I can’t solve the challenges in either place with a sermon or a blog post. I wish I could.
I want to be a person connected to the things happening in our world – to those who are hurting by external forces like disasters that indiscriminately destroy lives and communities, and those who are on the receiving end of injustice and intentional inequality – whether that is by race, gender, economics, orientation or whatever.
Sometimes I think I’m not very good at peacemaking. I can’t pretend to know all the issues and back stories that go into human suffering – but I’m pretty clear that God calls us to help those in trouble and stand in solidarity with those on the fringes. I know that’s where we’re supposed to be, even when we are not sure what to do once we get there.
What produces riots that destroy property, community centers and target police?
I’ve read conflicting reports as to what “started” the riots in Baltimore. I was taught as a child that police were on my side and protected my interests as a law-abiding citizen. Then again I’ve always lived in communities where opportunities were accessible and I was part of the majority culture. I’ve come to enjoy the police in my current town making sure that the kids are safe on their way to school during drop-off and pick-up. Our police department keeps officers on site at school all day. I appreciate their willingness to protect and serve. I try to wave and smile when I see them. I have met a few. But like all people there are those who abuse that power. In some communities it seems like the abuses are far-reaching to the point of absurd. People die and those deaths appear to be racially motivated. Economic uncertainty and unsafe living conditions turn desperate when those who are there to protect the innocent are perceived to be part of the problem. I don’t condone violence but I wonder if the riots and backlash against the police in Baltimore, Ferguson and other communities is that simple – the police are perceived as the enemy rather than allies there to help. It’s a scary thought.
How can we fix that?
When the majority group seems to walk away without consequences as people like you are dying, frustration grows and anger kindles. We have to do better keeping people safe as well as accountable. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in a speech called, “The Other America,” “A riot is the language of the unheard.” (Gross Pointe High School, March 14, 1968. Online Available: http://www.gphistorical.org/mlk/mlkspeech/) Those of us in the majority have to listen and dare I say even spend time with those on the margins, or we will remain insulated from their experience. Too easily people can become the “other” to be feared, rather than neighbors to care for and befriend. Many of us have much to learn.
Then there is Nepal.
What should we do when we see yet another country brought to its knees by tragedy?
It it may take years or decades for the people of Nepal to recover from this earthquake. Look at Haiti. It was a poor country with lots of issues before the earthquake hit a few years ago in 2010. Even with a lot of foreign investment, aid and volunteer work, there are still few opportunities for the local population to rebuild their lives as many still lack the basics of food, water and shelter. The situation remains desperate for many people.
Sometimes it is all too overwhelming. Hikers remain on Mount Everest amidst those close to them who lost their lives and cannot leave. The death toll in and around Kathmandu climbs closer to 5000 as the city sits in rubble. What can we possibly do half a world away? In the meantime real life is happening around us here with its many pressures, we see the riots in Baltimore and have the luxury of being able to turn the news off, especially when it gets too hard to watch any longer.
I can’t solve all the world’s problems alone, and neither can you. Sometimes I get so down about all the bad things happening in the world I’m not even sure where to start.
Do you ever feel that way?
Jesus taught us that if we want to find him in the world it will be among the poor, hungry, naked, sick and imprisoned (Matt 25:31-46). We would do well amid our busy lives to remember that church isn’t just one activity among many on our over-filled calendars or a place to feel good about ourselves because it meets our needs. Church is a lifestyle – a worldview – that seeks Jesus around us wherever we are and looks for ways to meet him together. We are more than a collection of sermons, statements and pronouncements. The community called “church” seeks Jesus. Remember where he said we could find him? We are called to go there.
Here are three things we can do:
Remember that there are more people who care about others too – who are working on their behalf, who could use what you have to offer. Together we serve as Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Look for those opportunities, organizations, advocacy groups, and lend a hand or contribute some resources to the effort. ELCA Disaster Response (http://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Relief-and-Development/Lutheran-Disaster-Response/) and Lutheran World Relief (http://lwr.org/nepalearthquake) are two organizations I trust. They do good work, use resources well, and often stay the longest until communities rebuild. Please help.
Be a Connector.
The old acronym I remember from sports is: Together Everyone Accomplishes More (TEAM). To be a team we need players, objectives and plays. Be a person who brings people together into the team – connecting them to the mission at hand. I heard a beautiful story of clergy across denominations and interfaith marching in solidarity through the streets of Baltimore. Who is walking through your streets? Are you? Who can you invite? What allies might you find along the way? You might be surprised. I also heard a rumor that rival gangs called a cease-fire between them to march for peace. Anything is possible.
Our greatest strength is not our own. In our time of need, and for the needs of others, God promises to hear us. Let it flow from your heart. Here is mine: “Dear God, help. Bring peace. Bring comfort. Bring healing. Gather what is needed. Use me. Let your kingdom come. Guide me by your Spirit.”
What do Nepal and Baltimore have in common?
The people of Nepal, Baltimore, your community and the whole world are those created in the likeness and image of God. Your enemy, the person you mistrust, the “other” all share that commonality. All people are the ones Jesus came to love and care for, and he will be found among the least of these.
You who are afraid, distracted, and overwhelmed, be free by the One who forgives, heals, and raises the dead. He not only stands in solidarity with the suffering, he calls us to meet him there. Go. Meet Jesus. What Nepal and Baltimore have in common is they need others to stand with them. Will we? I pray that we can, and we will. Christ be with us all.
The Prayer of St. Francis
There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love – love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. (1 John 4:18-21 – The Message)