“Urgency of the Moment”

It seems as if I have written on this subject more than anything since beginning this blog several years ago.  One because of my own affinity with working with young people and when their lives are cut short senselessly, my heart bleeds for them.  It’s not just a life that ends, but hope, creativity, future, imagination, and so much more that they hadn’t had the chance to share with the world in the fullest.  Secondly, though, is our obsession with violence in our society and culture that we never quite come to grips with, showing our own immaturity on the world stage with the thinking that violence and acts of violence can somehow declare us victor or solve problems, never quite seeing beyond the immediate choice that is made to pull a trigger.

I happened to catch an interview with a Congressman this morning.  His name and location I can’t remember, but his comment has stuck with me throughout the day in reflecting on the events in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  He had commented that we are an exceptional country.  We have the strongest military.  We have the best people.  He seemed to go on and on about our exceptionalism and yet, it all stands in the face of yet another tragedy.  If we can do ourselves any favors, as a country, we can stop using such language to describe ourselves.

If there is anything I’ve learned, in spending so much time working with people, it’s that if you have to spend time trying to convince others how exceptional you are you probably are not.  When we live with such a mantra, where even our greatest strength is military, over time we convince ourselves of the illusion that somehow we can’t learn from others, that somehow we know better than every other kid on the block and they should look to me to see how to do things.  It casts a glaze over our eyes in the way we see things and prevents us from the possibility and potential of finally looking at ourselves so that we can go more deeply into the real problems we face as a country and society.  When you convince yourself of your exceptionalism there’s no room for growth.  You’ve decided you’ve already reached the promised land and the promised land is right here.

I started looking at the names and faces of the next seventeen people to add to the list of this ongoing violence.  Their smiles.  Imagining their potential.  Their innocence in the face of tragedy, most likely not even knowing what had happened to them with others now trying to pick up pieces that can almost never be brought together again.  It’s the unfortunately reality of such events and honestly, there’s nothing exceptional about it.

I simply wrote yesterday upon hearing the news that I’m grateful that I grew up in a different time when such acts weren’t even imagined.  The tragic reality only fuels the reaction it brings, somehow thinking arming more people, threatening even more violence, is going to somehow resolve the issue.  I couldn’t even begin to fathom a day when I walked into school needing to go through security.  Yet, listening to students speak in interviews, they think nothing of it.  There in lies even more proof that we refuse to look at ourselves.  We’ll simply continue to arm ourselves with our defense, our fear, our lack of compassion and empathy, our ideology, and unfortunately our politics, which more often than not only fuels the problem and is fed through the problem.  The entire system currently feeds on division, which, in and of itself, invokes violence in various ways.

It is rare that empires fall at the hands of outsiders.  More often than not empires fall from within.  They divide themselves and fall.  Quite frankly because they lose their sense of humanity, a logical outcome of thinking your exceptional.  As heinous acts of violence continue to ensue our landscape, roads and bridges collapse, inequality grows more deeply,  schools often failing their students or unable to challenge them, and political divides deepen, debt climbs out of control, there will come a day of reckoning of just what it means to be exceptional or great.  In the end we simply lie to ourselves and over time believe the lie while the world watches.

It’s going to take the young minds and hearts to steer this ship in a new direction, but if we continue to insist on taking such lives, not only in schools but on our own street corners, there will be no future to envision.  The illusion of exceptionalism has been smashed for some time, but the more we cling to it and try to convince ourselves otherwise is yet another day lost to imagining what could be.  When Martin Luther King, Jr delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 he said, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all God’s children.  It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”  Yet, despite the times of great injustice that continue, he still dreamed and so must we.  There is an urgency of this moment in which we are given, either to once again get swallowed up in needing to be exceptional and ignoring our deeper human problems or rising to the occasion as he demanded, to dream a better way of life, not only for ourselves but for the generations who will inherit what we have done. 

There is an urgency in the moment to seek a larger and yet common vision for who we are, that rises above guns, politics, and money.  There is an urgency in the moment because we owe it to the current 17 and the countless others that stand in the cross-hairs of violence each day in this country.  In spite of it all, we must, and must we must, dare to dream lest others die in vain.  We need the necessary freedom to break free from our way of thinking that we have become paralyzed by it all, powerless to change.  We have the gifts and not through the walls of Congress or the White House, but in our very hearts to imagine better days.  It doesn’t mean a naïve look, where all is perfect.  That’s how we got here in the first place.  Rather, a looking at what we have allowed and become through the eyes of humility that we’re not done yet and all we can do is keep our eye on the prize, the promised land.  “This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, ‘My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.  Land where my fathers died.  Land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountain side, let freedom ring.’ And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”

A Seismic Gift of Love

Isaiah 9: 1-6; Luke 2: 1-14

We all remember where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001. It’s a day when life changed, forever. I dare say, it was a day when a seismic shift took place in this country that rattled us in our very soul and something we still grapple with to this day, coming to some sense of understanding of who we really are. It was a day when our innocence was lost. It was a day when the illusion we held about ourselves and others thought of us were shattered. It was a day in which we recognized our vulnerability and were no longer invincible. It was day when we saw first had our own mortality as people and a nation. It was a tremendous seismic shift in our lives when the ideal separates from the brokenness of our humanity. As much as we want to and will always try to go back to what it was like before that day, we never can. It simply becomes an invitation to enter into our brokenness and pray for redemption and that the true God will lead us to the fullness of life we desire.

