Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine

12
Apr
22

Easter, God’s Will, and the War in Ukraine

Since the beginning of time, war has been hell. 

Image courtesy of BBC News

War costs millions of innocent lives. In the blink of an eye, war destroys people, communities, vegetation, and futures.

Some of us have seen war firsthand. Most of us have just seen it on TV, or read about it in textbooks. 

Today, everything is different. 

The hellish brutality of war is, of course, unchanged. What is different about this Ukraine war is its immediacy. This brutal, unprovoked, unconscionable assault by Russia on Ukraine is perhaps the most widely viewed act of mass barbarism in human history. 

And thanks to cell phone video cameras, drones, satellites, and 24/7 news coverage, nothing about this conflict has been left to the imagination. We can now sit in our living rooms quietly sipping our tea as we watch unspeakable horror spew out before our eyes. 

It is hard to take, isn’t it?

Seeing such violence and devastation “up close and personal,” day in and day out, affects each of us in different ways. It causes some of us to turn away in disgust. It causes some of us to turn away in denial, hardening our hearts as a way of protecting them. It causes some of us to cry, scream, and shake our fists at the TV screens. 

And it causes some of us to question how a loving, all-powerful God could possibly allow such carnage and brutality to continue to exist, unpunished.

This is one of those times when evil seems to have the upper hand. Our best theology feels like a blanket of cotton candy that’s been asked to stop a hail of bullets. 

We pray. We worry. We remind ourselves of evil’s historically abysmal track record (like, 0-for-alltime). We write checks to UNICEF and Red Cross and other aid organizations.

And then we pray some more.

In the end, none of it seems to matter. The Mangling Maw of Red Death keeps swallowing everything in its path. This moment has become one of those times when even the most faithful among us wonder how we dare talk about God’s will being done, “… on earth as it is in heaven.”

Then I pause and think, “This must have been what the disciples felt like on that Saturday morning… the day after watching their leader – the One who was supposed to be the promised Messiah – brutally tortured and executed by an earlier Evil Empire.”

They must have felt similar feelings of despair… grief… anger… and helplessness. They too must have questioned the basis of their fragile faith. 

If those 11 lost, grieving souls could speak to us today, they might patiently remind us that it is NOT God’s will that thousands of innocent people die horrible deaths in Ukraine. They would tell us it is assuredly NOT God’s will that homes, churches, schools, apartment and office buildings, and trees be wantonly destroyed. 

If they could, they would look us in the eye and say, “Sometimes in life, evil seems to win the day. Sometimes every hope we have for a world of peace, prosperity, and health seems to crumble to dust, right before our eyes. Sometimes faith seems foolish.”

At that point, the Israelites – you know… the ones who were enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years – slowly nod their heads and say, “Yo. True that.”

Those disciples in one voice would then speak up and remind us of what happened on that first Resurrection Day… the day they finally learned the difference between FAITH and WISHES. They would remind us what it felt like to see that powerful demonstration of God’s unlimited power to draw LIFE from DEATH… PEACE from CHAOS… LIGHT from DARKNESS. They would testify to the change that came over their lives in that one, profound, history-bending instant. 

And then they would reach out calmly, lovingly, place their hands on our shoulders and say, “That day finally taught us that with God, the WORST thing is never the LAST thing. No matter how bad everything around you looks.”

Today, that slim, trembling branch is the one I choose to cling to. I know it’s easy to say that from the comfort of my warm, intact, unbombed home here in Fort Collins, Colorado. But my ease doesn’t make God’s promise any less true… any less reliable. 

Easter should teach us that God’s will can certainly be thwarted for a time…

… But it can never be ultimately defeated.

EVER!

Abundant blessings;

09
Mar
22

“I want it. I’ll take it.”

“How is it with your soul?”

This is the question John Wesley – founder of Methodism – recommended leaders of small groups go around and ask each member as they began their weekly gatherings.  

Today, I will ask it of you. How is it with YOUR soul?

OK. I’ll start. Furrowing my brow and listening carefully with my Soul Stethoscope, I find significant unsettledness there. 

This is probably the third time I have sat down at my laptop to write this blog post. Each attempt has been inspired by events swirling around me and my heart’s response. And yet each attempt has faltered. Too much swirling. Too few coherent words with which to describe it. 

One of those dancing threads is the current horror we are witnessing in Ukraine. Nightly news reports regularly afflict me with a poisonous potion of tears, rage, and complete helplessness. I ask; How can something happen in 2022? What can be done to stop it? How am I called – both as a humanitarian and a Christian – to help alleviate this unbelievable level of innocent suffering. 

Tears.

Rage.

Helplessness.

Twisting around that first thread is this one: “I’ve seen this story before. Many times over.” As appalling as the Russian invasion of an independent, democratic country and the accompanying slaughter of civilian men, women, and children is, it is a familiar refrain. 

For untold millennia, one group has looked at land next door and said, “I want it. I’ll take it.”

This phrase is the story of every act of violence perpetrated in human history. It is the motto that has driven every robbery, every murder, every rape, every colonization, every enslavement, and every crime committed by one person against another from the beginning of time.

