Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Response to the Bombing in Boston

I was asked by a local paper to write something in response to what happened in Boston yesterday, here it is:
One of my favorite writers/preachers, Fredrick Buechner, once said, “Here is the world.  Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don’t be afraid.”
Terrible things happen.   A person or people decided to bomb runners and those that love them.  Three are dead, many more are maimed, lives have been altered by violence forever. 
For most of us it is impossible not to experience some amount of pain as we hear the story about an eight-year-old boy who waited to congratulate his father at the finish line.  The boy is dead.  He finished the race of life before his father finished the marathon.  It was not his time.  This was not God’s will.  And quite frankly I wonder where the hell God was.
But I wonder that when I hear about a young man entering a school with guns a’ blazing and massacring children and their teachers who try to protect them.  But I wonder that when I hear about bombs that “miss” their targets and take out weddings in foreign lands.  But I wonder that when I hear about two teenagers who shot a baby in the face not far from here while trying to rob the baby’s mother.  But I wonder that when…
This is not God’s will, shame on those who dare say so.  If this is God’s will then this God needs to die.  Where the hell were you God?  Where the hell are you?  Why is there pain?  Why is their suffering?  Why does evil run amok in this world?  Why do children suffer at the hands of us?  Why are our hands so covered in blood?  My God why have you forsaken us?
“Here is the world.  Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don’t be afraid.”  Sometimes I forget beautiful things happen.  I see the terrible things.  It is said that a child needs at least ten positive things said of them to counteract the effects of one negative jab.  Maybe we are just wired to see pain easier.
Right after this happened something Fred Rogers once said on his show filled the web.  “When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’”  I was somehow gladdened that millions shared that image of Mr. Rogers with that quote.  “Here is the world.  Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don’t be afraid.”
There was a man who rushed into the chaos after the bomb blasted.  Carlos Arredondo, his story is here: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/16/17773869-the-man-in-the-hat-at-boston-marathon-finish-line-carlos-arredondo-didnt-set-out-to-be-hero?lite
He is a helper who has lost his children to violence and did a beautiful thing at a terrible time.  The story says he was shaking afterwards.  Medicine tells us that should happen, but for a moment he was not afraid.  He ran toward it, and it was a beautiful thing.
My God have you forsaken us?  It feels that way sometimes.  It feels that way with every ounce of my being.  Jesus said the same thing when the moment was at its darkest.  I am not sure I find comfort in that, but at least I know that Jesus understands what we feel, or, to say it better, has felt what we have felt.  God has experienced God forsakenness.  God knows what it is like to wonder what the hell is going on, that happened on the cross.
But a beautiful thing happened later.  Jesus came back.  Do not forget that he bares the scares of that Friday from long ago.  They do not go away.  Pain is real.  Violence leaves its marks.  Lives are altered forever.  People are dead.  But God is not done, even if I cannot feel God near at all.  “Do not abandon yourselves to despair.  We are an Easter people and hallelujah is our song,” once claimed John Paul II.  “This is the world.  Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don’t be afraid.”  Thanks Carlos.  Thank you to all you first responders.  Thank you to those who do their awful and sacred work in hospitals and with dogs searching for bombs.  Thank you those who will seek peace from violence.  Thank you people that say enough is enough.  Thank you for the god that dies so a truer God can rise in its place.  This was not God’s will, but as I look at it again, I see those who do the will of God.  The helpers.  It is beautiful.  And by God’s grace, I will not be afraid.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fuel for Joy

