Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Child’s Silent Call for Trustworthy Action

Recently while approaching a store escalator, I noticed a woman with a girl, about 4, in front of me. The woman with her stepped on, but then the child quickly slipped her hand out from the woman’s grasp and stood still. I saw a look of dread on the child’s face and observed she was not going to get on, even as the woman’s body began to go up the escalator.

In that instant I could have stayed with the child while her mother rode up and then came back down the other side. But the child would have lost sight of the one in whose care she was.  Would the child start to cry? Scream? Should I pick her up?  I saw the woman look as though she would try to walk back down the moving stairs—a dangerous decision because she was already going rapidly upward.

Usually a child should not go with a stranger, nor should a stranger approach a child, but this time it seemed different. This minute called for trust and action. So I reached out my hand to the girl and she reached back and took my hand. I held it and said, “Let’s get on. It will be fine.”  She and I took a step together. And up we went.  I talked, quietly, calmly. “We’re safe. See your—your—mother?” (The woman nodded back—she was the girl’s mother—I would not have wanted to be wrong about that and frighten the child even more.) “She is right there in front of us.  She is going up.  We are going up right behind her. She is safe. We are safe.”

I just kept talking.  I did not overly promise, saying such things as “Aren’t we having fun?”  Simply, “We’re going up.” The girl did not look at me.  Her eyes were fixed on her mother and her mother’s eyes were fixed on her. A trusting bond. The mother did not say anything. It was as if she knew the girl’s hand was safe in mine, and the very best thing was to simply remain quiet and calm, although she was an unreachable distance beyond.  I then said, “Your mother is almost at the top. Very soon we will be at the top. Here we are. All is well.”  I put the girl’s hand back into her mother’s hand and she said, “Thank you,” and away they went.

But I saw them around the corner of the counter and they both waved back with smiles.

How do we place not only our children but each other at any age in each other’s care responsibly?  What is a call to ministry in the midst of a fearful culture?

Knowing God is our Good Shepherd, how do we become shepherds? Knowing we have a trustworthy God, how do we take a hand, take steps together, and build trust? 
Everist's latest book is “Seventy Images of Grace in the Epistles That Make All the Difference in Daily Life.”

Friday, December 4, 2015

When Mass Shootings Become Typical, What Do We Believe?

“This was not a typical mass shooting day,” he said. The words struck my heart as the newscaster described the variation in what had become a ritual in his reporting. It was early Thursday morning, the day after the deadly attack in San Bernardino. “Only a couple of other times among the 160 mass murders in the past few years has it been more than a solitary shooter.” The newscaster was describing his Wednesday and what his Thursday would no doubt be.  These days had come to be typical--normal. The only thing new was the number.

I, too, had a typical day ahead, of teaching. As a professor at Wartburg Theological Seminary, I lead class conversation on the beliefs of Lutheran Christians, one denomination in our pluralistic culture.  I could advise students to turn the TV off so they have time to study. However, they need to read not only Scripture but also the daily news.

By evening, we learned through the news, whether by television, computer or other electronic device, that there were two shooters, not three, and they were Muslim. They had a whole arsenal of guns. How and where had this U.S.-born man been radicalized? Was this a work-place grievance or an act of terrorism or a blend?

After each mass shooting, neighbors’ responses to reporters’ questions routinely are, “I can’t believe it could happen in a neighborhood (town) (country) like ours.” This time, a San Bernardino woman interviewed said she didn’t feel safe at all, adding, “I don’t know, I just don’ know . . .” Her certainty had been shaken. But lest ours be as well, the program switched quickly to an ad showing a family on a pleasant beach around a bonfire. The father said, “My parents worked hard so we could enjoy the simple pleasures of life, and now I’m doing the same thing for my family.” An insurance company would “help you protect what you love and grow your future.”

A feel-good, “God’s-loves-us-best” “American Dream Christianity” is not and dare not be the national religion of the United States. However, we do have a history of a civil religion, being a “chosen people” in a “promised land” and “American Exceptionalism.” It has its own Holy Days, Shrines, Holy Writ, Hymns, Symbols, Saints and Martyrs, Priests, Pastors and Prophets, its Rituals, Gods, Creeds and Mission. The USA has not so much felt it needed a Redeemer as to be a Redeemer—a leader—nation to the world.  Repentance is missing from the myth of origin; also missing are the true stories of all, particularly African slaves and the more than 550 distinct Native American tribes already here when America was “discovered.”

With a belief system of exceptionalism and being God’s special chosen people, it is not strange that people deny that “we” could be capable of violence, and that “our kind” would intentionally kill. We are not “monsters” or “savages.” “Those people” are. And so we fear, while we add to our typical week the ritual of watching another shooting, seeing the chase scene, creating a shrine of candles and flowers, holding a public memorial service with holy writ and hymns.  Pastors of all types, including community leaders care for the grieving.  And we add to the number of martyrs, hundreds (thousands more killed by guns in all kinds of incidents).  Mass shootings do not fit the belief system about ourselves. Will we continue to blame the stranger and the “other”?  

Watch how we talk about the victims. After the Planned Parenthood clinic shooting in Colorado, we heard “body parts,” “anti-Obama,” and “abortion industry,” even though the two victims were not at the clinic having an abortion. We rightly heard the story of the heroism and family of the policeman killed. Absent were human-interest stories of the two other victims, for days referred to merely as “civilians.”  Understandably there are privacy concerns and privacy laws for medical patients.  But one received the impression those who go to Planned Parenthood for any reason, and are killed, are not only victims but villains, particularly because following the Colorado shootings, Congress voted to defund Planned Parenthood.  Of course there was no parallel vote to defund county health departments.  If people who serve at or need the medical services of Planned Parenthood are constantly under threat of violence and nearly ½ the county health services people attending a holiday party were killed or injured, as Harry Reid said on the floor of the Senate, “If we do not act we will be complicit in our inaction.”

When violence becomes typical, what do we believe? We need to add to our ritual of grief and communal care a mission of being change-agents in a country in great need of change.