the victims – those who died and their families and their friends and their communities and the world and all of us

Tonight, I watched the reporter and commentator Anderson Cooper’s CNN broadcast, AC360 Special Report: Las Vegas Lost: Remembering the Victims; a compilation of vignettes of the lives of the 58 victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday, October 1.

Las Vegas

As I watched, I noted the differences; never hard to seek and to find in any crowd of people. The victims were…

women and men,

young and old (the youngest, 20, the oldest, 67),

mothers and fathers, daughters and sons,

grandmothers and grandfathers, granddaughters and grandsons,

mothers-fathers-daughters-sons-in-law,

wives and husbands, partners and lovers, fiancées,

Asian, black, Hispanic, white,

Americans, mostly, and two Canadians,

small town and big city folk,

outdoor-and-indoor folk,

patriots and rebels,

straight and gay,

people of faith and not,

beer-lovers, wine connoisseurs, and teetotalers,

teachers, truck drivers, medical practitioners, construction workers, military and police personnel, combat veterans and pacifists, students and retirees.

And as I watched, I noted the similarities; never hard to seek and to find in any crowd of people. The victims were lovers of country music who, when shot, bled the red blood of our unmistakably, ineradicably common humanity and died.

And as I watched, I noted the similarities in the testimonials of families and friends who, with tearful, confessional honesty, and who, in their grieving, grappling with their paradoxically excruciating numbness, described their loved ones, almost to a person, as…

“kind”

“thoughtful”

“enthusiastic about life with a contagious smile and infectious laughter”

“filled with love”

“loyal”

“self-giving”

“joyful”

“putting others ahead of herself/himself”

“caring”

“compassionate”

And as I watched, I beheld (never hard to seek and to find) the composite, thus, magnified goodness of these 58 souls – all they did, all they were for all they knew and all who knew them – now lost to their families and friends, to their communities, to the world, and to all of us.

We never will, never can know all the more good these 58 souls would have done. And we who live to exercise our freewill toward the fulfillment of goodwill have lost 58 comrades in the daily labor to make this world a better place. So, let us, by the grace of God and in the strength of the Spirit, redouble our efforts.

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Charlottesville redux: America the beautiful?

thinking

I haven’t slept well since those days of August 11-12. As one who daily gives attention to the events and cycles of life in the world, glorying in the good news and bemoaning the bad, I have felt, verily, embodied in my belly the national anxiety stirred by the conflagration in Charlottesville fomented by torch-bearing, chant-shouting, anti-Semitism-and-racism-live-streaming demonstrators. The more I think and feel and pray about Charlottesville, the more I behold a microcosmic expression, indeed, a tragic realization of a distinctly American conversation that we, as a nation, are not engaging.

It is a conversation, yes, about race and religion, history and heritage, nationalism and immigration, yet bigger. It is a conversation, I think, I feel about our national identity. Who are we?

It’s the sort of question that arises for us as a nation founded on an ideal, indeed, an idea of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” at pressing historical moments, as, I believe, exist today, when it is clear that all of us are not reading from or reciting lines from the same proverbial page nor with a common understanding of the meaning of the words.

And here’s my fear. We won’t have the conversation.

For a number of reasons.

Chief among them, I do not believe that Donald Trump, as President of the United States, occupying that iconic position and, even more, symbol of national leadership and unity, has expressed a desire or exhibited the disposition to call the American people, all of the American people to the table of mutual and respectful dialogue.

An equally chief, no, perhaps the chiefest reason is what I consider our profoundly polarized national religious and political climate; the bitter fruit of seeds planted and nurtured long before President Trump took office. We live in a time of fleet retreat and determined retrenchment behind the impenetrable walls of our differing, often competing and, at times, conflicting perspectives. A time where the act of communal converse in which we intentionally seek out other points of view in the quest for truth has become an unpracticed, unpleasant, even unknown art.

In this, I believe that we, as a nation, have forgotten that whenever we, whether as individual persons or families, communities or congregations, regions or parties talk about what we believe, our core values, our fundamental truths, we, by necessity, must use words, which, at best, are symbols that point to what is inarticulable in its fullness. In a real sense, then, we always only point at what we believe, value, and hold true.

In this, there is an inherent epistemological (having to do with our ways of knowing) and existential (having to do with our way of living, being) danger. That we are tempted and oft blindly fall prey into the pit of temptation to invest too much power or authority in the words, even the actions or rituals that we design to point to our truths. The danger is in thinking, believing that the word, action, or ritual is the truth itself. That’s when we make difference dangerous. That’s when difference is no longer a lens through which we might behold a vision of greater truth, but only the stuff of which swords and spears are made. That’s when we won’t, can’t talk with one another.

And when that happens, indeed, I believe, as it hath happened, then our petitions and intercessions for America enshrined in one of our beloved national songs – praying God “mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law” and “crown thy good with brotherhood form sea to shining sea”[1] – won’t, can’t happen.

 

Footnote:

[1] Words by Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929)

a-Lenten-prayer-a-day, day 15, Friday, March 17, 2017

my-hands-2-27-17Note: As a personal, spiritual discipline, I write a prayer for each of the forty days of Lent; each petition focusing on a theme, truly, relating to a care or concern weighing on my mind and heart, at times, vexing my soul and spirit…

On Kingdom to “Kin_dom”: O Jesus, how I love You and Your Kingdom! Still, You know that for years I’ve prayed and preached using the word “kin_dom” (always begging Your pardon for my impertinence!).[1] Yet You know I’ve never meant any disrespect, but rather alway intend the highest act of honoring You and Your call to me to follow You, to see You more clearly. For You, as I have come and continue to come to know You, through Scripture and through the daily revelations of Your Spirit, are alway less monarchical and more relational; less One to lord Your superiority over us and, as You manifest Your supremacy in Self-sacrificial service, more One to share Your saving grace with us; less King and more Kin.

O Jesus, if You don’t mind, I’ll continue to pray to You saying, “kin_dom” (though, yes, when I read Your Word in public worship, I’ll stick to the text and say “kingdom”), for as I, through the strength of Your Spirit, continue to follow You, more and more, I see that You call me to be kin, too, to all people of whate’er race or clan, culture or creed, philosophical disposition or political determination, and at all times.

O Jesus, this is a hard calling; the sort of which that can get one killed, if not literally, surely metaphorically, though no less truly in self-denial, dying to one’s self in the face of difference, at times, dissent. But, then again, You already demonstrated the extent – unto death – to which Love goes in loving.

So, O Jesus, in Your Name and for Your Sake, kin I am to and for the whole world. Amen.

Footnote:

[1] The first time I used the word was in a sermon entitled Kin_dom on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 10, 2000. Based on the appointed gospel, Luke 3.1-6, recounting the ministry and message of John son of Zechariah, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” , I preached, in part: “John’s vision…is…about the coming kingdom of God  (although I prefer the word, “kin_dom”, being less monarchical and masculine, more relational and inclusive). A world of righteousness, right relating; justice, fair dealing; and compassion, shared living in suffering and joy…”