Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11 Reflections

As I do every year on 9/11, I try to spend the day in silence and prayer. That's hard these days, but I try. I try and remember where I was that day, what was happening and what I was feeling. I also think about who I am today in comparison to who I was 15 years ago. In many ways I'm the same person, but in many ways I'm very different. I think 9/11 was somewhat of a turning point for me in my spiritual life because it caused me to look at the world differently. It made me realize that even though our world is full of unimaginable evil, it is also overwhelmingly bursting with good, if we just choose to see the good that exists. In order to do that, we have to start with ourselves and look at our world from the inside out. And we have to be willing to see the world through God's perspective and not man's. I don't want to hate anymore. I don't want to be angry with the injustice, hatred and hypocrisy that I see around me anymore. And I want to love my enemies; personal and global.  

No doubt, the atrocities of 9/11 were the most horrific that most of us have ever witnessed and God willing, ever will again in our lifetime. Watching the news coverage from that day still causes my heart to race, my throat to tighten up and my eyes to well up as I watch in helpless disbelief. It sickens me that we live in a world where such disregard for human life can be magnified on such a tremendous scale. And as I mourn for those who lost their lives, and the people that still deal with the scars of that day, I can't help but contemplate how it is that I should react in the face of such blatant evil.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-44 "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Those are not easy words to read when remembering 9/11, are they? Paul repeats this idea in Romans 12:14 when he says, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them." This is not a concept that comes naturally to us when we see the images of innocent Americans leaping 1300 feet to their death, rather than burning alive. They aren't exactly the sentiments we feel when watching the Twin Towers crumble to the ground. These words from the New Testament don't instantly fill us with feelings of compassion and love, causing us to break out in prayer for those who would like nothing more than to see the events of 9/11 repeated again and again all across the world. But there they are. In black and white. In every Bible that sits on our desks or bookshelves. We hear them over and over, read them time and time again, and yet the truth remains exactly the same as they did when Christ spoke them over 2000 years ago. And the question still remains, "How are we going to respond?"    

This morning I checked out social media for just a few minutes to read what was being said in remembrance of 9/11, hoping to hear some encouraging words of unity. At a time when our country seems to be more divided than ever, one would hope that at least for today, we might be able to let go of our differences. But within seconds, I began to read the most angry, hate filled words that I have seen in a long time being directed at Muslims and our current administration. I sat here and wondered to myself just how this kind of hatred toward an enemy can still exist after 15 years. Sure, the pain still exists. We still mourn those who were lost and are sickened by the evil that was carried out against America. I'm the first one to admit; the pain is still very real to me. But to harbor hatred in such a fresh and passionate fervor is beyond my comprehension.  

After breakfast at one of our favorite eateries, I decided to go for a walk at a local nature preserve. I just spent the time praying, thinking and listening to the sounds around me. I decided to explore for a while, and hiked out into the brush. When I came back to the main path and cleared a small hill, I startled a small doe causing her to freeze instantly. As she stared me down, I froze as well and waited to see what she would do. I wanted her to know that I wasn't a threat so I showed her my hands. As ridiculous as it might sound, I even waved at her, hoping that she would remain calm enough for me to watch her for a while. Man, she was beautiful!  

Not only did she remain, but amazingly she began to walk toward me. Just a few steps at first. Then a few more. She would stop for a few seconds, eating grass and checking out other sounds on her right and left. Before I knew it, she was only about 10 feet away from me. I was amazed at how calm she was in being so close to me. Just her and I, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the cool breeze that surrounded us. It was a holy moment and I thanked God for the blessing of being there. And in that moment, I found myself thinking of barriers and how easy it is to break them down. For all practical purposes, I was this doe's enemy. I mean, we all remember Bambi, right? But something bigger was going on with this animal. She remained calm. She wasn't afraid. For whatever reason, she trusted me for that moment and didn't run off until I got lazy and tried to sit down.  

I wonder what would happen if we allowed ourselves to trust one another more often. Regardless of how much evil we might be capable of inflicting on one another, if we take the first step and show love to our enemy, we might be surprised at their reaction and how willing they are to try as well. When you stop and think about it, love is really the only solution we have towards peace. I wonder what it would be like to be patriotic, but humble and loving as well. I wonder what it would be like to rise above evil and see life as precious and fragile, not only for ourselves, but each person in this world that God created. And when we do this, we might see more glimpses of what the Kingdom of God is like and the way our world was supposed to be in the first place.      

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Where Was Your Fucking God?

(Repost from 12/19/12)

Where was your fucking God when those kids were being shot up?" 

