Posts Tagged ‘violence

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;

10
Feb
22

High School Heroes

Following a longer-than-normal walk with the dogs, Joan and I decided to reward them with a trip to our neighborhood Sonic Drive-In. She ordered her customary lemonberry slush while I favored the cold brew iced coffee. The dogs, naturally, snacked on pup cups.

This Sonic is located right next to the local high school. As it happened, we arrived just as school was dismissing for the day.

While we chatted about the topic du jour, I watched the students walk by us. Some walked in pairs. Some in groups of three or four, while others walked by themselves. 

And as I watched them, my heart stirred. 

Some laughed. Some smiled. Some seemed as if they were a thousand miles away, lost in thought. All of them seemed to demonstrate joy at the fact that they were walking away from school for the day.

At first glance, it seemed like an utterly unremarkable, quotidian scene. It is a ritual repeated in towns of all sizes, every day between September and May at 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, come rain or come shine.

As I looked on, I realized that the students walking there – some wearing logoed outerwear, some in shorts in 36-degree weather, some with blue streaks in their hair and nose rings – each represented a younger, brighter, livelier version of me. 

They are probably worried about who likes them and who doesn’t. They aren’t sure how they are going to juggle everything they have on their plates right now. They absolutely cannot understand how their parents can be so lame and clueless. They wonder what kind of world they are about to enter… where it is headed, and what their place in that world is going to be. 

But for all those similarities, I also know that the kids I am watching as I sip my iced coffee face pressures 1969 Russell couldn’t conceive of in his wildest imagination.

For starters, they were born into an “always on” world of electronic voyeurism… constantly watching and being watched… measuring their worth in bytes, likes, follows, and views. This world is as prying as it is relentless, wedging its fat, judgmental eye into every waking moment of their lives.

These kids today have also been forced to consider the possibility that the hallway they travel between third period Algebra and fourth period History might suddenly erupt into random bursts of gunfire, blood, and screams. 

How in the name of God do you factor THAT into your daily psychic toolbox?

Hell, back in the day, pop-up fistfights between rival “greaser” gangs used to scare the snot out of me. But at least I knew they were fighting because they hated each other. Today there are no breadcrumbs to follow that might offer clues about the rage boiling up inside the kids who shoot up schools. 

And then, when those hopeful high schoolers lift their eyes for a moment to see how we – the mature, seasoned, arbitrator adults – handle our spats, all they see is pettiness, vitriol, and a willful blindness to any notion of “the common good.”

 And I pray; God help them. 

God, help us help them. 

But then, when my heart is almost overloaded with sadness and pity for these young adults, they make a sharp, unexpected turn. Suddenly they erupt with a joy, a generosity, a lightness, and a compassion that just blows me away. 

Abruptly and unexpectedly, they become my teachers. THEY show me how to love and include all those who were “born this way,” to flagrantly steal Lady Gaga’s phrase. THEY passionately appeal to me to take care of the ONE planet we occupy. THEY remind me that I don’t have to be enslaved to my stuff. THEY insist on learning a version of history bereft of whitewashing, coverups, or race-based distortions. THEY don’t hesitate to demand that JUSTICE serve every man, woman, and child ever born.

And so, as I keep watching, my prayer expands. 

It still asks God to help them, but now also asks God to help me LEARN from them.

God bless them…

… and YOU, too.

21
Apr
21

Will It Matter?

This was about one action in one moment.

And yet, it was about so much more than that.

The trial of Derek Chauvin that found the former Minneapolis police officer guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter focused its attention on the isolated action of one misguided police officer and the way he responded to one store owner’s complaint against one individual named George Floyd.

And yet this trial was about so much more. 

Derek Chauvin’s trial was also about using this unique moment in time as a vehicle. As ripples of outrage went out around the world, this trial also became a vehicle for shining a light on the disparities in treatment between white people and people of color by law enforcement officials. It became a vehicle for asking fundamental questions about how police officers handle themselves under stress. It became a vehicle for reexamining the relationships between a police force and communities of color. 

Most of all though, it became a vehicle to help us critically examine whether this nation really means it when it says we stand for, “… justice for all.”