As people, it’s the same shift that takes place in our own lives. As children, when we too lose our innocence and become vulnerable to the pain of the world and our own families we begin to separate. Just think about how life was for us when we were children. Everything and everyone seems so big, filled with adventure, endless opportunity, a gigantic world. And then we are hurt, some to the extreme, and our world begins to shrink and become smaller. As I preached on Sunday, we begin to view the world through the lens of our emptiness, that empty crib that sat here on Sunday. We view life through the lens of our hurt and loneliness and see the world that way, only longing for the fullness of days past. But on this day God invites humanity into that seismic shift in our own lives, from death to life. We try to live our lives over and over where our Bethlehem becomes separated from our Jerusalem, our full crib separated from our empty crib. God wants to bring about a seismic shift in our lives from gazing at the emptiness of our crib to viewing life from the crib, in all it’s fullness.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, but they know the darkness as well, but not separate from the light. This reading we hear from Isaiah today, in all its beauty, was often read at the coronation of a new king. It was a message of hope to a people who have often felt lost in their darkness, their own emptiness and sin, a people who somehow forget to view life through the lens of the faithful God who brought them out of exile and through the deserts of the exodus. Of course, like we are when a new president or leaders are elected, we have traditions like this reading that we convince ourselves that somehow all will be different and life will be better, but Isaiah looks beyond the earthly king and speaks of a child to be born, one who brings wonder, peace, faithfulness, in the flesh, the birth of the Christ child, the only who who shows and leads the way from the emptiness of the cross to the fullness of the crib.

Mary and Joseph become the icons of that journey in their own sense of having to leave their home and journey to the unknown of Egypt with the newborn king. They too are called right away to abandon all that they know and the life they knew because of the terror of King Herod. Herod, threatened by the news of the Christ and certainly not viewing the world from the crib, seeks and kills all the newborns, a feast we call Holy Innocents, celebrated during this season of Christmas. Herod held onto the illusion of power and his kingly role, trapped in the worldly desires, trying to fill his own emptiness and longing, all to be seen through that lens of illusion as a threat, rather than the invitation for change and a seismic shift in his own world. His illusion becomes the threat to the promise that Mary and Joseph bear. Just think about it, in a world that we live today and the issues we face, it is often the children that are threatened the most, their innocence and vulnerability, stripped from them, because of our own hurt and our own illusions.

On this Christmas, God now invites us into the seismic shift. Where and how are we viewing life? Do we continue to view it only through the empty crib, our own emptiness and longing, our own illusions of life? Can we pray for the grace to not only know our emptiness, and we all know it and we all know suffering and will always be a part of who we are in our brokenness, but also to see it from the crib? That doesn’t make us naive or wearing our rose-colored glasses. Rather, it brings about wisdom because our Jerusalem, our empty crib, is no longer separated from our Bethlehem, the fullness of the crib. As people and as a nation and world, we must pray and find silence to welcome the seismic shift and not run back to what was; when such a seismic shift happens our natural inclination is to blame because we only see what we see and feel what we feel and know what we know. Christmas welcomes seismic shifts so we can see through the lens of the unseen, to feel through the unfelt, and to know through the unknown, to reignite a spirit of wonder and innocence in a world that hurts and suffers. We are a people and a world that knows all too well the realities of the empty crib. Today God invites us into the crib to view the world and our own hurts through the lens of the largess of the Christ’s love for us and the world. Merry Christmas!

UnderWater

From a distance you are filled with innocence.
White, frothy waters, streaming by,
thunderous crashing of falls.
A river at play, like a child,
wanting it’s own way.

Yes, a place to play,
but nonetheless, a place with power,
with determination,
demanding presence from us all.

But innocence you have taken, or so it seems.
That fateful day when the waters collapsed,
engulfed and trapped,
the filling of lungs with your precious cargo,
death knocked and then darkness; voices seeming distant,
calling my name to come out!

I have now grown older and we both are forever changed.
You, not even remembering that day; life has moved on,
your waters moving endlessly away.
And yet, for that moment, we were but one;
surrendering to your will gave me hope,
letting go gave me light,
at a moment when death seemed imminent,
you spit me out and offered me life.