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February 25, 2018, 12:00 AM

Towards Healing the Country


Last week I choose not to say anything about the 17 lives that were take on Ash Wednesday or if you prefer The Feast of St Valentine (also commonly known as Valentines Day) All that I could think to say last week felt either not biblical, mostly political and/or simply pablum that has been repeated by many needing to say something while trying not to offend. Maybe the worst would have been the pablum of platitudes about God and love and the call to love without specifics actions to go with it. I like most am appalled by this violence and want to make sure that it never happens again, it definitely does not fit with our faith, but what can be suggested that is not already being suggested and thus is part of the mire that keeps us stuck in doing nearly nothing.

As I think about our gospel text and of Jesus sitting there knowing that he has finally been betrayed to the religious authorities, who have been out to get him, even as he was continuing to preach, I am reminded that our faith is not one that calls us to safety. As I read Romans I am reminded that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” And so it is, with the knowledge that I am not called to safety and that I may well get some of the balance wrong, but that I am entitled to grace so long as I am acting in good faith, that I will try to see if I can speak this morning in a more productive manner.

 

Let me start with a memorial of sorts. The following is a list of Mass School Shootings in the previous twenty years. Numbers of the dead listed does not included the gun man nor does the list include the wounded.

2018, February 14 - Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school - (17 deaths)

2017, November 14 - Rancho Tehama Reserve - (6 deaths)

2015, October 1 - Umpqua Community College - (10 deaths)

2014, October 24 - Marysville Pilchuck High School - (5 deaths)

2013, June 7 - Santa Monica California School - (6 deaths)

2013, January 15 – Hazard College - (3 deaths)

2012, December 14 - Sandy Hook Elementary School - (28 deaths)

2012, April 2 - Oikos University - (7 deaths)

2012, February 27 - Chardon High School - (3 deaths)

2010, February 12 - University of Alabama in Huntsville - (3 deaths)

2008, February 14 - Northern Illinois University - (6 deaths)

2007, April 6 - Virginia Tech - (33 deaths)

2006, October 2 - West Nickel Mines School - (6 deaths)

2005, March 21 - Red Lake - (10 deaths)

2002, January 16 - Appalachian School of Law - (3 deaths)

1999, April 20 - Columbine High School - (15 deaths)

1998, May 21 - Thurston High School - (4 deaths)

1998, March 24 - Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden - (5 deaths)

This list is just the school shootings and does not include any of the hundreds of other incidents with significant casualties. I will note that after Columbine there were huge calls to change. After Sandy Hook, I remember the calls for never again. And once again we hear the calls to change in part because there is something particularly egregious when you target the youth. I hear the analysts going to town, some saying this time is different, others suggesting that given the list of priors, change will never happen. Mostly, I hear people who are tired of burying our children and yet I also hear the despair of those, which is most people, who want something to be different, something to change and thus help to return us to a place where we feel safe.

So, I want to point out that Luther would likely say that the government has been failing in its job. I am not going to tell any person how they need to believe the government should work, nor am I going to propose a direct way to fix it but, Luther argued that good governance was a gift from God and that good governance could be identified by its ability to provide a place and space for the people to quietly and safely live out their lives and thus their faith. By no standard that I know is the government doing an effective job of providing a place for our children to live out their lives in a quiet and peaceable manner and thus this government is not a gift from God and we can all pray to see changes that bring about the implementation of a government that could be seen as a gift from God.

This brings me to my next thought. There are some very different governing philosophies at work. As a country there are at least four different thoughts on how to govern and traditionally in this country that led to coalition building among the various groups. When we read the Bible we find advice like if you are coming to the altar and you realize you have anything against your neighbor, go reconcile with them and then return to make your sacrifice or love your neighbor as your self or forgive me as I forgive those who have done things against me. So, the bible definitely would be more conciliatory and about coalition building and figuring out how to get along than it would every be about stubbornly demanding that I get all of what I am asking for. The bible lays out guiding principles but is quite flexible on their implementation. Some might even argue that for the Pharisees and Sadducees this was part of the problem they had, when we read about them accusing Jesus because his disciples plucked wheat on the Sabbath or he healed on the Sabbath. Jesus never said abolish the rules, but instead said I came to be the fulfillment of the rules.

