Friday, April 19, 2013

I'm Exhausted...for Peace

I'm exhausted. Physically.

Because in addition to the horrific and tense events in my city these past several days, my wife has been sick all week (spent half of it in bed). Now we both have some significant on-going sinus junk. And it was school "vacation" week. But now is when I need a vacation...and another week to get all the work done that I should have this week.

I'm exhausted. For Peace.

Because I'm concerned about response after these events. I hope my fellow humans can see the hope of peace, reconciliation, and nonviolent response. Death only begets more death. Creating fear about people groups or religions or even being in a large crowd from hereon will solve nothing.

No one has given more simple and powerful words for all this than eight-year-old Martin Richard himself in the photo above. I hope we can hear him:
No more hurting people. Peace.

But the good Governor of the Commonwealth also spoke some great words yesterday. I hope we can live them:
So, we will recover and repair. We will grieve our losses and heal. We will rise, and we will endure. We will have accountability, without vengeance. Vigilance, without fear. And we will remember, I hope and pray, long after the buzz of Boylston Street is back and the media has turned its attention elsewhere, that the grace this tragedy exposed is the best of who we are.

And the cool Cardinal spoke the truth. I hope we can live it:
The Sermon on the Mount, in many ways, is the Constitution of the people called to live a new life. Jesus gives us a new way to deal with offenses, by reconciliation. Jesus gives us a new way to deal with violence, by nonviolence. He gives us a new way to deal with money, by sharing and providing for those in need. Jesus gives us a new way to deal with leadership, by drawing upon the gift of every person, each one a child of God. In the face of the present tragedy, we must ask ourselves what kind of a community do we want to be, what are the ideals that we want to pass on to the next generation. It cannot be violence, hatred and fear.

Finally, the dude from Tarsus said it well a long time ago:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Creative Absence

I forget when I first came across the name Christopher Heuertz (which I still have no clue how to pronounce). I think it may have been a video from The Work of the People. He spoke at my alma mater a couple of years ago, but I missed it. But I've been following him on Twitter and reading his stuff for several years now. He seems to be a passionate man.

If you didn't know yet, I'm on sabbatical this summer.  I really appreciated this excerpt from Chris' book. I didn't feel right copying the whole thing here, so you'll have to click on the excerpt to read it, but here is part of it:
"Our communities won’t always be able to offer us everything we need, nor will we be able to give back all that they need from us. This is tricky because sometimes we can’t see it when we’re submerged in community life. The insulation of shared rhythms and life sometimes convolutes our perception. That’s often when we need to step back, to refocus."
Sometimes I wonder "what will happen"while I'm gone - both for me and for the church community while I'm away. I confess that I sometimes have feelings of, "Oh no...What if something goes wrong and I'm not there for it!"

Perhaps those thoughts are exactly the ones for which one might need a period of sabbatical.

Monday, April 15, 2013

31 People Were Killed in Iraq Today

At some point, one should go to bed. But somebody attacked my favorite city on one of its favorite days. Three dead and 140 wounded. It's hard to go to sleep.

For now, I offer the below prayer written by Stanley Hauerwas in the aftermath of 9-11. It has come to mind several times in the last several hours, perhaps because of the line regarding Iraq. Reports are that 31 people were killed in Iraq today. Thirty-one. It's a regular, common occurrence. No, "we" didn't do it. But depending on who "we" is, we kinda did. And so we ache and cry out for peace.

I hate that three people were killed in my city today. What a heartless, senseless act of violence. It shouldn't happen.


God help us.


We feel vulnerable, God, and we are not used to feeling vulnerable.
We are Americans.

Nor are we used to anyone hating us this much. 
Such terrible acts. 
Killing civilians. 
We are dumbfounded. 

We are good people. 
We are a nation of peace. 
We do not seek war. 
We do not seek violence.

Try to help us remember that how we feel may be how the people of Iraq felt when we bombed them. 
It is hard for us to acknowledge that “we” in “we bombed them.”

What are we to do? 
We not only feel vulnerable but helpless. 
We are not sure what to feel except shock, 
which will quickly turn to anger and even more suddenly to vengeance.

We are Christians. 
What are we to do as Christians? 
We know that anger will come to us. 
It does no good to tell ourselves not to be angry. 
To try not to be angry just makes us more furious.

You, however, have given us something to do. 
We can pray, but we wonder for what we can pray. 
To pray for peace, to pray for the end of hate, 
to pray for the end of war seems platitudinous at such a time.

Yet when we pray you make us your prayer for the world. 
So, Lord of peace, make us what you will. 
This may be one of the first times we have prayed a prayer for peace with an inkling of how frightening it would be for you to grant our prayer. 

