Sunday, January 9, 2011

Are the clergy tasked with finding hope in the darkness?

Sunrise over Hartford.  After I took this picture, I went to get a family member who'd been keeping vigil at a husband's bedside all night.  She looked at the dawn and said to her daughter, "Guess what?  We made it through the night."  He died later, but this sunrise and this milestone helped them remember hope.  I didn't say that.  They did, later on.  
We're now in the season of Epiphany.  As I think back through Christmas, I think of the Isaiah passage that promises that a "people who walked in darkness have seen a great light".  Epiphany, according to our dictionary, means "a sudden, intuitive perception or insight of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience" (thanks, iPhone dictionary).  But think about it- there's not much peace or light-filled about Epiphany.  Joseph gets a frightening message from an angel and packs up the new family and flees for their lives into Egypt.  The Magi leave the child and go home in secret because they've been warned to avoid Herod, who is seeking Jesus' life. And Jesus... well, he never was a restful kind of guy.  Next thing you know, he's going to be calling perfectly decent fishermen to leave their fathers and livelihoods and to come follow him on a path that rapidly leads to miracles, danger, and execution.

Epiphany isn't really all that restful, is it?  I wonder, then, if clergy are tasked with finding the hope in the darkness.

Yesterday, a Democratic congresswoman was shot while speaking with supporters.  Reports are foggy at this time, but there's some indication there are more than one suspect.  A 9 year old and a federal judge died, and the Congresswoman is still in critical condition.  I work on Nuerosurgery and in trauma.  A gunshot to the head is not good news.  Some people survive.  Notice how we say some?  This is a life-changing injury, medically and psychologically.  There will only be life before the shooting, and life after.  There is no return to normal. Right now, that Congresswoman is facing some very, very serious medical concerns.

A few friends posted Sarah Palin's rhetoric and that graphic where she placed crosshairs (shooting targets, as in what you aim at when you want to shoot things out of guns with bullets) on a number of her rivals.  She wanted to "aim" at their races, "fire" them, that this was the first "salvo in a fight".  One friend wrote of that graphic, "Words, Sarah, make stupid people do stupid things".

He's very right.  Language of target, fight, aim, plus that graphic of actual targets...

Violence-filled rhetoric doesn't bring a shred of safety to our shores.  Violent words put us all on edge and make us feel desperate.  Violent words perpetuate a culture of fear.  Living in fear is not what I want out of my life, or my country.  To inject a little humor in here, do you remember that scene in Monsters, Inc when the blob character asks Susan what they call her... "You know, what people scream when you're walking down the street?"  Giant Susan replies, tearfully, "Susan."  "Suuuuuusan!  ooo, I just scared myself!"  The leader later christians her "Giganta!"  We are a people of words- written words, signed words, spoken words in dozens of languages.  Words are being used to hurt our country.  Words are a weapon.  Unlike a Pixar movie, there is nothing funny about it when your words are taken into action and used to kill and maim.  Using crosshairs and target language to talk about your human rivals... it's flat out negligent.

Now please don't get me wrong- I'm far from a pacifist.  I serve as a police chaplain, and I love my cops.  All of them carry guns for a living, and some of them are Republican and support other political leaders than I do.  (We still like each other, though.  It's the great thing about the police world.)  But what sets the great cops aside from the good cops is that the great ones know that they are the most powerful when the guns are in the holster.  I've seen some great cops defuse situations with the most amazing wordplays, and none of the words are based in violence.  Several years ago, I watched a cop friend break up a domestic situation.  She didn't use a single violent word or threat with the most dangerous man in that situation.  She was cold as ice, reasonable as a math equation, calm as a Buddhist monk.  She understood that the only way to defuse that situation was to project peace and calm into the insanity.

This situation in our country today is like a domestic violence battle, in a way.  And fighting more just puts us in more and more danger.

And so, a number of my clergy friends went to task last night, re-writing their sermons.  (Okay, I know some of you were writing for the first time, but we all have our methods, right?)  I don't envy them their task.  Peacebang writes on her blog of her need to express the anger.  Several years ago, my friend Blake Rider won a preaching award for his sermon Who Gets to Enter the Temple? on the Katrina refugees flooding Texas, where he was serving as a priest at the time.  Blake wrote, in words that seared my heart and that I still turn to today when the world feels off-balance, that "None of God's children are cattle."

Blake's sermon represents for me what we need to say as clergy.  He acknowledges the anger and the fear, and pulls it through to hope.  The fingers are already pointing, the anger is flying thick, the fear is wrapped around our country like a fog.  In this deep midwinter, it is so easy to feel frozen and icy. When a nine year old dies because of some idiot taking a foolish woman's stupid picture seriously, it is right to be angry.  I am angry.  But as clergypeople and a people of a God of hope who came to set God's people free, I think our duty extends.  We have a different calling in the pulpit.

We are tasked with finding hope in the darkness.  We are tasked with pointing at the dawn and saying, "Look, it's brighter in the East."  We are tasked with blessing the anger as a part of being these complicated human animals, and pulling through it to a hope of peace.  I am not going to talk about forgiveness or any premature resolution like that.  We're not tasked with making everything neat and tidy, as if this is all part of God's plan.  I hate it when people say bad things are "God's Plan" as if God created dumb people to do harm.  Sometimes I think that God wonders whether that whole free will idea was really so great after all, since God set us free to do precisely this sort of thing to each, free of control.  Bad stuff is not God's plan, though God can help us transform so we can bring good out of the bad.  I think we are charged with finding ways to call God's people back to center, acknowledging that anger and fear are normal human emotions.  But God's people have a hope of greater peace.

Today, we may be angry.  But I hope we are also called to work together to discern a response that is rooted in peace.  Additional anger and violence will never help us resolve this and move forward.  I just see nightmare visions of media machines grinding against each other, full of late night spoofs and sound bites.  No, I think that the cop I mentioned above demonstrated what we need right now: calm, intelligent, cool response, rooted only in the hope that the only way out of the domestic situation is peace and hope that tomorrow's dawn might be different.

1 comment:

k bagioni said...

Not just clergy, but ALL God's people are charged with finding hope in the darkness.