My grandfather died the other day. He was 95 and lived a full long life. The last time I was in California I preached in the church that I grew up in. Knowing that my grandfather was getting to the point that it was difficult to move around I did not expect to see him. But he made it. He sat through that service and looked proud like only grandparents can look. After the service we went to my parents place where we celebrated my daughter’s first birthday, my niece’s third birthday, and my grandfather’s ninety-fifth. I sat down and talked to him and it was good. When we left California I told my wife, “I think that may be the last time I ever see the old man.”… it was, and I pray to my God that the memory of that moment never leaves me, it has already been my fuel for joy in moments of despair. My son had surgery the other day. There we were going to a specialist for a consultant and next thing I knew we were scheduled to have him put under and on a table. I cannot lie, I was scared. Then I told people. I told the leadership in the church. I told friends here in town. I told people we needed prayers, and thoughts, and comfort. And people prayed for us, and told us they were thinking about us. Many people told me, “If you need anything, and I do mean anything, let me know.”… and they were serious, and I felt better because I knew we were loved, and I pray to my God the memory of that moment never leaves me, it has already been my fuel for joy in moments of despair. My son started riding a bike the other day. Two wheels without training wheels. He never thought he could do it at first, but I stayed behind him running in that strange bent over way to make sure I was holding onto him without running into the bike. I would let go and he would go a couple of feet before getting scared and I would get him again. Then one time I let go and he was off, he was riding a bike, “Look mommy, look daddy!!!” he said with the kind of excitement only someone learning to ride a bike can understand… but I looked on in another way, with only the kind of pride a parent watching a child grow up can understand, and I pray to my God that memory of that moment never leaves me, it has already been my fuel for joy in moments of despair. Last night my daughter cried out in her crib. I went and picked her up and laid down with her on a bed we have in her room. She cuddled up to me and buried her little head in my neck and said softly, “dada.” Soon she was sleeping on my chest, but knowing enough of the world to know that moments like these will not last for long I stayed there for sometime and soaked her in. When I set her down I took the puppy outside. There in the middle of my backyard I knew I had to take a moment to thank God, because I simply felt overwhelmed with gratitude. I looked up above me into the night sky and found that the moon was directly over me, and through my trick of the atmosphere it formed a halo of light that circled the sky over me. There I stood in a stunned silence expecting to thank God, and yet overwhelmed with the light show I got to encounter. For some time I stood there in the chill of the night staring up, if a neighbor was watching one of them must have said, “It finally happened, the Presbyterian minister has gone crazy.” And maybe I was crazy, crazy with amazement at the beauty of it all, crazy with gratitude, crazy with hope because I took it as a good omen, and I started praying for people who needed prayer. It was a holy moment, and for a second I wondered if God would show up next to me… God never did, at least not in person, but I pray to my God the memory of that moment never leaves me, it will be my fuel for joy in moments of despair. What is your fuel for joy in moments of despair? All around us there is reason for joy. The cynic would point out that there is also reason for misery, but I would counter there are only reasons to have people who offer fuel for joy so that joy abounds. To those who are hurting and in need, we must become their fuel for joy! God offers a world so full of beauty, a life filled with surprise, and moments of inspiration to each of us with the express intent that we in turn offer the world what God has given us, joy! Riding the wave of the Holy Spirit, Garrett

