Saturday, April 26, 2014

Seven Sundays after Easter and More

The Easter candy is on sale and most of the Easter lilies have been removed from altar displays, but Easter continues. During this liturgical season there are seven Sundays after Easter before Pentecost. For Christians every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

We live in a death-denying, death-defying culture. I’m not talking simply about the ways we try to look young to avoid the inevitability of the end of life. But rather the way we as a culture, as a nation, and globally, delay dealing with issues such climate change,  misuse of the environment, and global hunger and are prone to turn to war before diplomacy.  We like to believe that what we do to the planet will not cause permanent damage and that the deaths of thousands of people won’t matter.  Likewise we race though our lives in the fast lane, defying the possibility that we might cause our neighbor’s or our own death.  People drive while texting, take wild chances, as if to dare death to touch us.

We seem fascinated with the spectacle, danger and excitement of it all. Each morning I turn on the television to see what has happened in the world overnight to guide my decision-making. We are called to be responsible participants, not mere spectators. But seconds after the “Breaking news” announcement (which may or may not be) is a 20-minute series of vehicle crashes, murder trials, and dare-devil plunges selected for their dramatic visuals.  All circle around death or near-death experiences.

Death is real enough without our denying or defying it. So the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is something to celebrate.  Something to shout Hallelujah about.  Something to tell the world about.  Something to shape one’s life around.  How should we live so that the life of everyone and the world itself matters?  Scripture makes it clear that Jesus’ death and resurrection bring new life and sure hope for life now and life eternal.
Easter Sunday, 2014, may be old news. Pews may be more empty this weekend. But why in the world would we pass up another opportunity to come together to be empowered for seeking life and saving lives?  Keep in Mind that Jesus Christ has died for us and is risen from the dead. He is our saving Lord; he is joy for all ages.

Monday, April 7, 2014

"Senseless" Violence

Violence never makes "sense."  We were not created for violence, and yet human beings harm, hurt and kill each other every day. When we have a mass shooting it becomes "senseless." What is a sensible shooting? What is sensible violence?

Senseless?  Wednesday people will gather at Ft. Hood for a Memorial Service and “try to make sense” of the mass shooting last week which took the lives of 4 and wounded 16. We want to understand, make “sense.”  Investigators try to discover the “motive.” The issues are more profound, more unique to each situation and also more common to all of us.

We may never know the precise “motive,” but I do know these things:

We as a society need to stop using words—publicly and privately—like “crazies,” “kooks,” “weirdoes,” to describe, and thereby dismiss, people who live with a mental illness. Do we use such words to describe someone with a broken leg? We need to learn about different kinds of mental illness, and that few are associated with violence. We need to recognize that millions of people, including perhaps ourselves, deal with depression and anxiety and take medication for sleep issues every day. Human beings, all of us, are flawed, with failings.  That is not to excuse our actions, but neither must we separate the "good" and the "bad," the "whole" and the "broken."  

“Home base” is not always safe. I know you are supposed to be safe when you reach home base. (The baseball season opened last week, too). But much violence takes place at home, whether in a family residence, in a faith community, a business which is “like a family,” or on a military base.  Suicide and homicide rates are high “at home.” Human beings have a difficult time being humane with one another. (For years we disregarded “domestic” violence as excusable.)

The response of, “We need extra security” to a mass shooting cannot be our most sensible approach. Fort Hood covers 340 square miles, the largest U.S. military base with a population of 70,000, including 42,000 military personnel,  family,  and civilian staff. With contractors and others going on and off base each day, providing absolute security is an almost impossible task.  The answer is not allowing more concealed weapons on base.  Likewise a “sensible” approach of spending millions to add gun-power security to schools and malls leaves us more fearful not more skilled at engaging one another safely with  respect.
God has created us for safe, loving interaction.  Sin has broken these relationships. Fear which drives us to put up more barriers and to provide more opportunities to kill one another cannot be the answer. 

Once again a woman risked her life to save others. Had it not been for this (at this writing unidentified) military policewoman’s courageous acts, the death count might have been higher. Kimberly Munley, a civilian police officer and her male partner stopped the shooter in the Ft. Hood mass shooting in 2009. Due to her wounds she can no longer work in law enforcement.  They remind me of Antoinette Tuff, school clerk in Decatur, Georgia, who last August stopped a 20-year-old armed young man, off his meds, from a mass shooting by compassionately talking to him. This is not to set women apart, but to note the irony, that for so long women were not thought strong, stable, or sensible  enough for military service. Or women might cause men to be distracted. The reality is that today women in our military are serving well and also are subjected to untenable numbers of rapes and other sexual assaults.  Women are stable, strong and wise enough for war, in these cases, to stop the violence.  

I know that there are people grieving, so many people grieving. Not to be forgotten are those in Puerto Rico, and especially the home town of a young man, an ordinary, patriotic man whose mother died last fall, who, like half the young men from his high school, join their country’s military. And I grieve with the families of those killed and wounded at Ft. Hood, and with the families of the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day in this country. And I grieve with the families of those killed by guns every single day in the United States.   

I know there are those who want more tests to “weed out” people with problems from the military. But how can we construct those absolutely accurate predictors?  And when dismissed, where should such men and women go?   To our street corners?  Perhaps it was not a brief tour in Iraq that “triggered” (I hate that term) the shooting , but an argument immediately preceding the event. How can we know for sure the complexities of human emotions and motives? God did not just "get rid of" those with problems. There will be no perfect places with perfect people, whether that be the military, churches, businesses. The challenge is to deal with the problems within each of these institutions.

So, what do we do?

More guns? I absolutely will not choose that option. Gun shops right outside the base, right outside, well everywhere.  Guns in the home, guns more accessible and guns in the hands of more people will mean these sad stories become more frequent.

Give up on humanity?  No, I will not choose that option. God in Jesus Christ did not.  But I will call us all to new commitments.  Military bases, work places, school campuses, households, houses of worship are all places to notice those in need, to ask, to care, to really care.   We know how to bond together after a tragedy. What about the day before, and every day?