Monday, December 31, 2012

End of year reflection

A few days ago, the snow was falling and I paused for a brief walk through an old cemetery. An interstate highway runs by it, but it was quiet and unnoticed. Some of the headstones were decorated with small American flags, and many had small bronze stars denoting the deceased as veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic, fighting on the Union side during the American Civil War.

This year has seen a renewed focus on honoring our nation's military veterans, especially in providing some measure of services to help those who have been physically and emotionally wounded.

As this year ends, this nation has been at war for more than eleven years in Afghanistan. (By contrast, the U.S. waged the Civil War for four years, World War II for 3 2/3 years, and World War I less than two years.) Few anticipate the true the costs when the blood runs hot and war seems to be a national imperative. And as the soldiers die and are wounded, it becomes difficult to end a war whose justification now depends in part on "honoring their sacrifice," that the cause which killed and maimed must be pressed forward to victory.

Yet the justification for this war is long past. It is time. Time to honor the dead. Time to heal the wounded. And time to end the war.

May God bless and keep all those in military service, that they may be kept from harm and serve with humanity. May 2013 be a year when old wars and and new ones are not begun.

Photo: Paul Bellan-Boyer, December 26, 2012.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Prayer on the longest night

O Rising Sun,
splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.

Great God, in northern climes, this night is the longest of the year. Yet in every place we await the coming light, the sun of righteousness, the dawn of redemption. Come, Lord Jesus, come. We wait this night with those who lack shelter, who sleep outside not by choice, who ride the late night buses and trains and diners and waiting rooms, who are imprisoned, who are unnoticed and disregarded, who are near death, and together we await the coming of the light. In this light, we pray, all people will see that God has given enough to share, all people will see their neighbors through the eyes of love, and all people will know God's presence, with us, Emmanuel. Amen.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Responding to violence

I have been fortunate not to have much violence directly inflicted on me. But I live in a violent world.

I have studied violence academically, and worked with victims/survivors of violence. I have hit others and been hit. My immediate family has been affected by a domestic violence murder. I have been closely involved with a large mass murder. I live in a city where there are weekly shootings. I watch the news, which emphasizes violent crime and war. I grew up with violent stories, from westerns to WW2 dramas to cop shows to comic books. I played games with pretend and real violence. I live in a culture which in ideology if not always in practice valorizes those in violent professions (military and police). I live on land taken from others, I enjoy the privilege of labor taken from others in prior and current generations, and my tax dollars support killing and torture. My DNA - like everyone's - comes from history's victors as well as its victims.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that I - like everyone I know - is no stranger to the subject.

But when I am true to myself, when I encounter an outrage like today's, or like the drones that descend out of the sky to kill enemies and bystanders alike, or like the bullets which fly on MLK Drive and Ocean Avenue, I know that this defies understanding. How can you truly engage with the horror of innocents murdered, with the terror which the adults and children must have felt when a killer came to their school?

We certainly have a responsibility to try and understand the mechanisms of violence so that we might interrupt them, and heal them. Turning swords into plowshares is our vocation.

But however much you can describe the facts about violence, it is in a certain sense untouchable, like a black hole. There is a great rupture in the fabric of God's kingdom when murder is plotted and carried out. All explanations must pause before this reality, that evil is senseless, that it is the antithesis of the power of life, which animates and sustains us.

I think that the Jesus of the gospels - himself a torture and murder victim - realized we cannot do much to engage with evil on its terms. We can instead oppose it best by refusing to feed it: by loving our enemies, by returning good for evil, by praying for the deliverance of those in bondage, and by living a life steeped in forgiveness, God's and ours.

The most unusual mass shooting of recent years, to my mind, was the story which did not seize the national imagination quite as much as Columbine or Aurora or Newtown. It was a school shooting. On October 2, 2006, a gunman entered the West Nickel Mines School, a one-room schoolhouse in the Old Order Amish community of Lancaster, PA. There he shot ten girls (aged 6-13), killing five before taking his own life.

Of course the remarkable, radical, unimaginable and unbelievable thing is the way the community, including the victims and their family members immediately began to enact compassion and forgiveness for the murderer and his family. Their community, in the midst of pain and knowing how hard it would be, took Jesus' words as a commandment, and tried to live out the necessity of forgiveness.

This is foreign to our experience of the way things "should" work, and our perception of the difficulty (impossibility?) of healing from violence. There is no question that forgiveness is hard, very hard for us to do. We can see this in the way we can hold seemingly small grudges for years.

But those who forgive - even as they struggle to practice it fully - immediately shed many of the burdens and dangers of engaging with evil. They are instead free to engage with grief, with hope, and with the love which the killer was not able to know, nor to erase.

Grace and peace to you.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Prayer for a holy city

Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
      and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God;
      put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
      for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name,
      "Righteous Peace, Godly Glory."
Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
      look toward the east,
And see your children gathered from west and east
      at the word of the Holy One,
      rejoicing that God has remembered them.
      Baruch 5:1–9

O God, restore the fortunes of your holy city. Realize the dream of exiles, returned to live together in peace. Replace the affliction of violence and fear with the Glory of promises realized, divisions bridged, swords into plowshares, armaments budgets into schools and bread. We rejoice that you remember your people, and bless your holy name, even as we cry out for your advent, in the name of Jesus. Amen.