Too many times we have seen shocking cell phone videos. Too many times we have seen body-cam footage. Too many times we have stood in front of our TV sets and asked, “How can they get away with doing THAT?”

And too many times, we have also seen justice denied. 

This time, there were too many eyewitnesses. This time, the visuals were too stark. This time, the “thin blue line of silence” was broken by officers who courageously spoke out against one of their own. This time the ground swelled and churned in righteous outrage. 

This time, justice was done.

We weep in relief. We embrace in celebration. At the same time, though, we wonder, “Will this moment matter? How far will the ripples of this moment spread? Will they reach deeply enough into the substrata of our racially biased criminal justice system to make any long-term difference? 

Or will this ultimately just be about…

… one moment, and

… one man?”

06
Jan
21

The Enemy Within

Raised voices.

Shaken fists.

Popped forehead veins.

Tensed muscles.

We all recognize the signals of anger. We have seen it at work many times before; in ourselves and in others. We are seeing overwhelming amounts of it in our nation’s capital today.

We know its destructive power and its crazy, irrational flight path. 

We quickly identify it as a threat to the peace we seek to cultivate.

And yet, if we really are as savvy and self-aware as we pretend to be, why do we keep moving TOWARD anger, violence, and mayhem instead of AWAY from them? Why do they fascinate us so? What primordial force is at work, drawing us in, like moths to a flame?

  • We can’t get enough of sporting events featuring violence.
  • We HAVE to slow down and check out the accident on the side of the road.
  • TV commentators have to shout at each other to gain our attention.
  • Our favorite television programs center on crime, injury, death, tragedy, and egregious harm done by one person to another.

We know we should disdain it, but we remain mesmerized.

It is too easy to shake our heads, point our fingers at “them” and say things like, “Shocking!” and “Shameful!” and “Outrageous!” It keeps us from looking too deeply inside ourselves and seeing the seeds of violence living there. We are quick to pronounce absolution on ourselves, saying, “My constitution might include a few unwholesome urges, but at least I don’t do things like THAT!”

But while we are busy looking “out there,” for insight we are missing a golden opportunity to examine what is “in here.” None of us really want to acknowledge how dangerously close we are to being part of The Mob… you know, the very same people who cheered for Jesus on Palm Sunday and then shouted, “CRUCIFY HIM!” five days later. 

Dear God, please hear our prayer. Please, God, lead us in acts of repentance that first recognize our own violent tendencies and then help us to turn our backs on those tendencies and seek the path of peace. 

In your name and for your sake we pray…

AMEN. 

27
Nov
20

Thanks Be to All

viol

I dislike violence.

I mean, I REALLY dislike it.

I can’t stand violent sports like boxing or Mixed Martial Arts… although I somehow find a way to make an exception for the violence of American football.

I immediately turn away from gratuitous violence on both the small and big screen.

I am so queasy about violence I even have a hard time watching contestants as they are eliminated on game shows. 

Which, I suppose, is why I have such a hard time facing up to the violence that helped pave the way for the life I lead today. 

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, our time of gluttonous gratitude gatherings. And even though it was a somewhat isolated feast for Joan and me this year, it was still quite enjoyable. 

The Thanksgiving holiday always causes me to think back and remember the things I was taught in school about the origins of this special national holiday.

I can still remember being part of a pageant in the fourth grade that commemorated the first Thanksgiving feast… with “Pilgrims” in their construction-paper hats and collars sitting down with their “Native American neighbors” (wearing their multi-colored construction paper headdresses) to thank them for their valuable assistance in coping with the fierce North American winter. 

Nowhere in my entire formal education, however, did I learn about the genocidal violence inflicted upon those original people by the European settlers … violence that was justified as necessary to promote the advance of “civilization.”

Or, if I ever did hear about it, I probably turned away in denial, preferring to believe a more sanitized version of American history. You know… the version where the Europeans and the Native Americans all sat down around a big conference table and respectfully agreed that it would be in everyone’s best interest if those First People uprooted themselves from places they occupied for centuries and squeezed themselves into tiny settlements in some of the most inhospitable parts of the American West. 

As we now know that version is just not the way it happened. Blood was shed. Lives were lost. Families were destroyed. Terrible violence was employed in order to “open up” this country for European expansion. 

