faith leader and it pisses me off to see the God Who has loved me to a state of wholeness in which I might actually be okay in this life be dragged through the mud like this.  BUT I do not get to say that the people in the march are thus less human, because that same God laid in His own blood in the dirt while men hurled insults at Him and His death was for them, too.  The men in Virginia are my brothers, my fellow humans, God’s created children, and the reason that God blows my mind and keeps pulling me back in is that I am called to denounce them utterly and love them completely at the same time.

As are you, whether you’re Christian or not, because all faith systems save maybe Satanism have an inherent recognition that the other person is bound to you in some way and that you can’t treat someone else like they are less to make you more.  Even atheism, if done with any morality at all, has a certain appreciation of other people.  If I’m going to say that my black and brown friends are valuable and wonderful and beautiful if only because they are human, then I better be prepared to say that these white supremacists who scare the hell out of me are also valuable (if not wonderful or beautiful) because they are human and I do not get to take that humanity away from them.  Even if I really, really want to.

But I do get to call out hate where I see it and say that isn’t okay.  I do get to refuse to let my silence be my complicity, as President Trump has so cowardly done.  I must do these things, because I call on the name of a God Who will look me in the eye at the end of days and ask whether I gave food to Him when He was hungry, whether I gave Her drink when She was thirsty, whether I clothed Him when He was naked, whether I gave Her housing when She was without shelter, whether I visited Him when He was in prison, whether I looked at Her and saw God in every shade possible.

White supremacy has no place with God.  Racism has no place with God.  The idea of America has no place with God, for “My kingdom is not of this world.”  And I will say that plainly, baldly, forcefully from every platform I can find and call upon everyone who reads this to do the same because I cannot pray with any patient or preach from any pulpit if I do not.  That would be hypocrisy of the highest order, and I have had enough of being a whitewashed tomb.

 

Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.  (Romans 13:10, NET Bible)

Resurrected, Not Restored

My last official day of classes for my first year of seminary is Monday.

Thank God.

It’s been a rough year—an even rougher second semester—and I’m ready to switch into the next thing.  (Of course, the next thing is itself an exhausting concept:  I’m going to be basically a hospital chaplain over the summer, so I don’t know how much you’ll be hearing from me since I have to do 24-hour shifts every other weekend.)  I will be heading home more scarred than I came here to The Wicket Gate, metaphorically and literally.  I have grown older and in some ways sadder.

But I have also grown (hopefully) wiser.  I have met some amazing people and had some crazy adventures.  I have stepped into a new part of who I am.  You know how this goes, Reader; you know how change always comes at a price—or, as a great blogger (BeautyBeyondBones) put it:
BeautyBeyondBones change begets change

We are now in the season of Easter—yep, it’s not just one day.  Easter is 50 days long in the liturgical calendar because, well, it kind of took a while to catch on.  Jesus had to keep coming back and telling people yep, the rumors are true, I am no longer dead because let’s face it, Thomas wasn’t the only one who thought such a thing was unbelievable.  We have all of these stories about Jesus appearing to various people and them being surprised each time; I’m actually preaching on the road to Emmaus next week (prayers for such are welcome) because the Resurrection didn’t just settle into being an accepted reality on that first Easter Sunday.

The thing about these appearances of Jesus, though, is that He didn’t come back perfect and shiny and new.  He comes back with scars—“look at My hands,” He tells Thomas.  “Put your finger in my side.”  The Resurrection didn’t—and doesn’t—make the Crucifixion un-happen.

Which kind of blows my mind as a person of faith, actually.  We as Christians have built ourselves around the Good News (and boy howdy is it good news) that Christ is risen, that Death is defeated, that hallelujah the tomb is empty.  Every Sunday is a little Easter.  But our God is not a God of completely erasing that which is broken and painful and ugly; our God is not a God of sweeping things under the rug.  Jesus could well have come back in a body as smooth as the day He was born, hands no longer bearing the small cuts and splinter marks of life as a carpenter, eyes no longer crinkling with the first signs of age.  He could have come back with a perfect body.

