Paul’s Message: A New Year

MLK QuoteFriends,

As I sat down to write this piece, the headlines from Newtown, CT exploded on the news. You know what they are. We are left in shock and grief…

There are no words. There can be no explanation. There is no equation that is able to compute the evil that flooded Sandy Hook Elementary School.

But that’s not the end of the story. That can’t be the end of the story.

There are grieving families who must somehow pick up the pieces while wrestling with their grief. There is a school full of survivors that must somehow figure out how to work their way through their trauma. There is a community that must recover.

And then there’s us. We too must continue.

We are not hit as hard as the families of Newtown, and indeed we can’t know their suffering. But scripture encourages us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep”(Rom 12:15) and “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal.6:2). I think that this means more than shaking our heads in sadness, saying a prayer, and moving on living in exactly the same way. I think it means more than supporting survivors and loved ones as they rebuild their lives. I believe the divine nudge to “bear one another’s burdens” means doing everything we can to bring harmony, wholeness, safety, and peace. I believe it means changing the way we live.

What will we change to turn our glorification of violence into revulsion of it? What will we do about our attitude that, when push comes to shove, violence is the final and most effective answer and arbiter in the world? What will we change so that weapons are not so easily within reach for those who are in pain? What will we change to open doors to mental health resources for those who are struggling? What will we change to welcome those who don’t fit society’s molds? This is about more than Newtown. It’s about a society where 2012 brought us too long a list of mass shootings, too many victims, too many perpetrators who saw violence as the only answer open to them.

What will 2013 bring us? Will we dare to engage in the tough but necessary conversations? Will we examine ourselves and our own complicity in cycles of violence? Will we move beyond blaming our politicians and talk to them, call them, write/bug/nag them until they respond? Will we pray, love, and make peace even if it costs us something?
We are not powerless. We are not voiceless. We are not at the mercy of forces beyond our control. We are people of faith. We are followers of the Prince of Peace. We are lovers of God and neighbor. May we live like it in 2013.

May Christ be with you and with us all. –Paul.

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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