Yes, I still believe it is good and necessary to give thanks to God for the bounty and blessings of the life I lead today. It is necessary to admit that I have received unmerited grace and favor, and to be continually humble in receiving it.

But I believe it is also necessary to admit – as much as I detest it – that violence also played a significant part in placing me where I am today.

Today – the day after Thanksgiving – has been officially designated as Native American Heritage Day. And in an historic first, it is worth noting that there are now more Native Americans serving in the U.S. House of Representatives than ever before in our nation’s history. There are six; three women, three men. Three Republicans, and three Democrats. 

To celebrate and sum up the importance of this day, I will close with this fitting quote from one of them:

“Native Americans have a unique opportunity to educate their children and fellow Americans about the legacy and hardships Native Americans have overcome. We know the stories of our ancestors and we pass them on to future generations. Our history and our sovereignty are what bind us together.”

  • Markwayne Mullin, Congressman, Oklahoma, a member of the Cherokee Nation

We also remember that it is the undiluted, unconditional, universal love of God that binds all of us on this awesome planet together.

In our thanksgiving, let us remember to give thanks to ALL who have gone before. 

Abundant blessings; 

02
Sep
20

Time for a jolt?

As a child of the 60s, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about protests. 

Granted, most of my participation in the anti-war or civil rights protests of that era consisted of watching them on TV from the safety of my parent’s living room. 

Then again, there was that one time when five or six of my friends and I “took over” the roof of the administration building on our college campus for a few hours in order to protest the Vietnam War. 

The quotation marks around the words “took over” in that last sentence stem from the fact that no one really seemed to much mind us being up on the roof of the admin building. They studiously ignored our chanting and passionate singing of “We Shall Overcome.” We maintained that righteous rooftop vigil right up until it was time to head home and finish the term papers that were due the next day. 

While it is true that I was personally a bit of a protest weenie, I see real value in taking a grievance to the streets. I believe that the Vietnam War might have dragged on for years longer had it not been for those anti-war peaceniks. The struggle for civil rights – though far from resolved even today – might not have gained even token footholds without the people who were willing to gather publicly and express their collective outrage at America’s Jim Crow status quo.

As I think about protestors, I also think about the Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire… the young man in Beijing (and his friends) who faced down tanks in Tiananmen Square… and of Nelson Mandela sitting alone in a South African jail cell for 27 years.

At the time most of these people were labeled extremists… kooks… dangerous radicals. So-called reasonable people denounced their tactics as wholly unnecessary. They urged calm, cogent conversation as the preferred way to solve society’s problems. 

But as history has demonstrated again and again, calm, cogent conversation doesn’t always move the needle. Sometimes, it takes an abrupt JOLT!

As it turns out, no one understood the strategic use of the abrupt JOLT quite as well as Jesus of Nazareth. He employed it regularly in the rhetorical technique known as “prophetic hyperbole.” A great example shows up in Mark’s gospel where we read these jolting words: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.” (Mark 9:43-45, NRSV). 

Does he really mean people should cut off their own hands or feet? 

Or when he told the rich young man that salvation meant selling everything he owned, giving the money to the poor and following him, did he mean that literally?

My guess would be that Jesus didn’t really intend for his words in Mark to be taken as a literal command. In the other one, maybe he did. But maybe not. 

You see, Jesus was a revolutionary. He came to turn the status quo of the world upside down. He did not come for calm, reasoned discussions. He came to instigate radical, top-to-bottom life change. 

In fact, when this man – sometimes called the Prince of Peace – talked about his earthly mission in Luke’s gospel he said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51, NRSV). 

Jesus sought to WAKE PEOPLE UP! To shake them from their complacency! To stress the urgency of the moment. 

Please understand… I am not saying that the people taking violently to the streets today are shining examples of Christ-like behavior. I have no insight into their hearts or minds. Many, I feel certain, are interested only in mayhem and destruction. 

What I AM saying is that sometimes the world finds itself in a place where a good, old-fashioned JOLT of prophetic hyperbole is exactly what the doctor ordered. 

What do you think… is this that kind of time? 

12
Jun
20

I Can’t Know

Grieving peopleBy my not-totally-rigorous estimate, I have officiated at close to 100 funerals during my career as a pastor. This total was boosted significantly by one memorable week in 2014 when there were three.

