As a spiritual practice, I decided I would read the lectionary for something to meditate. (I have the lectionary app on my iPod already, so it was kind of a lazy choice/easy choice.)
Boy am I glad I did. The texts this week spoke to my heart in a way I didn’t even see coming. In case you are curious, those texts are: Isaiah 61:10 – 61:3, the gospel of John, 1:1-18, and Galatians 3:23-25, 4:5-7, and psalm 147: 13 – 21.
Isaiah 61:10 reminds me of the tradition of the Hebrews as underdogs. Stomped, kicked from country to country, burned, gassed, stolen from – the list of their oppression goes on and on — yet they remain as the prophet says determined to live a life of peace and tranquility. They don’t want to be The Most Powerful Nation In The World. They have a God who is in charge of being powerful , so they don’t have to be. Nor are they vengeful. This text us not about “we’re going to get our rights by getting revenge on our enemies”. When God says in the Bible, “vengeance is mine”, the Hebrews understand that it is not theirs to get. God seems to understand, to the Hebrews, that revenge isn’t the best revenge. Living well is.
As Israel and the Palestinians fought this past few months and Iran and Israel threatened each other, it seems clear to me that some of their leaders have forgotten the humility that this text requires. But that’s why they and we have the text — to remind us of who we are supposed to be! Within the Jewish state, people can call on their leaders with a text like this and remind them what their faith says their goal should be. “You throw a rock, I shoot with a tank, and you don’t even want to think about what happens if you shoot a rocket towards us” is — as God knows from his position of infinity — a short-sided view. It’s hard to live on a land that’s been destroyed, ripped up, become radioactive, etc. It’s hard to find lasting peace when you send your kids to fight a war and other people send their kids to do the same. Vengeance, in short, doesn’t really work — at least for any lasting time. That’s why we let God figure out what’s what. God at least has all the information.
As the month of mass violence continued for the whole of December,it sucked the life out of many of us, until we were lucky to raise one match against the darkness that inhabited our environment. Our second text — from the beginning chapter of John — reminds us that the darkness has not overcome it. But, as I type this I am reminded of the camp song I sang at Deering as a teenager: “it only takes a spark to get a fire burning”…. “Once you’ve experienced it, you want to pass it on”. I am beginning to see signs of hope out there– police in local communities giving Newtown cops the night off, people sending wishes and prayers, people loving their own still alive children, people calling for real rationality about gun laws.
To be truthful, I also see the squirelly side of human behavior– the people creating scams about relief for Newtown’s people. If there is one thing i have learned in 2012 it’s that no matter how bad a situation is, there are people out there who can make it worse. But these false starts — these stealing from what emotional reserves we have — can not prevent healing from happening. They can only delay it.
It is little things here and there that will erode the sadness and anger, the small band aids that hold us together until real healing begins to take hold… but the darkness has not overcome it. And, though our lives and the universe will never be the same after such a loss, we get a sense of eternity in John’s introduction that tells us that no voice is ever totally lost, that hope — even with false starts– does indeed return.
Furthermore, as Christians, we believe that we will see our loved ones again in the fullness of time, and we will be made whole again. Not even just scarred by the loss, but completely healed when we see our people all in one place — and all in one piece — once again. At that point, we will know, as God knows, that the darkness never overcame anything.
As a reminder that we’re still here in this life, we have this morning’s Psalm, on the other hand, which says one of the worst things we could say in these days of polarization and rigidity. In its very last line if our reading, it says, in essence, ” God only talks tous“. The “hallelujah” at the end I hear as “na na nuh na na!” with fingers in our ears and tongues sticking out”. I don’t consider it a good thing that God only speaks to people like me. In fact, I don’t believe that the God of the universe speaks to only one group on one planet. Having said, the God of Abraham is claimed by Christians, Jews , and Muslims so, clearly, there are choices to be made about what it all means. I choose to ignore this text, or at least that line.
All of this leads us back to the Galatians passage where “we are children, and if children, then heirs” — not by the rigidity of the law, but in freedom from it.
As I said, it’s all about choices. As the various mass murderers did their thing this past month, each has taken their own lives and we are stuck with the questions about what they were thinking.
As a therapist, I can tell you that there are only so many ways to become that evil — most have to do with shame and evil done to a person , locked in by the rigidity of someone else who has an agenda of their own and the psychopathological need to be right!. The problem isn’t being right, and it isn’t wanting to be right. This kind of thing becomes a problem when we need to prove that we’re right about someone else’s reality.
The fact of the matter is that, if you’re actually right, you don’t need an assault weapon to convince someone of it. The idea that the “only way” to prove you are a “real” man, a “strong” woman, or a “real” American is to exercise your right to own a firearm is ludicrous.
If I want to know I’m an American, I can look on my birth certificate and live in America. If I want to know I’m a man, I can look in the mirror. If I want to know I’m right, I can actually believe I’m right.
The Galatians text says that we are accepted. We don’t have to prove anything to anyone. We can choose to do this or that, but we are no longer subject to outside judgement. I don’t have to prove to the NRA or anybody else that I’m free. I just have to be free. That means I have the right to choose what fits for me. I choose not to ever own a gun. Thatright — the right to choose — makes me a Real American.
As far as shame goes, I don’t have to prove I’m perfect because a) I’m not and b) it doesn’t matter. I don’t have to prove I’m moral. I just have to try to be moral and let somebody else figure out if I am. I need to be, as Isaiah said, dressed up in righteousness and decked out in the jewel that is hope.
My friend Marilyn recently wrote: “we don’t need politics or laws , we need to be and act like Christians”. She was right, if she meant we have to believe that God runs the Universe, that we have to believe that we are loved by God, if not always by people, that we have to believe in an eternity where we’ll finally understand, and a present reality where we can make choices that act like all the other things are true. All of these things are well within the framework of our texts this week.
We will heal in time. We will learn from the Hebrews what it means to be defiantly hopeful and — in so doing — we will show that the light shines in the darkness — and the darkness has not overcome it.