The European explorers who first landed on this continent were guided by this motto. The words were occasionally polished up and nobilified and even burnished with a shiny missionary patina. But it was exactly the same underlying motivation.

“I want it. I’ll take it.”

And when those first settlers wanted free laborers to plant their fields, raise their children, harvest their crops, and build their homes, they sent ships to Africa and TOOK them. They took people from their birthlands. They also took them from their languages. They took them from their communities. They took them from their families. They took them from their faiths and symbols. 

“I want it. I’ll take it.”

The taking has continued, unabated, to this day. And as I look around at the wealth and advantage spread at my feet, I am also called to face the fact that I have benefited from that taking. 

And I have remained silent.

That is the third, and final, thread weaving throughout this tapestry of tumult in my soul today. That thread is the recognition of my overt complicity in the tragedy of these times. No, I am not driving a tank on the outskirts of Kyiv. No, I did not pilot a slave ship through the Middle Passage. No, I did not whip or rape one of the hands on my cotton plantation. 

But it is no leap of imagination to recognize an ancestor of that same TAKING impulse living in my heart today. 

It begins with the belief that all agendas but mine are trivial and unimportant. It begins when I find myself listening to RESPOND instead of to UNDERSTAND. It begins when the righteousness of my cause supplants the righteousness of all others. It begins when I can’t let go of an ancient injury until “justice” (my personal justice, that is) is finally served. 

We are right when we see evil at work in the world and call it by name. We are right when we work to end its reign.

But we are badly off target and self-deluded when we fail to recognize the capacity for evil we each carry in our own hearts. 

Abundant blessings;

04
Mar
22

Who… not WHERE

Where matters. I think we can all agree on that, can’t we?

But HOW MUCH does it – or should it – matter? That question might provoke some lively banter among us.

By WHERE, of course, I am talking about the place you call HOME. The place where you enter, breathe a sigh of relief, relax, kick off your shoes, and whisper, “Made it!” as you hang your keys on the hook.

Growing up, I believed nothing was more important than WHERE. My hometown (Hilliard, Ohio, incidentally. Go Wildcats!) was where my roots grew. It was where my identity was shaped. It was the place my friends and family – most of them, at least – lived. It was the place I knew like the back of my hand. It was unthinkable that I might go anyplace else and live. 

Unthinkable, that is, until the summer of 1969 when my father announced he had taken a pastoral appointment in Lynnwood, Washington… a suburb of Seattle. And since my siblings and I were too young to break away and forge out on our own, it meant we were moving too.

Did I mention this was the summer between my junior and senior years of high school?

I cried. I cursed. I rebelled. I hatched plans to secede. 

Ultimately, however, I moved with the family.

And since finally making that “impossible” adjustment to a new WHERE, I find I have changed my thinking significantly on the topic.

WHERE, I decided, can be anywhere. Sure, there are some places that have a warmer climate, a lower property tax rate, a more compatible political bent, a better economy, or more tourist attractions nearby. 

In the end, though, aren’t I the same ME in each of those WHEREs?

 I guess what I’m asking is, does my WHERE really have any effect on my WHO?

After 45+ years living in the Kansas City metro area, Joan and I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado. We have been here a little over two years, but honestly, I am still struggling to acclimate. I mean, yes, it is a beautiful place. There are stunning mountains less than an hour away. There are great parks and lakes and restaurants right here in town. It is a progressive (mostly) political climate. Yes, the real estate is MUCH more expensive than KC’s, but we were lucky enough to buy before it went stark raving bonkers. 

And yet, for all the amazing pluses of this place, I still have a hard time calling it HOME. 

I am going to stop my little pity party for a minute and turn the question toward YOU. What do you think about this whole question? How much does WHERE matter to you? How much influence does WHERE exert on your life?

If you are like a lot of people, WHERE matters a LOT! Perhaps even ultimately.

And so, as you consider your response to those questions, pause for a moment. Imagine that, for you, nothing matters more than WHERE. Now… think about the people of Ukraine. At least one million of them – by the most recent count – have packed up and left their beloved WHERE behind. Most leaving with nothing more than the few clothes that might fit into a backpack or small suitcase. Most leaving with ZERO guarantee that their WHERE will even be there when they can finally return.

And for many of those Ukrainian people, WHERE matters more than anything.

How well would you deal with that situation?

My brain doesn’t work well enough to process that question. 

Nor can I even come close to imagining the experience of seeing my WHERE bombed into a pile of rubble by people I thought I knew. 

At such an unnerving, heartbreaking time like this, we are all called to stop and remember that none of us are defined by our WHEREs. We are instead defined by our WHOs. As in, WHO you were created by… WHO you belong to… and WHO holds your right hand in times of trial.

When their future was dark, uncertain, and bleak, God spoke to the Israelites through the prophet Isaiah and reminded them: “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13, NRSV).

Please pray for Ukraine. Please click here to donate to UNICEF and help the children of Ukraine. They are the ones paying the heaviest cost of this brutal, evil, senseless war. 

Hug your own loved ones tight and thank God for your WHERE…

… wherever it might be.

Abundant blessings;




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