But instead He came back with the marks of having lived, and died.  He came back with the white lines of scar tissue on His palms, with the thick and shining flesh across the holes in His wrists, with the gouged-out hole in His side.  He came back with a body that bore witness on every inch of the brown skin of brokenness, of pain, of horrifying violence, of sorrow and abandonment and misery.

He came back with a body that looked an awful lot like our world feels, honestly.

The difference, however, is that His scars were scars, not open wounds.  No blood poured into Thomas’ hands; no bones showed through the criss-crossed cuts on Jesus’ back.  One of the many miraculous and hopeful things about the Resurrection is not that Jesus fought death to be restored to pre-Crucifixion health but that Jesus won over death to ensure the reality of healing.  We who are Easter people follow a God Who knows exactly what it’s like to be broken into pieces and get put back together with the brokenness as part of who we are.

It’s not about it making us stronger—I’ll confess, I actually loathe the motto “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” because I think it’s untrue and harmful.  (There are some things that happen that don’t kill you but you wish they had; there are some things that don’t kill you but maim you; there are some things that don’t kill you but weaken you from the sheer amount of emotional or physical blood loss they cause.)  Christ didn’t die so He could come back stronger, and I don’t think God is calling us to die to ourselves so we can be spiritually stronger like we’re in a weird Christian Gatorade ad.  The Resurrection, I think, is about showing us that we can be healed from even the worst of things—made not stronger, but whole.

kintsugi-225255b325255dThere’s an illustration that I’m pretty sure every pastor has to use at least once in his/her career about this broken/whole thing, namely kintsugi or the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold-brushed lacquer.  It’s a beautiful metaphor, it really is, and it has everything to do with this resurrection that isn’t truly restoration.  What was broken is not remade such that it looks like no harm was done.  It is healed such that the harm is no longer the defining aspect, such that a broken Body can bring an entire world hope.

Happy Easter, Reader, for every one of the fifty days, and every one of the revelations, and every one of the moments Jesus tells us again, yep, still true; I am alive.  Peace; do not be afraid.

 

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.  After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.  After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.  Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.  (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NKJV)

Good Friday: The Quick and the Dead

In the old-school version (i.e. the one based off of William Tyndale’s English Bible) of the Nicene Creed (and the Apostles’ Creed), it says that we believe Jesus is in Heaven and will return to “judge the quick and the dead.”  “Quick” in this sense is an archaic word for “living, alive”, like quicksand and cutting to the quick.  It was only later that it became a word for speed.  I like this use, this quickness of the heart that still beats, the blood that still flows, the lungs that still pull in even the smallest amount of air.

Today is a day in which I want to gather to myself the slowness; today is the day the heart stops, the blood halts, the lungs cease their rhythmic movement.  Today is the day of Christ’s death.

It’s weird to be observing Good Friday with such a different pattern than I’ve had the last five or so years; I went to work this morning and then to one of my other jobs (I’ll actually go to all three today, come to think of it).  I went to a party for student appreciation—a party on Good Friday, which felt so jarring and yet not jarring at all because I still can’t wrap my head around it being Good Friday.  I didn’t see it coming, didn’t really do anything for Lent this year.  I’m not ready for this death.

The thing of it is, though, that you can never be ready for death.  My family has been on a kind of low-level deathwatch for my one remaining grandparent for a couple of months now—it is definitely her time and her body is shutting down bit by bit.  But I know that even when she dies, we won’t actually be ready for it.  We can’t be.  Death, in all its slowness, comes quick; death steals into even the most-watched spaces.  Death, even the expected kind, is always a surprise.  I can’t even imagine how intense the shock must have been for the disciples.

Think of it—Jesus had been trying for weeks to get the disciples to understand, to prepare themselves even to some small degree, to set up their own kind of deathwatch.  They didn’t take it seriously.  Who could?  Jesus was at the top of His game, in the prime of His life.  A crowd had just laid their own clothing on the dusty ground for Him.  Radical things were happening; there was change in the dry, desert air.

