A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Syria, 9/11, Violence and the Church

Sometimes I find it difficult to think of anything to write.  Then there are times like this with so many ideas crashing around in my head I fear what I end up writing will be more akin to vomiting of the sub-conscious rather than articulate thoughts.  Despite my mind feeling like a rather violent bouncy house, two general themes... no wait make it three... ahhh, stop the madness.....   Okay!  Three general themes keep sifting their way to the surface:  cussing, anger, and violence.  

I encountered a few places this week where Christian writers used what some describe as  offensive language.  The comments following have included some with such self-righteous condescension I can hardly stand it.  One of these was this article by Christian Piatt in which he used the phrase, “That just sucks” in order to articulate feelings of empathy.  I was  irritated by the (admittedly few) sanctimonious comments about "such harsh language" which followed.   “That sucks” is one of my favorite pastoral care phrases.  I first used it with an upper-middle aged man back when I was an intern pastor.  It wasn’t on purpose.  The man, who was dear to me, had just told me his wife, who was dear to me, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  The words just flew out of my mouth because they expressed how I felt.  He chuckled and then tears came to his eyes and he said, “That’s exactly right.  It really does suck.”  When people are in pain they need empathy and compassion not politeness.  If I say “that sucks” and you are offended chances are you are not the one to whom I am speaking.  People who are experiencing tragedy and pain hurt too much to be concerned with propriety.  Unless the church has beaten propriety into them so deeply it becomes more important than feelings.  

Which brings me to the anger portion of this discussion:  I think I am a smidge angry at the church.  I can imagine those who know me best crying out, “Ya think?!?!”  Well, a bit angrier than I realized anyway.  I am a relative new comer to Mumford and Sons fandom but I have been listening obsessively to their album “Sigh No More.”  It contains one song which seems to express my feelings toward the church (Fellow fans, please note:  I am not saying this song is about the church only that it expresses my feelings toward the church.)  A few words from “The Cave”:

“Now let me at the truth which will refresh my broken mind.  So tie me to a post and block my ears, I can see widows and orphans through my tears.  I know my call despite my faults and despite my growing fears.  But I will hold on hope and I won’t let you choke on the noose around your neck.  And I’ll find strength in pain and I will change my ways.  I’ll know my name as it’s called again.”  

At least these are the words according to various internet sources and my ears.  EXCEPT, my ears heard “I will let you choke.”  Yeah, perhaps a smidge angry.  I am tired of the church being about reiterating the same old platitudes, judgmental attitudes, and benign stories.  I long for the church to speak truth and stand up and do something.  Every little holier than thou conversation about foul language and improper attire and mixed up priorities (meaning church attendance not being priority number one) removes a little more of my hope church might change.  It makes me want to walk out the door and let the church choke itself.  

But I am not quite ready to give up yet.  There is so much potential.  There is so much the church could accomplish if we decided to stand up for something other than piety.  Which leads me to the third theme: violence.  I have become increasingly convinced the church ought to be strongly averse to violence.  Perhaps one can argue about whether we are called to complete non-violence but at least we should be resisting violence whenever possible.  God has called us each by name and claimed us as beloved.  Even those whose names sound strange to our ears.  Even those whose lives are so different from our own.  Even those oceans away.  We are called to love these, our neighbors. 
And yet as we contemplated decisions about some of those children of God, decisions which would greatly impact their lives and the grief they have to bear, we often did so as though it is all about our safety, or is just another excuse to degrade the opposing political party or as something to politely ignore thinking surely someone I have supported couldn’t be wrong (the latter would be me,  I am guilty too).  A decision to respond to violence with violence should never be taken so lightly.  In regards to Syria, we might talk about collateral damage and civil war but what we are really talking about is human suffering we can only begin to imagine here in our very fortunate lives. 

In fact the only way I can relate is through the little bit I know of grief.  The pain of grief can be so strong that now fifteen years since it first rocked my life it moved me to a level of emotion which I can only express through cussing.  When I realized the fifteenth anniversary of my husband’s death was approaching, the phrase which immediately leapt to my mind was “fifteen fucking years.”  When I tried to think of a less offensive way of phrasing it for the sake of my writing, I realized no other words fully captured the intensity of emotion behind those words.  It seems so wrong to have to go fifteen years without seeing one I love.  It seems so wrong for such a beautiful life to have ended.  It seems so wrong ... well it just seems so wrong.  Even from my priveleged position in this world with a very lucky life, beautiful children, remarried to a wonderful person.  Even fifteen years later.  

The families of the victims of 9/11 might feel similarly these twelve years later.  My heart aches for them.  I am also saddened those events have been used to increase our fear and anger rather than our empathy.  I am saddened many in our church used these events to fuel our patriotism rather than our commitment to love all our neighbors.  The people of Syria and other places in the world are suffering daily the violence which shook our nation on that day.  Remembering 9/11 could draw us to think more deeply and creatively about our foreign policy.   There are no easy answers.  But with such suffering at stake, how dare we imply the options are reduced to bombing, full out war, or nothing?  Perhaps the politicians, but people of faith?  We who are a people of hope?  We who believe the entire world was changed by some dude from Nazareth?  We who believe there is more to life than meets the eye?  How can we suffer such lack of imagination and such lack of will for change?  

I pray the talks with the U.N. and various countries regarding chemical weapons in Syria are fruitful.  Yet people in Syria will continue to suffer and die anyway.  The problems of the world are complex and the pain is great.  I know little about foreign policy but it seems to me violence, doing little, or doing nothing can never be our only options.  As the church, joining in partisan battles or saying little or saying nothing cannot be our only options.  It is time for the church to think deeply and pray deeply about such things and then stand up and do something.

But I suppose the membership drive is more important.  

Makes me want to cuss.


Charlene said...

fifteen fucking years


Sheri Ellwood said...

Thanks, Charlene! I needed that.