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

God Makes You Beautiful

If I can tell you one thing for this New Year, one thing that I hope you will remember, one thing that can give you the hope that we all need as days go on, one thing that is absolutely true of you and true of God, it is that God will make you beautiful. It is true. That is how God works. God makes you beautiful. Why? We could call it love, we could call it grace, or any other number of other words that are incredibly hard to define. Or we could not worry about why, and simply smile that it is mysteriously true. God is making you beautiful, even as you read this. Now I do not mean beautiful in the way the world thinks of beauty. You may or may not be a stunner when looking in the mirror. People magazine will probably not be naming you most beautiful person of 2013 (however if that happens I want you to remember reading this). What I do mean by beautiful is you are made in God’s image. Again that does not necessarily mean you look like God, but it means that you have some spark of divinity within you. That spark of the divine, whether you can feel it or not, whether you can see it or not, whether you have any idea it is there or not, is there, and that spark is sublime. It means that all the ways that you try to define yourself, or the world tries to define you are null and void. You are not the worst parts of yourself, you are not the best parts of yourself, you are not your job, your mistakes, your regrets, your successes, your titles, you are a creature created by the Creator and you are being made more beautiful because that is what God does. God creates things and calls them good and makes them beautiful. And I know that you are not as good as you would like to be, and I know that because I am not as good as I would like to be. But do not forget that God is making you beautiful. I have seen a bumper sticker on some cars that reads, “Have patience with me, God isn’t done with me yet.” It is incredible that even bumper stickers can give some gospel truth. God is not done with you yet! What was it like for Peter? He never seemed to get Jesus. He was called “Satan.” He denied Jesus. It would be easy to think Peter would simply fade away. But there he was on Pentecost preaching… who would have guessed? Perhaps the God who makes all people beautiful. There is an ancient story about Peter trying to escape Rome during some of the Roman persecutions. As he was on a road leaving that ancient city of empire he met Jesus on the road and said, “Lord where are you going? They are persecuting us in Rome!” Jesus responded, “I go to Rome to be crucified again.” As the story goes, Peter followed Jesus into Rome and was crucified. It is a beautiful story about a beautiful person who was made beautiful by God and lived in a way that he could never have lived on his own. Please note that I am not saying death awaits you, but then again maybe I am. Perhaps to be made beautiful by God the person you think you are, or want to be, or others tell you are has to die. We die to ourselves to be made beautiful by God. This New Year has that in store for you. The God who makes all things beautiful is making you beautiful. What a miracle you are.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A God of the Shadows

I once heard a story about a young boy who stood outside a store looking through the widow. A woman walked by and saw the tattered clothes and dirty fingers of the child that gave away his poverty. She saw him looking in and said, “What are you looking at in there?” “Oh ma’am, I’m sorry to disturb, but I am looking at the shoes.” He turned back around and peered through the window. The woman looked down and saw that his feet could be seen through the holes in the shoes he wore. It was cold out and she experienced that tinge of pity and mercy that we all know because we have all felt that moment when we want to do something for someone who needs help. Her heart stirred and it would not be quieted. “Come with me little boy,” she said to him. And she took his hand and took him into the store. Some people gave weird stares in their direction, the stares of disapproval or distaste, or some combination of both. She took him to where the shoes were and took off his beat up shoes, measured his feet, found him the nicest pair of shoes she could find, put new socks on his feet and then tied the shoes for him. “How’s that feel?” she asked him. The boy looked up at her and said, “Are you an angel?” Words could not come to her when she heard that question. The boy kept on, “Oh I’m sorry maybe you can’t say. Of course you are an angel, because I was just praying that an angel would help me get a pair of shoes.” Charity increases at this time of year. It cannot be any other way really. Many recall the gift that God has given them in their need, and in turn they realize they can give to others in need too. People come out and volunteer more hours in December than other months. It feels good, and it is good, and at this time of year, well, if not at Christmas then when? And those poor and sad souls are easier to see. People who drive right by need and pain in the course of the year find their eyes cannot ignore such things as easily. The Christmas spirit takes hold and even those with the hardest of hearts find them somewhat softened. A friend once asked me what about this time of year made people more inclined to help others. Honestly I think it has do with God. It is easy to ignore the hurting and destitute. They exist in the shadows of society, in the back alleys where we would never go, and in the seedy places we rarely consider. We come into our churches and we worship God and we try to focus on God and give God all the praise we can muster. So what does God do? God shows up in the shadows, born in them so that we must look for God there. Jesus was born to an unwed teenage mother, what kind of God would show up there? A God who wants us to look in the shadows perhaps. Jesus was born in filth, far away from the nurses and doctors of our society who help ensure the heath and safety of mother and child, what kind of God would show up there? A God who wants us to look at the filthy perhaps. Jesus was scandalously born in poverty and obscurity, what kind of God would do such a thing? A God who wants to redeem the world perhaps. The only way to redeem the world is to enter the worst places of the world. That is what the birth of Jesus teaches us, and maybe that is why we want to help others more at this time of year, because we know that God would help them too. So there was a little boy who stood peering into a window outside a store. He claimed he met an angel. The woman claimed she met God. Maybe they were both right.