Saturday, May 25, 2013

I Wonder What Happened

I will never know what it is like to be in a war. Not a physical one anyway.  I am too old to be drafted now. My ‘number’ didn’t come up in the 1970’s before the Vietnam War ended and the draft ended.  The “draft.” Now isn’t that a term that has taken on a whole new meaning for the last couple of generations.  The only draft our children know is the NFL Draft, or maybe, the NBA Draft.  I remember the usual fantasy games as a boy (okay, into my early adulthood) where I would imagine graduating from West Point and starting the long climb to “Yes sir,  General Te Winkle.”

Knowing what I know now I see that I have reason to be thankful that my ‘number’ never came up. But, as I talk to widows of veterans and veterans from  the past wars of the U.S.; and as I talk to our brave men and women who serve our nation now,  I have questions.  I wonder what it would have been like.  But, then I don’t want to know. I can see enough in the movies to know that this was not a life to be desired. And yet, this life, this life of serving in the military, remains the life for which the world’s freedom makes such overwhelming demands.

I remember talking to a veteran one night. “What did you do in the war? Did you have a gun? Did you have to shoot it?”  Since I asked those questions I have learned that these are very inappropriate questions to ask of any combat veteran. There are some things you do not bring to mind, and this topic is one of them.  Of course, I was just a young boy  when I asked those questions, the days when I did not know that these questions were off limits in polite society, and especially among families.

But they, these men and women who went places I do not want to go; these men and women who are required to do things I would not, could not, do; they, these heroes, are the very reason I can write something like this and send it over the world wide web without fear of someone knocking on my door to arrest me.  Still, I wonder what happened to that man, the secrets which he took to his grave.  I wonder what happened in those buildings in Italy you walked through, wondering if you would get shot in a moment or if you would come back to become a man, to become my Dad.  Will our little Memorial Day salute do you justice? Or is resting with God justice enough? 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Living in the Seam

“Our country is in big trouble. I don’t know how we will get out of this mess.” So my friend said to me.  He was referring to the latest “crisis of confidence”, namely the Internal Revenue Service tagging of certain groups for extra scrutiny.  He said that he was at first inclined to ignore it, but then he thought, “Well, if you give the government unchecked power, that is how Hitler got his start, right?”  Oh my.  Trying to talk my friend “off the ledge”,  I offered, “you know, we have survived times like this before.  We survived Watergate, so we certainly will survive ‘IRS-gate.’”  He asked, “Did we survive it? What about all of this hate and anger and lack of trust among our government officials and people around this country?” So I offered up a brief history of how President Ford offered up forgiveness, and then the country elected President Carter, who was incapable of any serious ruffling of feathers. And then we had everyone’s favorite grandfather, President Reagan, followed by everyone’s iconic “bad uncle”, President Clinton, with the two Bushes fitting in there somewhere. So, I offered, “we will survive this time too.”  The genius of our nation is that it can survive bad government and bad people.

My friend used that comment as a segue into some observations about how difficult life is in general, which led into a discussion about some details in his personal relationships, about children and grandchildren, all of which raised doubts in his mind about how stable life really is anymore. Yet his situation gave him, he said, an understanding about how tough life had become for the “least among us.”  If the “working poor” could see a way through to the future, certainly he, comfortable financially and vocationally, should find a way to see a brighter future.  I suggested that our ability to have hope for this life is all a matter of perspective: do we have a long enough view, a view that includes this life and a life that never ends? He replied that he didn’t think he had that kind of faith.  He really wanted to know that “it”, this life, his life, his child’s life, his grandchildren’s life, that these lives would be all right.  And that is the problem, or the opportunity, don’t you think? This is where faith meets life: my child is suffering;  my grandchild seems so lost;  I don’t see any hope for our country. Which means, really, I am afraid; I don’t see any way out for my family, my employment, my country.  But some people see with a longer view, people of faith who can see by the gift of the Spirit that what is and what is to be are not the same.  This is the hope that faith produces,  and this is what we rehearse when we meet God together in worship.  I told me friend of some people who worship with us who face seemingly overwhelming odds, and despite this life, or maybe because of the overwhelming odds that this life offers them, they come to worship desperately wanting someone to tell them they are loved, that Someone is really in control, despite all appearances to the contrary.

