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.