Help us.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Debbie Downer, Jesus, & Sabbaticals: A Response to What Ryan Said

My college roommate posted this: Searching for What Comes Next

This post isn't so much to respond to what he said as it is to say: "Yeah...what Ryan said." Ryan speaks my own heart here.

It's easy to be cynical.

I've been really "good" at pointing out what's wrong in various arenas: political, social, but most importantly to me: in the Church. And by "good," I mean that I've done it often, not necessarily that I'm always right.

But this is my point at the moment: Notions of rightness seem so futile to me these days (at least in the objective and formulaic when universally prescribed). You may label me a heretical product of a relativistic generation, but it seems more and more true to me that what's right in one situation is drastically wrong in another. This is different than saying that "anything goes" or "everyone can believe what they want to." Instead, I am calling for acknowledgement that withholding judgment firstly is the path to righteousness.

I tend to think Ryan's right: Patience is very important. Dealing with the situations and people right in front of me and in my little circle of influence is really all we can do. I've got all sorts of great ideas for how Barack Obama should rule the world. But that's neither my call nor my actual opportunity.

Great comedians know that what makes good comedy is the ability to take what is true in actuality (=lived life) and make light of it. Saturday Night Live gives us a great example of this in the character of Debbie Downer. Debbie Downer is hilarious in great part because we all know her. Even more so, it's because many of us are her.

It's one thing to ignorantly ride in the clouds all day long, and another to drag one's head through the mud all the time. Both are unrealistic. The first is dangerous in that things such as pain and grief exist. The second is because it offers no hope, grace, or love (which also exist).

The gospel reading for this coming third week of Easter gives us Jesus' conversation with Peter in John 21. I can be Peter in this situation so very often: finding the counter-example, pointing out what's wrong, straining gnats, plucking specks, or judging my situation based upon my neighbor's.

But Jesus' response should continue to shape and form me: "What's that to you? You follow me."

If Jesus were a blood-thirsty totalitarian dictator, this would be a problematic. But his example of grace, forgiveness, and love should be attractive enough to want to follow this command.

I know, I know: "The Church can be and so often is a hypocrite, a stumbling block, a whore, and looks nothing like Jesus. Institutions suck. Christians are mean. There are better ways."

I know. I really do. And I too have desired to leave for whatever I think is best. And methods, words, and vessels should indeed change. Wineskins need replacing. But the problem is just that: I think I know best. And I don't. If nothing else, what this ever-changing and fickle world greatly needs is some consistent loving, some stick-it-through determination, and unwavering, unchanging love.

The greatest problems with marriage that exist these days aren't those of sexual identity, but of fidelity. And these marital problems are a microcosm of the whole: we're horrible at sticking things through.

"I don't like this situation. See ya. I'm going to another."
"This isn't working. Something must change."
"This isn't right. That over there must be."

Are there times to chop down the tree and plant an new one? Of course, but by our standards, Jesus had every right to leave the institutional "Church" of his time. And yes, he certainly had words and protests to demonstrate how disgusted he was with these things. But he continued to practice the faith of his people. Indeed: he got away from them to be alone (and often!). But he always returned to his people, his "family," and his tribe, ultimately giving all that he had that they just might see who they should actually be.

Jesus spoke critically. But in the end, his greatest examples were those of loving devotion and self-emptying action.

I'm greatly looking forward my sabbatical period this summer. The practice of sabbath is one prescription by which I think our brokenness can be healed. To take the time-out to celebrate, to enjoy, to break from the listlessness of our cynicism is to practice the divine creative love.

A lot of people don't get it (I might explode if I get one more comment about my "extended vacation" or underhanded comments about how there are more righteous things to do than take a sabbatical like ridding the world of poverty). Heck...I don't completely get it. But I think that it's because our heads and hearts can be so very muddled by the clouds of cynicism that we need such times.

When our six days of working with the dirt turns into perpetual mud-flinging, we'd do well to stand up and go for a walk for a day amongst the flowers that such dirt can and should produce.

Jars of Clay ended their first studio album with a song that is probably the least well-known of the whole thing (particularly because it's followed by a more upbeat "hidden" song). It's not chart-topper, but it sure does speak of what I'm trying to say here, I think:

Cynical. It's just your way.
You play the doubting Thomas, Feel the scars and wipe the stains

So you fight, and retreat, 
And talk yourself out of believing in any peace that you can't see.

Blind words you call
Blind words will fall

You're logical. 
You can't find any reason to believe in love.
You are blind.

Crucify, and deny. 
Pass the blame and burn the mission until dust remains and wash your hands.

Blind words you call
Blind words will fall