A Softer Landing

As we hear of one more shooting rampage, this time in a small town in California, I wonder if we are becoming distracted. Following each of the almost weekly massacres we have been witnessing, there follows an immediate polarization. In all of our shouting who is left to love the people who have been damaged by this violence, including those for whom this will stir up symptoms of post-traumatic stress?

It appears we as a society lack the collective will to prevent gun violence. We won’t take away guns, more closely regulate guns, or even commit funds to the research and treatment of mental illness. While a proactive approach is certainly the most effective, I can’t see any sign of one coming in the near future.

So, we could choose to become jaded. We could say that it is impossible to accomplish anything so why even try. I have a very hard time listening to accounts of the victims or watching anything on TV that I will not be able to unsee. When I heard about the California shooting I had to force myself to read the details. How many times can you rip off the scab of heartbreak and horror before it seems like you will never heal?

The truth is that I don’t have to be in California or Las Vegas or fill in the blank to encounter someone who has been a victim of gun violence. There are plenty in the Mahoning Valley.  I don’t know their names. I may see them and not even know what they have been through, what they have lost. And yet I am here, and it is here I have the best hope of doing some good.

So in small ways I hope we as a church and as Christians are making the world a softer landing. By providing food and meals, coffee and a chat, respect and dignity, beautiful worship, and other things small and mighty, I hope we are saying that in a country that can’t decide what it values, as a church we are clear we value people. Our neighbors. Justice.

If you have any ideas about how to do that better and boldly, let’s chat.

Where is God?

During the last EfM session as discussion moved to the latest shooting, our mentor asked, “ Where is God in all this destruction?”

How do we find answers to these horrific acts? How do we move forward as Christians when prayer and kind thoughts don’t seem to make a difference. What can individuals do when the problem is so overwhelming?

For centuries there have been situations that have caused God to look at humanity, His creation, and weep. Evil, destruction, killings, disregard of the individual and yet here we are in another mess of our own making. Violence is frequent, so frequent that our senses are numb.

This is the danger. We need to beware of complacency. The idea that I am only one person; how can I make a difference?

We need to choose involvement – in our neighborhood, our church, our city. We can’t succumb to apathy. We can’t leave the task to someone else. We need to go forth, acting with love to make a difference. Take action through tears of compassion and justice.

Unity

I want to talk about unity.

Last Thursday our church hosted a crowd of about 350 people to hear Dr. Carol Anderson discuss her book on institutional racism, “White Rage.” I thought it was extraordinary for so many reasons. The crowd was incredibly diverse. There was deep respect for the stories and experiences that were shared. In the end, people listened to one another, and for a moment, we all seemed to be on the same side—the side of justice and equality and dignity for every human being.

I left that evening exhausted but hopeful. Dr. Anderson’s encyclopedic knowledge of history, and especially the history of the oppression of black people, was daunting. Sometimes I just wanted to change the subject, to talk about goofy, vacuous, easy things. But Dr. Anderson is not to be deterred, in the best possible way. And I was educated. And it was a blessing.

When there was a fact or historical moment that was obscure but particularly poignant or harsh, there were audible gasps in the crowd. It was impossible to be there and not be moved by the pain and suffering she related, the gross unfairness and mean-spirited choices meant specifically to keep black people from being successful. We looked into each other’s eyes and acknowledged the truth. Again, it was a unifying moment.

And then the shooting in Texas came on Sunday, and we seemed shattered all over again. We heard people yelling about guns, pro and con, waving mental illness around like a pendant, blaming, horrified, wanting action. And so far, nothing has happened to address the root causes of this violence. Frankly I would be happy with anything at this point.  If we can’t get rid of the guns, fine, let’s throw some money at research and treatment for mental illness.  Anything!

And as I have witnessed people I agree with spiraling toward the harshness of rhetoric I expect from people I do not agree with, I understand that we have to start with ourselves. We have to ask what we are going to do to end the violence that claims the lives of 5 year olds who went to church Sunday morning. The stakes are so high. We have to honor that. So what do we do?

First we admit to the violence in ourselves, our tendencies toward anger and desire for revenge. We admit that we care more about power than we want to say. We want it, and the security that comes with it. And occasionally at least, in the interest of that power, we ourselves are violent, or manipulative, or uncaring or unjust.

Then we listen. We listen to the anti-gun lobby. We listen to gun owners. We listen to the people who have lost loved ones to violence. We look into their eyes. We see their humanity. We love them as they are. We build community with the person most unlike ourselves, lovingly and intentionally, at a personal sacrifice. We understand that for the good we seek, we are going to have to give up something. If it were easy, it would have happened already. And it is in looking into the eyes of our sisters and brothers that we have the courage and conviction to be a living sacrifice.

Conversation leading to conversion is something we are all capable of doing. Where you will begin, I don’t know. How you will compromise, I don’t know. That we all have to have equal investment and sacrifice, I am certain of that. So, where will you begin?

November Moments

Our November weather changes the view from my window daily if not more often, from rain to cloud to sun, and the colors of the leaves vary in intensity as the sun comes and goes.  Sometimes they are fairly subdued, but when the sun shines they glow red, gold and orange with brightness I see nowhere else. Even the fallen leaves are a brilliant tapestry of vibrant color.  By contrast, except for the scarlet cardinal and the blue jays, the birds I see do not attempt to compete. They are brown sparrows and doves, gray and black chickadees and nuthatches, black and white woodpeckers–sober, year-round residents who don’t seek to call attention to themselves, but allow the leaves their brief time of glory.