Every one of these formal church services was preceded by many hours sitting with and consoling grieving family members. In some of those situations, I was also privileged to spend time with the person as they slowly died.

I was taught this in seminary, but also learned by direct experience that there are things you say and things you DON’T say to people when someone close to them dies. And right at the very top of that “DON’T” list is the phrase, “I know exactly what you are going through.

Because you don’t.

Because you can’t.

Even if your father died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 79 after undergoing numerous surgeries and chemo therapies and you are talking to the son of a person whose father just died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 79 after undergoing numerous surgeries and chemo therapies, you still don’t KNOW what they are going through.

One journey of pain is utterly unlike any other journey of pain. Every journey of pain is unique and unrepeatable.

And yet, even though you stand entirely outside that person’s experience, there is still a “compassionate ally” role for you to fulfill in that journey.

First, you need to discover the role. Then you need to fulfill it.

In the wake of the horrific lynching (let’s call it what it was) of the black man named George Floyd by a group of white Minneapolis, MN police officers, a lot of pain has been brought to the surface. In most cases what we are seeing is a pain that had been bottled up for centuries that is finally exploding.

This crime provided a moment that has led to some long-overdue, national soul-searching.

In an eerie parallel of the scenes surrounding the death of a loved one, some folks are responding to the pain by releasing their own pent-up pain. Some are responding by trying to deny, dismiss, or rationalize the expressions of pain they’re witnessing. Still others are struggling to find a way to respond… knowing that this particular pain is not part of their lived experience, yet also aware that they dare not turn their backs on it.

Number me as a member of that last group.

I want to come alongside those who are now in pain. I want to minister to them. I want to do something more redemptive and more effective than clucking my tongue and saying, “Ain’t it a shame.” I want to figure out a way to somehow engage in the struggle without making the mistake of saying, “I know exactly how you feel.”

Because I don’t.

Because I can’t.

Because I’m white.

In his letter to the church folk in Galatia, Paul told them they were called to, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV).

And as much a fan as I am of most of his work, I have to confess I am having a hard time getting with Paul on this one. The burden of systemic racism and oppression is not one I will ever be equipped to carry.

And yet somehow, despite my shortcomings, I know there has to be a “compassionate ally” role for me to play in this struggle.

Continuing to shine a light on it might be one option. Refusing to allow our national angst to be swallowed up by the next news cycle might help keep the dialogue going and the solutions flowing.

Educating myself about the depth and nature and duration of the pain might be another.

Standing up visibly with those who are hurting the most might be another ally role I can play.

Supporting the cause financially is certainly another.

What else?

 

I’d love to know what you think…

29
May
20

Fear of Being Feared

I cannot express it more clearly or powerfully than these words of Deltha Katherine Harbin. So I will just step aside and let her speak for herself and her husband Phillip.

My thanks to Lindsey Choguaj for the original post.

Phillip Harbin picMy husband is 31 years old. My husband can proofread a paper to perfection! He makes the best pork chops and neckbones. My husband was raised in an extremely wholesome home where they were not even allowed to watch Harry Potter. My husband has never tried any drugs, not even weed. He has never stolen from anyone, not even a corner store. My husband treats me and our sons like royalty. He serves at our local church faithfully and helps anyone he can.

None of this stopped my husband from becoming a suspect in Semmes. My husband wanted to do me a favor one night when he got home late from work. He got my keys and drove around the corner to fill my tank at the gas station. While there, an older white woman was at a pump across from him and he noticed she appeared very nervous and stared at him. He said she got in her vehicle and got on her phone and pulled off to an area near the gas station. Within minutes police cars pulled in and surrounded him. He was questioned about why he was out. He was questioned about his activity earlier in the day. He was told he fit a description. They asked who’s car he was driving. He was told he could not leave. He was told the description was simply a black man. Not a 5 ft 7 inch black man of around 220 lbs who loves WWE, macaroni and cheese, and the Temptations. Just black.