But then there is the inexplicable jumpiness of Judas, and the incomprehensible things Jesus says at the table about bodies and blood, and then there is the garden and the need to stay awake when they don’t know why, don’t know why they couldn’t just sleep; it had been such a long week, after all.  Jesus’ voice is so quick in its frustration, straining against something they don’t understand, a pain they don’t feel—and then there is the crashing of the soldiers, so loud in that quiet space, so bright in the darkness.  Peter lashes out; he always thinks with his body first, speaks the first thought, never reflects.  Peter is quick.  The soldier is too slow and the shriek of pain slices through the murmurs of the crowd, the blood pouring red on red cloth under grey armor and Jesus is quick, too, stooping down to pick up the ear, holding His hand to the man’s head while the blood pours over His fingers and slows, slows, stops.

The trials are not quick.  The walks between the political poles are endless as Jesus’ heart still beats and the disciples cower, quick to refuse any connection others ascribe, anxious not to end up in that same slow circle of accusation and torment where no one takes responsibility.  The crowd is quick to choose Barabbas, opening like a hungry maw to receive him into itself from the platform where Jesus sways slowly, exhausted from holding the world together.  The soldiers hurry Him away and the women who love Him, who stand in the crowd shouting His name against the louder voices of the priests’ plants, do not know they will never again see Him whole like this.

PICEDITOR-SMHThe crucifixion does not feel quick.  Jesus’ last breaths come slowly, His words making sure community remains even as the sweat slides into the blood dripping down His naked skin, the cuts on His back pressing into wooden splinters as He pushes against the nails that hold Him there, splayed for the world and God to see what it looks like to slow, and slow, and die.

It is finished,” He says, and there is no more quickness in Him.

Lighting flashes, a quick bolt shattering the sky suddenly darker than night as the sun and stars hide their faces in grief and the earth shudders at the violence she must bear on her sacred soil.  A curtain tears and God is as naked as Himself, His body and His secret dwelling place both on display in this unthinkable space where Death claims what he believes to be his.

No one was ready.  No one is ever ready for this.

 

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”  (Matthew 27:54, ESV)

Lent, Week Three: Healed and Broken

I went to see Logan this evening; I love the comic book films, love the characters and worlds and adventures and connections.  And for the longest time I loved the action part of action films—I loved a good fight scene where the hero (rarely a heroine) takes down all the bad guys with fists of fury and a kick-ass rock song.

But this—this film was all anger, sorrow, and pain.  I can’t do this level of gore and rage anymore, can’t absorb the sheer amount of ache that we as a culture have reached.  We are in so much pain, Reader; the sickened edges of our never-healed wounds of racism fester in our bellies, the blood we spill on our streets and everyone else’s leaves us weak and stumbling, our throats are raw from throwing up the vapid and unhealthy bullshit we have tried to convince ourselves is any kind of nourishment.  Our illness colors our news, our music, our pastimes and yes, our movies.

healing-touch-sold_We need healing.

It’s funny; I started writing this while half-listening to a Christian radio station and three songs in a row now have dealt with the concept of healing.  Part of that is the Spirit reading over my shoulder, but more of it is that Christianity has a lot to say about healing and the need for it.  After all, one of the many terms for God is “Healer.”

But from what?  Of what?  Oh no, Christiana, don’t be one of those Christians who equate spiritual sin with emotional and bodily malaise, as though some people deserve to be punished with illness.  No, Reader—my best friend has a disease that is frying his brain a little bit more every day, stripping it of its effectiveness.  My good friend’s wife is fighting a cancer that sits sullenly in her femur, spine, and chest.  I myself am gradually going deaf because my body cannot recognize the way it’s supposed to work in order to hear.  I can’t believe in a god who would cause such prolonged torment to satisfy reparation of sin.  That’s sadism, and I don’t roll with a sadistic God.