Have you ever seen clothes that are a bit too tight, or are a bit too worn? Inspect the seam and you see that with one wrong move the seam could tear wide open.  But, if the thread is strong enough it won’t finally give way;  it will instead hold the two sides of strained cloth together, despite the stress.  That is the work of the Spirit today.  The Spirit overcomes the crisis of confidence in the future of our nation, of our families, of our own lives.  The Spirit holds this life and the life to come together, sometimes seemingly on the thinnest of threads. But the thread of hope will not break.  Cannot break.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Missing Children

Amanda Berry was just shy of her 17th birthday party when she seemed to have vanished into thin air on April 21, 2003.  She had left work for her trip home, a trip which was never completed.  Vigils were held. Prayers were offered up. Tears were undoubtedly mixed with deep sobbing as mother and family and friends tried to come to grips with the fact that Amanda was gone.

Louwana Miller is Amanda’ mother.  Was Amanda’s mother, is maybe a more precise way to put it.  You see, Amanda’s Mom could never reconcile her life to the fact that her baby girl was gone. Was she alive? Did she die in some accident? Was it something that had happened at home that had driven her away? Was she taken away against her will? These and a hundred other questions, and a dozen scenarios must have played out in Mom’s mind.  And then, in 2006, she died.  Three years of questions and sorrow and emotional pain finally just broke her heart. That’s what a neighbor told one news reporter.  John Trefero, the neighbor, in speaking of Mom’s death, said, “She died of a broken heart is what most people would say.”

So, when Amanda Berry was freed from the emotional and physical hell she was forced to live in for a decade in Cleveland; when she could finally finish her trip home which she has started a decade earlier, there was no Mom to greet her. Tomorrow, on Mother’s Day, Amanda will continue to suffer the lingering effects of the crimes committed against her.

Parents, use today and tomorrow to reconcile with your children.  Children, especially adult children, use this weekend as the time to release yourself from the prison of emotional pain by beginning the long road of reconciling with your parents.  If your parents are alive, do your best to contact them. Begin to heal the relationships.  If your parents have died and you still harbor hurts, write a letter offering forgiveness and leave it at the altar in your synagogue or church.  A horrible crime denied Amanda and her Mom the opportunity to share their love. Amanda and her Mom could never say goodbye. Amanda and her Mom had no choice. You do. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Breakfast With Mr. Lewis, Part 1

The Scene: A Saturday breakfast meeting between C.S. Lewis, the tutor, and one of his students, the week following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.  Quotes from “Mere Christianity.”

Student: Good morning Mr. Lewis! Finally, some spring weather, thank God.                    
Lewis: Ah my young friend, so you have come to believe in God!

Student: No, but good try, professor.  You know that I doubt there is a God. In fact, after the news of the Boston Marathon bombing I am more persuaded that there is not a God. The whole world seems to have just gone spinning out of control.  Whatever religion there is seems to be of a sort which drives people to kill each other more than love each other.  But, I hope they bring justice to the bombers!

Lewis:  Well, on that happy note, shall we order breakfast? Not sure where our server is though…Young man, why does the Boston bombing persuade you of anything about God?

Student: Well, how can you say there is a God, Mr. Lewis, when all around us there is chaos and confusion and senseless murder and destruction?  A world this mixed up cannot prove there is a God.

Lewis: Actually, it does, in a way.  Let me ask you this: would you say that the bomb-making brothers were committing an act of evil?

Student: It certainly wasn’t “good”, so I guess it must be evil. Unless of course there is no such thing as “good” or “evil.” But, yes, I suppose I would agree that putting a bomb in crowd is a picture of “evil” at work. And doesn’t that prove the point I have been trying to make this semester…if there is a God who is good, then how can there be evil?  Answer that one, if you can!

Lewis: “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line…If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out  that it has no meaning…”  You see, the fact that you can describe the placing of a bomb in a crowd as an evil act does not prove there is no God. It proves instead that you know there is a difference between good and evil. And where would you get this idea, that there is a difference between straight and crooked, between good and evil, unless there is some source of good, of justice, of light, outside of this world? “If there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never have known it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”  And this, my young friend, is why I keep saying to you “atheism is too simple.” If there is no God, then from where would spring your idea of good and evil, of justice for the bomber?  But, let’s continue our conversation after we place our order, shall we?