I was asked this question this week in reaction to the shooting in Connecticut. Behind the question was much anger. Behind the question was sadness. Behind the question was a lack of faith and frustration. Behind the question was a human being, hurting and feeling just like all of us. I can imagine that many pastors would dismiss a question like that. Many would receive this as a personal attack or an attack on Christianity. Some might be offended by the language and refuse to acknowledge the emotion. Some might become angry and launch a counterattack, spouting various scripture verses that give the typical "Christian" answer. I felt none of this. For in my friend’s pain, anger and helplessness, I felt the same things. So, I chose to "feel" with him. 

"I don't have an answer for you. The world is a fucked up place." was my response to him. I shared with him that my faith has been shaken. I shared with him that I was angry as well and asked God the exact same question. He didn't need a theological dissertation and didn't need me to regurgitate Bible verses that gave him no consolation. He didn't need me to get angry with him and he surely didn't need me to judge him. He didn't need me to ask him to watch his language and didn't need me to negate what he was feeling. Like any of us who witnessed the horrors of Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday, he was angry, sad, discouraged and experiencing doubt. His feelings were real. They are real life. 

In my heart, I know where God was last Friday. I know that He exists and why these things happen. I know all the verses that theologically make sense of these events and I have a good idea of how this world works in relation to God. In reality, I know that these kinds of things have happened in the past and will happen again and again. And I know that every time they do, we will feel the same emotions. My intention is not to give an answer for why bad things happen. We've all asked this question, and in reaction to the events in Connecticut, many people have written blogs and posted ideas of why this happened and what the solution is to avoiding tragedy like this in the future. My intention is that as a follower of Christ, I want to be more like Him. And in my reflections on who He was and who I think He is, I ask myself the cliché question, "What would Jesus do?" Since I am not Him and He is just as much a mystery to me as He is my God, I can't answer that completely. What I can say, with 100% assurance is what Jesus would not do, and have an idea of what He might do instead. 

Jesus would not allow the events in Connecticut to make Him angry with people and their reactions. Instead, He would weep with those who are weeping. Jesus would not shut down and retreat Himself from the world, but would surround Himself with others that felt pain as well. Jesus would not choose to contradict Himself and encourage more violence, but would repeat His call for us to love our enemies. Jesus would not choose to hate the gunman, but continue to hate evil as He encourages all of us to do. Jesus would not choose to point His finger at others in blame, but would ask us all to point the finger at ourselves. Jesus wouldn't react in fear, but would trust in His Father in heaven and encourage us to do the same. Jesus wouldn't arm Himself, and He wouldn't judge someone if they did and would understand their fear. He wouldn't criticize gun control advocates, but would encourage them to make their points known with love, not anger. He would not blame the problems of the world on a lack of prayer in school, but ask parents why they don't pray at home. Jesus wouldn't play politics, but would remind us promote His Kingdom, where politics will not exist. Jesus wouldn't ask where His Father is or why He has forsaken the world, but would respond as He did when He faced torture and death; "Thy will be done."  

"Where was your fucking God?" He was in a first grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary, taking bullets from a semi-automatic gun while embracing scared little kids. He was also with the children in thousands of other schools protecting them. He was preparing parents for overwhelming pain and He was giving courage to first responders. He was also with parents that were thanking Him that their children were safe. He was watching in shock, as we all began to realize the magnitude of this tragedy and He was welcoming those that died into His Kingdom with open arms. And He was with those who had no idea what was happening. He was weeping on the streets of the inner-city where other children were being shot and He was in poverty stricken places of the world where children are starving to death. He was also with those enjoying a late breakfast or early lunch. He was with you and me. He was with our children as well. He was there. He is there. He will be there.                     

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Something Strange is Happening

From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday....
"Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”"

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Prayer of St. Patrick

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today, through
God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Lenten Reflectons: Healing

"But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him." 
Luke 22:51

When we come to Christ, we come for healing. Whatever the manifestation of our pain, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, healing lies at the center of our need. When we suffer, our attention is directed to the source of our pain, and with precision targeting, we fixate our desires on one thing: healing. And our prayer rises to the ears of God, "Please, Lord. No more of this!"     

"No more of this!", we pray to the Lord

No more violence.

No more death.  

No more lies.

No more fighting.

No more destroyed relationships.

No more pain.

No more suffering.

No more....

Lord, hear our prayer

"You can say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one." - John Lennon  

We hope for a world in which "No more of this" will be and unnecessary cry. We declare these things, but words do not make them true. The enemy stands ready and waiting to respond with delight, "Yes!  MORE of this!  Much MORE of this!" 

Sin drags us down. 

We become more and more weak. 

Ready to give up. 

And we resolve to ourselves that we are just dreamers. The only one. 

Lord, we come to you in need of healing. We're broken in body, mind and spirit. Messed up from the day we were born. Yet you, in your love, grace and mercy, can mend all wounds, heal all of our hurts and repair all relationships. Come, Lord, and heal all that hemorrhages in our lives. Amen