There’s something to be said, though, for the gulf between Christianity’s language of healing and the reality of just how broken we are in so many ways.  Do we keep breaking ourselves, outpacing God as we find new ways to inflict pain?  Do we never allow ourselves to fully heal, running pell-mell into the next ill-thought thing before our bodies and souls have had time to re-knit?  Perhaps.  I am most certainly guilty of both of these, especially when it comes to myself.  How I haven’t more seriously injured myself on a number of levels, I don’t know.  But I am certainly not whole.  I am broken.

In the film—which I can’t say that I recommend, although it is incredibly well acted, because it is so incredibly violent; there’s a great breakdown of it through the lens of its relationship to religion here—an underlying theme is that you’re never so broken you can’t be at least on the way to healing.  Everybody gets a chance at redemption, at reclaiming the best part of themselves; some take it, some don’t.  Healing comes from being willing to walk back to what you could have been.

I was recently reading an article for class about John Wesley’s ideas of healing and that he had no problem whatsoever with both medicine and prayer as effective tools of healing.  He also never blamed sick people for getting sick.  We live in mortal bodies that are constantly falling apart.  We should definitely take better care of them (preaching to myself) but we can’t stop our own mortality.  We are not Wolverine, able to heal almost instantly, and yelling at sick people about what they should be able to do is both foolish and cruel.  I appreciate that the vast majority of Biblical references to healing have no truck with blaming the broken.  Do they have to do things, like get up or reach out for a hem?  Yes.  Healing requires work on our part.  But do they get shamed into being well?  Nope.  We are all of us broken, so what good would shame do?  How silly is it for one mortal to tell another mortal that their mortality is shameful?

I realize that I’m switching back and forth between a lot of different kinds of healing and brokenness, but that’s a little deliberate (and a little due to my mind being in about fourteen different places right now).  I think it’s all of piece not in that your soul makes you have cancer but that sickness isn’t just a physical thing.  When I am sick—and I’ve been fortunate in never being long-term, all-the-time sick—I definitely notice an impact on my spiritual and emotional self.  And when I’m aware of my broken spirituality, it takes a toll on my physical commitments.

You may choose, good Reader, to push back on any and all of my assertions.  Perhaps, for you, the spirit has nothing to do with the body, or perhaps you’re really uncomfortable with my equating sick and broken because those mean different things to you.  Please, challenge me.  But recognize that in this wilderness of Lent, we are not whole, and we are not healthy.  Even Jesus needed angels at the end to put Him back together from the stress of the environment and the temptations.

I simply want us to consider, as I have been doing in light of the film, where our brokenness is.  Where do we need healing?  What can we do about that, in both the “non-miraculous” medical and the “miraculous” prayer sense?  (Yes, I put those in quotes because I think it’s a false dichotomy.)  And where are we healed that we can celebrate?  Where, in this desert of forty Lenten days, do we already see the bright edges of Easter?

 

 

Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch and heal him.  Taking the blind man’s hand, Jesus led him out of the village. After spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on the man, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”  The man looked up and said, “I see people. They look like trees, only they are walking around.”  Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again. He looked with his eyes wide open, his sight was restored, and he could see everything clearly.  (Mark 8:22-25, CEB)

Lent, Week Three: Reconciliation

The image quality isn’t very good, I know; I thieved it from a PBS article and am working on an older computer that doesn’t do image capture all that well.  But you get the idea—each red balloon is a mass shooting in the United States.

In 2016.

Reader, it’s not even March yet.  I come to you on this Saturday in Lent because my Friday was thrown off, my whole week was thrown off by the fact that my town is now on this map.  My town now has a little red balloon saying that some are dead, some are injured, all are now on statistics lists of this country’s numerous dead born out of an unnatural love of violence.  My town now has made the national news, the international news, as another place holding vigils and wondering why; as another name that scrolls across the screen while talking heads say maybe this time, maybe this action will be the one that causes us to unfurl our fingers from our guns and step away from the fear that drives us to this mortal embrace.  My town now is another in a chain that will not be that time.

And Reader, I am so, so angry.