So, let us look at one of the differences we have in this country in governing philosophy because it is the one most directly affected by The Church. In some circles of the Church, maybe most clearly the Roman Catholic church but also in large parts of the non-denominational church movement the thought process is that we should legislate, or write laws, to keep people from doing things that are immoral. In other words the church should lobby the government to make rules that ensure no one does anything that would lead them to violate a commandment or other rule of God and thus put their relationship with God and/or their salvation in jeopardy. Now remember that the Roman Catholic church in much of the world was the Church of the State, much as the Anglican Church is the church of England and so this kind of legislation is in keeping with what they do in other places. You will even see the pope and the leaders of some countries standing together in solidarity, church and state in lock step together down the path. Not all agree as some people think that this kind of legislation puts us in jeopardy of the state having A Church, which the constitution was specifically written to avoid. So, the other option is that the responsibility of the state is to create a space where I can live a life that I find to be moral and thus should legislate only when my exercise of what I find to be moral would impinge on your ability to lead your life in the way you find to be moral. These folk would argue that it is up to me to maintain my relationship with my God and not their problem, so long as I do not impinge on their ability to lead life in a way they find to be moral. So, is it the states job to keep me from committing immoral acts or is it the states job to keep me from impinging on your ability to live a moral life.

We must add things like the above to the different governing philosophies brought about by things like whether you came to the United States to build a new landed aristocracy or came to the United States to escape the aristocracy system or you came to the United States because you were looking for a place to live out life without much government intrusion or you came to the United States to escape persecution, most often religious persecution and you can start to see how we end up in so very many different places, when trying to write the laws of the land.

The reality is that there is only one person you can ultimately change and you are standing in their shoes and so it is going to take some corporate navel gazing if we are to get back to the place of coalition building and trying to find options that work for us all and get away from imposing my view on everyone else. First, we need to find ways to reduce the corporate anxiety, we need to get away from feeling that we are constantly threatened because when we are anxious and afraid we do not think creatively. We need not to see daily reports of murder with pictures of the scene and actors recreating in vivid detail every moment because this rewires our brain in ways that keep us from cooperating with our neighbor. This is the only way for us to ever get the sort of corporate sobriety that will allow us to actually realize that there is less violence now than there was before, not to mention that reducing the corporate sense of threat means not raising children who always feel threatened and thus are prone to committing violence. So, shut the TV off, read the news in print without all the pictures and then with the extra time you have read a gospel lesson or a psalm, say a prayer, spend some time meditating on who God is or go out and pull some weeds. This is just a thought, but if I can only really change me but am supposed to be an example to my neighbor then it has to start with each person here individually. You are responsible for being the change you wish to see.

Next we need to learn to listen again. We need not to goad our neighbor because that raises their anxiety and we need to protect ourselves from the things that raise our anxiety because that creates tunnel vision and then we can not open our ears to hear our neighbor. Let us hear and respond to the pain our neighbor is feeling. Let us reach out with our extra time to our neighbor. Let us do what the church has always done best and be and create community, so that there are fewer children who are isolated, which is one of the common denominators among those who commit this sort of violence. Take the time to actively listen to your spouse and your children. Take the time to hear what is bothering your neighbor. Take the time to practice active listening. If the pundits are right and national politics needs to change, if politics is to become effective then it means we corporately need individual change and so let us start with what we are capable of changing and that is the person standing your shoes.

There is so very much I could say on this and the corporate heavy sigh that goes along with the failure of hope that things can be different is palpable. I am not suggesting there are not things to be done by the state and nation to help. No there needs to be a change in the state and nation, so that they can become the gift from God that creates a safe place for us to live out our lives in peace as suggested by Luther. I also realize though that the state and country are reflections of us as people and thus to change the whole we must change as individual people. If all we manage to do is figure out how to reduce our individual anxiety enough to learn to hear our neighbor fully and then seek the common ground that once built coalitions in this country, I believe we are on the way.

May God bless you and order your steps, bringing you shalom and thus that sense of peace and wholeness that passes understanding, that you might be a beam in that beacon of light calling a world so broken and in need, back to our creator, the source of healing and light.


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