Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Between the three services I led (two at St. Paul in Old Saybrook and one at Gladeview Health Center) I bet I marked close to a hundred people with ashes in the form of the cross. It is a physical reminder of our mortality and brokenness as we begin the season of Lent, but it is also a visible sign of the love that claims us beyond anything we could ever do to make things right in the world.
I cherish the conversations I had yesterday before and after worship with toddlers, middle-schoolers, peers, parents and seniors; all who were filled with the two-fold reminder of our sin and brokenness on the one hand and an outside love and acceptance on the other. There was joy and purpose alongside conviction in those conversations. I am thankful for them.
Prior to our evening worship service at church last night I saw the news of yet another school shooting in our country in Parkland, Florida. I watched more lives, more families and one more community have its heart ripped out in agony over senseless violence. I keep asking myself why this keeps happening while I join so many others in praying “How long, O Lord?” There have been eighteen school incidents involving fire-arms in the U.S. thus far in 2018 (The Telegraph). It is only February 15.
By the time I got home from church last night, the typical polarized responses were already entrenched on both TV and social media. I heard the usual talking heads discuss how we cannot do anything to stop this from happening. I expect nothing to change in the short-term because it seems painfully obvious that we are unwilling to protect each other or our children from harm. Our issues penetrate far deeper within us than the presenting symptoms of gun violence or mental health. Our whole society is sick. We are afraid and many are armed. It is a wonder any of us can sleep at night.
I fully realize even bringing it up today is going to leave half the people I know angry because they’re going to think this reflection is a personal attack on their own gun ownership and is politically motivated. But to me that is exactly the problem — we cannot even have conversations anymore about the things that affect us all without half the people just getting angry and walking out. That is the reason I am putting pen to paper (or in this case pixels to screen). I gave up long ago believing that one party or the other can fix or even address all of our many problems (or the deeper problems underneath the presenting symptoms); especially as the modus operandi of both parties over the last several decades is to blame and demonize each other. I find the blatant hypocrisy and inability to lead by both sides to be embarrassing if not outrageous and I am unsure quite what to do about it. Meanwhile, people die.
Which is why this post is one of lament.
I love our country, hurt for all the pain I see happening all too often on too many fronts, and I hate my inability to be able fix it.
Which brings me back to yesterday.
Just like those toddlers, middle schoolers, peers, parents, and seniors who I love so dearly – I too had a cross of ashes drawn upon my head. I accept its declaration – that I am dust and to dust I will return. But I also cling to its promise – that I have been claimed by a love so powerful and true, so complete and overwhelming, so undeserved yet offered so freely that nothing in this world can change that; even when all I see before me is my own sense of despair and ineptitude.
So today I both repent and give thanks as I get back to work and try to make the world a better place for the people I encounter. I pray knowing that if things are going to change I am going to need to help wherever I can; especially in those moments when I feel broken and unsure what to do.
How about you?