The sacrament this week is that of reconciliation, formerly known as penance.  Reconciliation has three aspects:  conversion, confession, and celebration.  Conversion is the recognition of being in the wrong, of turning back toward Christ and the life and choices He would have us lead and make.  Confession is the telling of what went wrong to another—for Catholics, this is a priest; for many Protestants, this is God Herself; for some, this is a pastor or deeply trusted friend.  (You can ask your pastor to do this; it’s not an official sacrament, but many clergy will hear confession as part of spiritual growth.)  Celebration is the recognition that a new way is forged, that the wounded are healed, and that the freshly forgiven are charged to go out into our lives and forgive others in the courage and love of the Spirit.

I find this a somewhat perfect sacrament this week because it is so easy to demand that the shooter be brought to justice.  It is so easy to demand that he be the one to confess, to be crushed by the full force of the law even as he senselessly crushed the lives of so many others.  It is so easy to call for celebration that the wicked shall be judged by a righteous God Who cries with us at the rising death toll.  It is, in fact, too easy.

Reader, I confess that I have harbored anger against a brother, a fellow creation of God.  I confess that I have numbed myself to the suffering of others because I cannot stand the spineless promise of prayers from politicians anymore.  I confess that I have not done as much as I could to petition those same politicians and everyone I can find to change this, to see the way our culture is killing itself one bullet at a time.  I confess that I have walked away from important conversations because I felt too empty to argue any further.  I confess that I have not returned to the spring of living water to fill that emptiness because I am filling it instead with wrathful frustration and scathing cynicism.  I confess that I no longer try to bear the sorrow.

The shooter was wrong.  He was wrong to take life that was not his, he was wrong to drive a community into shock and fear, he was wrong to be so careless about his fellow humans.  I am not in the least advocating for any judicial lessening of this understanding.  But Reader, we cannot continue to demand the reconciliation of the violent without acknowledging our own places of turning away from God.  I cannot rage at the empty speeches of those far away and far removed without acknowledging that I don’t continually write their offices to tell them to fix this.  I cannot despair at the American love of weaponry without acknowledging the many ways I glorify the rough-and-tumble violence that promotes it.  And I cannot call this man evil without seeing that I am not perfectly good.

My heart aches with my anger at this, Reader.  It aches with my sorrow and the pain and my ever-dimming hope that we might one day say we have had enough.  But the only way to soothe that ache is is to turn from my part in creating it, however small; to confess that I have had that part in creating it, that I have left undone various aspects of the Kingdom building God asks of me; and to celebrate that I have been set on a new way that will never be easy and will require more and ever more reconciliation but that will continually bring me closer to my Lord.

Psalm 13 begins, “How long, o Lord?  Will You forget me forever?…How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?”  How long shall we stand vigil for the lost and pray for the fallen?  How long, o Lord, will You leave us to this violence?  Yet verse five is the psalmist’s hope:  “But I have trusted in Your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.”

I do not have the answer to this violence, Reader.  I do not have the shooter’s confession.  I cannot say when we as a nation will turn away from this path.  But I can seek reconciliation for myself; I can ask forgiveness of my God and His people that I might go out into this fallen world and forgive.  And in that, I might celebrate the Spirit that breathes within me to allow forgiveness even of the enablers, even of the silent, even of the shooter.  For God’s love manifests in unconditional forgiveness, drawing us ever and again to Himself that we might never be lost or left behind; in gratitude, may we strive to do the same.

 

I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.  (Psalm 13:6)

Fifteen Minutes of Infamy

When I was in middle school, my older stepbrother had a Nintendo 64 and the game “Goldeneye,” a first-person shooter adventure based on the James Bond film. My first reactions to the deaths of the WDBJ employees this past Wednesday were that it couldn’t be real, this must be a video game; only those have that gun barrel sticking out of the bottom of the screen that way.

I am in no way tying video games to violence, or to this particular act.  I’m merely trying to wrap my mind around someone not only planning to shoot two people but filming himself doing it, later posting it on social media alongside the videos of cats falling off of slick desks and the first time a baby laughs and that moment someone’s friend wakes up after someone else has drawn on his face.  It is boasting, straining for the attention the shooter felt he didn’t get on his own merit, taking to the wide embrace of the Internet to proclaim he has Done Something Big.

