I’m supposed to travel to Israel/Palestine in September, so the violence between the Israeli government and Hamas…which would have discouraged me in any case….now strikes me with personal force. Will the trip happen? If it does, will we be safe?
For many months now, the numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at our country’s southern border has been burgeoning. Eventually persons with various political agendas began to take notice and these children have become a sort of ping-pong ball in the cynical games to which “civic discourse” in our nation has descended.
A jetliner filled with vacationers and business-people – folk going about the ordinary work and play of life is shot from the air while over eastern Ukraine. I suppose they never knew what hit them, but all of them…298 souls…perished in another deadly game in which they became pawns.
I have my own perspectives on each of these tragedies (and others), but mostly I’m heartbroken and discouraged. Do goodwill and peace and justice have any sort of chance in a world such as ours? You and I are committed to a faith which has as one of its cornerstones the conviction that one day lion and lamb will share a manger. We believe in the hope of reconciliation, and we eschew as cynical a resignation to estrangement and alienation.
But in fact, cynicism lives deeply embedded in me. Perhaps by God’s grace you are not so afflicted (I am sure many of you are not) but I know I’m not the only one for whom despair is a daily temptation in the face of wrongdoing and in the face of evil which rears its ugly head, not just in Gaza and over the skies of Ukraine, but even in the neighborhoods of Des Moines and many other places here in Iowa. Young people shoot other young people and others carry fearsome weapons into public places, apparently just to demonstrate that they can.
What are we coming to?
I won’t bore you with a journey into theodicy (Google it, if the word is unfamiliar). Suffice it to say – evil is real and is not going away anytime soon. And lest we – you and I – succumb to another outrageous distortion of reality, let us look carefully into any mirror and be reminded that evil doesn’t just live “out there” – it lives within each one of us.
But that’s not the whole of the story, for in addition to the corruption to which we are each susceptible, there is in every one of us a spark of the divine. We are…every single one of us….capable of….holding the potential for….remarkable grace and beauty and kindness and love.
“Spiritual but not religious” is nice, I suppose, but it’s not enough. I’ve found that it takes community for the good to overcome the bad – it can rarely be done by individuals. Much “spirituality” is individual….but religion is usually corporate – it’s community based. On the day when I am most discouraged, God inevitably brings across my path a fellow seeker on the journey of discipleship and together….as we imagine what Jesus might think and say and do in circumstances such as ours, we (both of us!) find ourselves encouraged to live one more day with hope.
My friends, the church is (or ought to be) God’s gift of flesh-and-blood hope in the face of violence and cynicism and despair. Whenever a handful of folk gather around a table to write letters demanding humane treatment for “the least of these (Christ’s sisters and brothers, mind you);” whenever folk work together to be sure the food pantry shelves don’t become bare; whenever voices are raised in praise and joy to the God hope; whenever the broken (that would be you and me) gather at table…at THE table…to wonder at the life-giving generosity and love of God….in those places despair is being faced down and the vision of peace and love is being renewed.
So…renew the vision of peace and love. It doesn’t thrive in a static sort of way…it must be enacted over and over and over again. This is why we have church….why are ARE church…why God gives church. So do it. Stubbornly and defiantly face violence and death and proclaim the power of love and reconciliation.
This is our calling, sisters and brothers. Let us not grow faint, but let us join hands….lock arms….raise the song….God is with us.
With great hope!
UCC in Iowa