The older woman was now watching and the cops revealed she had called in his suspicious behavior of pumping gas. And now he was a suspect because he fit the description of being black. He was humiliated. He was emasculated. He was angry. He was helpless. He was on his way to being cuffed when a white man stepped in. An older white man told the officers they were wrong and that my husband had come from a different direction than the robbery they had mentioned. The officers released my husband after this. Not because my husband told them multiple times he was innocent. Not because there were two car seats in the back of my car. My husband’s voice meant nothing. The only voice that penetrated those badges was a white one.

My hard working, kind hearted, silly husband was guilty because of his skin and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. The sight of him caused a woman to call the police. He said he wanted to scream. He wanted to fight. He wanted yell at the top of his lungs that he was a man and he mattered. If he had, he would be deemed aggressive. He would be resisting so he said he kept telling himself he had to make it home to me and the boys. He knew these men could kill him and justify it.

He came home a changed man. I am a changed woman. We cried. We prayed and we have healed since this took place but it changed us. Issues that once felt somewhat distant became our reality. So, when you dismiss the plight of black men in America you diminish the ever present fear within our community. You are willfully ignorant. If you think people make this up or are only apprehended by the police when they deserve it… you are part of the problem.

Open your eyes but more importantly open your hearts to the reality of being black in America. We don’t get the luxury of ignoring it because we live it. This picture of my precious family looks threatening to some people. My boys are cuddly and cute until they aren’t anymore and then they become a threat too. My heart aches for our country and I feel so helpless. Lord, please heal the hearts and minds our land! 

05
Aug
19

At moments like this…

Words fail me

 

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

  • Romans 8:26, NRSV
19
May
19

GOT GoT? Nope

Iron ThroneWinter is coming… but I won’t be there to see it.

Tonight – as you might have heard – will be the final installment of the mega-blockbuster TV show Game of Thrones.

This fantasy-based program features mythical ancient kingdoms, zombies, dragons, violent family rivalries, and some of the most jaw-dropping scenery imaginable. It has been a huge ratings bonanza for HBO.

Last week’s penultimate episode drew an estimated audience of 18 million.

Almost as ubiquitous as social media posts of fans of the show have been the declarations of languor from the non-GoT folk.

For some it seems to be a badge of honor to be able to say, “I’ve never seen a single episode,” or, “Game of WHAT?” or, “Giant YAWN!”

Personally, I don’t watch the show. But I have seen it. In fact, my wife and I watched the entire first season.

Our kids finally goaded us into it, arguing, “The writing and the characters are INCREDIBLE!” And they were right on both counts. I have never really been a fan of the fantasy genre, but I was VERY impressed with some of the early episodes I saw. The amazing music and scenery were extra-added bonuses.

But then there was the VIOLENCE!

Lots of violence. Graphic violence. Gruesome-leaving-nothing-to-your-imagination violence.

So after one season, we ditched it… and haven’t looked back.

It does make me wonder though: what is it about the high tolerance some people (actually, based on the Game of Thrones audiences, I should say, “…a WHOLE LOT of folks”) have for violence?

Honestly, I don’t get it. And whereas sometimes I will plead “old age” and “being out of step” for some of my attitudes about cultural trends, I am unapologetic about this one.

Watching some people hurting other people in horrible ways leaves me absolutely cold. Call me an old coot, but you can keep that crap to yourself.

And it seems the national appetite for violence of all types is only INCREASING. We can’t seem to get enough of the controlled mayhem of the National Football League. The sport that is growing the fastest in TV viewership today is Mixed Martial Arts… or “Human Cockfighting” as I also like to call it.

I know that some will say that televised violence is a kind of catharsis… they argue that viewing violence second-hand actually keeps people from committing it themselves.

Sorry… not buying it.

Of course, I can’t prove this at all, but I think it is not coincidental that more of us are lashing out violently against our neighbors (in shootings, stabbings, and other random attacks) as our violent forms of entertainment continue to ratchet upward.

It’s like they say in the world of computer programming: Garbage in… garbage out.

Tonight I’m not entirely sure what will be on the tube at the Brown house: although it will probably be last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live we recorded on the DVR.

All I know is that it won’t be anything featuring zombies, dragons, massive stone walls or bloodshed.

 

Unless, of course, John Belushi returns to SNL for an episode of “Samurai Hotel Desk Clerk.”




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