I believe God uses such moments to break into our lives and call for our attention. A moment of thanksgiving, a brief prayer–these can be a way of keeping in touch with God in the midst of a busy day if we take the opportunity to do so. And who knows how we might be blessed by such moments, if we will only respond to them.

Dear Candidates for Youngstown Mayor

First of all, thank you for running for Mayor. Offering yourself to public service is an admirable and sometimes thankless task. People will be expecting you to have answers to hard questions, to be without reproach in your personal life, to listen to all concerns with respect and compassion, and to be a positive force in this city. That is hard, holy work, maybe impossible. So thank you for being willing to try.

We are coming to the end of this election cycle and I am concerned. There is a great deal of dissension, people taking sides and harsh talk. We are mirroring some of what is happening in our nation. And that can only lead to disaster.

So in the coming weeks I will be watching for a candidate who listens. I don’t expect you to have all the answers. I do expect that you will hear my concerns, that you will take me (and by me I mean the residents of this city) seriously. It is stunning, isn’t it, how diverse we are in Youngstown? There are Baptists and Buddhists, old and young. We are a multiracial community. There are people with tremendous resources and people with almost nothing. I am looking for the candidate that listens to all of these people, because they are all my neighbors.

It will be the work of the next Mayor, as it always is, to make sure all of us neighbors are treated equally, that justice is available to all of us. It will be the work of the next Mayor to continue the incredible gains in economy and activity and spirit that we have witnessed in recent years. And it will be the job of the next Mayor to make sure that all of the people in this city have access to those gains. We are a city of promise, but also extreme poverty. You will need to attend to both of these things to really make a difference.

I admit I am still undecided in my vote, though I will make a choice when the time comes. And I realize that I might lose, that my candidate might not be victorious. And so I pledge to the one of you who wins, that I will shake off my potential disappointment and support you. Because we live in a democracy, that is how we act when an election is finished. We do our best to be informed and passionate, and then we accept the outcome and work to make this city as good as it can possibly be. I will offer you my support, understanding that we will not always agree, but we have to get along and get things done.

And I ask you, whoever wins this election to do the same. Because this is not the last vote I will cast. I will be watching. Not to see if you do what I want, supporting my issues. I will be watching for a gracious winner. I will be watching for a Mayor who lets go of the election rhetoric and partisanship, and becomes a leader for all people. I will be watching to see if you can build a community that cares for each other, treats people with respect and gets things done for everyone.

This is a tall order, and civility is no longer the norm in politics. So lead us. Be the example we need. Bring us together. If you do, I will stand by you, work with you, and I will say thank you (because I don’t think you will hear that enough). Again, thank you for being willing to take on these challenges, and good luck to all the candidates.

Poetry for November 1st, 2017

This Way to Blank

Having blown out ninety five candles
On the way to Blank,
I wonder why the celebrations.
In no way responsible for initiating the journey,
Arriving from the inner dark
Tiny, nude, hugnry and terrified.
Unable to rise, sit, walk, talk, reason,
Nor survive unassisted,
We bravely head for our ultimate dust.

An orbit later the anniversary of our entrance
Is held, lighted by a single flame.
From that moment ’til the scythe harvests us,
We move from “I’ll live forever” to pondering:
Why the celbrations
andWhat lies beyond the Blank?
All the while
Trying to tread
In the prints ofa humble Galilean

William Farragher

300 Miles to Compassion

After doing some travelling the past few days I have determined that I cannot wait for a penitential season to address a personal and pressing problem. I am not proud of this personal weakness. But I am savvy enough to recognize that I don’t like it.

And, I bet you agree that sometimes other drivers can be very irritating. VERY irritating. So, the other day, I am crawling my way down the highway in the midst of road construction. There is a whole open lane blocked off for no apparent reason. And this car starts weaving into the closed part, speeding ahead until they come to a barrier, weaving back in to my lane. Going a few feet to the other side of the barrier, and repeating the same thing.

Wow.

I was immediately enraged. So does it count as being enraged if no one else sees it? Like a tree falling in the forest? I was not only yelling at the transgressor, but also the people who were letting the car back in. I thought s/he might not be so bold if they had to cool their jets for a while, like maybe 20 or 30 minutes, before someone let them back into traffic. We were all in a hurry for heaven’s sake!

It took about 300 miles for me to start thinking with some compassion. What if they were sick, or trying to get to the hospital, or had to go to the bathroom, or were in pain, or…whatever?? A few months back, in a previous attempt to conquer this “road irrationality” (it seems extreme to call it rage), I started calling the drivers who I thought were not being safe with names of affection like “dearie” or “sister” or “friend”. Not in a pejorative way, but in an act of solidarity. Because sometimes I am a bad driver too.  That helped. But I think I have to up my game.

“Giving up” my road irrationality will take time. But it seems that if I have promised to find the good in people, that drivers should count too. I am not a perfect driver, and so I have to make space to love other imperfect drivers. Maybe I will start with tolerating them…with affection.

What are You Looking For?

Come in through the red door.
Do you see beauty in the building?

 

Come into the quiet.
Do you see shadows reflected?

 

Come into the darkness.
Do you see a sliver of light?

 

Come into the splendor.
Do you feel the inviting warmth?

 

Come into God’s radiance.
Do you find Him in someone?

 

Come into community.
Do you want to remain?

 

Come into activity.
Do you want to take part?

 

Come into fellowship.
Do you experience comfort?

 

Come in through the red door.
Do you bring Jesus with you or did you find Him within?