And it is sickening.

It is also sickening that it surprises me that I am as broken about this as I am.  I grew up in the schools fettered and frightened by Columbine, adding active shooter drills to those that taught us what to do in the event of fire or tornado.  There have been more than 57 mass shootings in the United States in my lifetime, nearly half of those from 2006-2012.  Even the satirical publication The Onion has half-heartedly jabbed at the frequency of such events in America, the nation of freedom where God and guns are both invoked as inherent rights of (hu)mankind.  I am used to this, used to hearing of yet another series of deaths by the power of fire-hot copper tearing through skin and muscle and bone at 1,126 feet per second.

But on the news this morning (I always have “CBS This Morning” playing in the background as I prepare for work), there was an interview with the boyfriend of one of the dead.  Chris Hurst, fiancée to Alison Parker, spoke of love and plans and hope and life and at the end of the interview he said, “This was two of us, guys.  This was two of us, gunned down.  We will not forget them.”

Somehow, that has stuck with me.  Part of it is that I am always interested in the way that people band together within their careers—it is not only the police who have the thin blue line, although they may be the only ones who give it a color.  Nurses, pastors, journalists, teachers, artists, coaches, scientists, maintenance workers, doctors, writers, firefighters, and so many others continually stand at each other’s sides, supporting those who know what their days are like, who understand what it is to be worn thin and still get up and go to work the next day.

But part of it, I think, is the visibility of this.  The two gunned down worked in television; they were part of a community’s visual understanding of itself, bringing the news each and every morning.  I think of the local morning show I watch, and of “CBS This Morning,” and how attached I have become to these people I don’t actually know by virtue of laughing at their banter and hearing their voices while I try to figure out what to pack for lunch.  The WDBJ murderer was also in television and, to the end, decided what he did needed to be on camera.

I have no wisdom on this, Reader, no soapbox speeches of gun control, no staunch defenses of hometown journalism.  I have only a deep and abiding sadness, a horror that somehow someone thought this was the way to handle feeling left out, downtrodden, insulted.

And I have a fierce, fiery rage at the people who are captializing on this.

My Facebook feed is always an interesting adventure because I have many “liberal” friends who are very much for things like choice in the matter of abortion, gun control, gay marriage, universal healthcare, and so on.  And I have many “conservative” friends who are on the opposite end of the spectrum of all of these.  I very much appreciate being able to connect with this diversity and hear more within an argument than just one facet.  But there are times when people will post things that make me so incredibly frustrated and angry that I have a hard time not yelling at the person for being so dense (which is something I’m planning on looking at in a couple of weeks, actually).  Like this:

I wanted to punch my screen when I saw this, not only because I disagree with everything about it but also because this takes the live broadcast of the execution of two people and makes it about platforms, hashtags, and concepts.  NO VICTIM SHOULD EVER BECOME LESS HUMAN SO THAT OUR LABELS CAN GAIN TRACTION.  Adam Ward and Alison Parker have names, loved ones who weep for them, friends who will never hear their voices in real time again, hopes and dreams and dances that will never happen.  For anyone, anyone to deconstruct them or any other person shot, burned, beheaded, bombed, hanged, drowned, beaten, or any of the myriad of creative ways we have to destroy each other into pieces that we can put into our little boxes of understanding is to take the complex gift of humanity and make it less.  It is to look at a creation of God and say that this is not a person but a composite.

It is this that allows someone to film himself killing someone in cold blood, because that is not a human being and his pain is more important than theirs.

Much must be done in the realm of how we view weaponry and the availability of tools for causing harm to others.  I quite appreciate this other image I saw today:

But before any action, we must always return to the space of looking at another soul wrapped in skin and say I recognize that you are human, too.

 

You want what you don’t have, so you kill to get it. You long for what others have, and can’t afford it, so you start a fight to take it away from them.  (James 4:2a-b, TLB)