The Love Response

by Dustin Davis (Spiritual Formation Team)

Last week we learned of another mass shooting in the United States, a term so
commonplace now that it even has a definition: four or more people killed by gun
violence in a single incident. This one occurred at Umpqua Community College in
Oregon.

What has followed since then has been the now routine response from news outlets,
politicians, advocates on both sides of the gun control debate, and from citizens. And it
seems that apathy is becoming our “new normal” in the face of what was once shocking
and impossible violence. A friend I follow on Twitter posted, “The scariest thing about
today’s mass shooting is not the shooting itself, buy my apathetic response to things like
this now.” I saw many other comments in the same vein.

My favorite call-in show on my local radio station asked last Friday how listeners cope
with such tragedy when it occurs in our country. Caller after caller after caller shared
how they feel hopeless, how they have no faith in our politicians and leaders to pass
legislation and how even if they did they are not sure it would help. Even though it is
safe to assume that no one wants to see such violence continue, it feels as if many are
beginning to check out of the conversation because their hearts are too heavy, have
been broken too many times.

I can relate. Whenever I hear of such news, in the past I have taken a moment to
pause and whisper to myself, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
But even now that seems childish and somewhat trite. It seems that sending my
prayers and good thoughts is no longer enough.

As I was meditating on this feeling of general hopelessness and my own growing sense
of despair, I remembered a quote from Mother Teresa that is painted on the wall in my
congregation’s fellowship hall.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

I have always thought this quote simply sounded nice, another pearl in a long wisdom
necklace. Now, however, it seems to sit in my heart with a very real weight, and
although some might think it naive or dismiss it as wishful thinking, I feel that these
words are our best guide toward a more peaceful future.

This quote, you see, is more than just nice words. It tells us what to do. It is actionable.
It provides a way forward along a dark path where debate and government have failed.
It reminds us of what is most essential. We must remember that we belong to each
other. It asks what our response will be in light of needless violence: hopelessness or
love?

Hopelessness has a firm grasp on us at times, so, for argument’s sake, let’s image what
a love response would look like. For me, I have promised to reach out to my family and
friends the next time I hear about a violent tragedy. I will remind my family that I love
them, and I will send a message to a few friends, perhaps those I have not talked to in a
while, to remind them that I am grateful they are part of my life. In this small way I hope
to remind them of their infinite worth and that they belong to someone. What does a love
response look like for you?

Shootings like the one that just happened in Oregon are a failure on many levels. Some
say it is a political failure. Others say it is a healthcare failure or a security failure. In
some way, all of these are true. I want to add that it is also a failure of individualism.
Somewhere along the way those who plan and carry out mass shootings, or any violent
act for that matter, have forgotten, or never knew, that they belong to others. I cannot
help but wonder if the Oregon shooter remembered that he was a son, maybe a cousin
or nephew, a colleague or a friend. Did he know he was a member of a community?
Did he know he was a child of God?

I will risk being called naive to choose the love response, not just because love feels
better than hopelessness or because I can act on love and not on hopelessness, but
because it is what I, we, are called to do.

What We Crave

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

(Reflections from Barberton Community of Christ’s 5th Wednesday Swiss Steak Community Dinner)

Last night I went to church and engaged the tasks of meal making and hospitality preparing with a group of disciples who welcomed me as family though some I had never met.

As we waited for the community to arrive, we traded stories while mashing potatoes and cutting pies.

I talked poetry and theology in the dinner line, watching neighbors take heaping helpings of a home cooked meal-

Green beans
Mashed potatoes
Swiss steak
Salad
Coleslaw (you will want to ask Kay for the recipe)

Pies and brownies around the corner

Bread and butter on the tables

We were sent home with a potato masher, 3 containers of leftovers, and half a strawberry rhubarb pie…

And embraces so tender and genuine that I left the building with a teary warmth I’ve yearned for, the kind of whole-hearted community nurturing my heart seeks.

I can see the comfort this type of gathering brings, why the poor and the elderly show up to be tended in body and spirit.

Something here is the church as it’s meant to be- a grace offering with no agenda, love unrestricted.

And still, I couldn’t help feeling a pang of grief for these trying-to-be-faithful people as they struggle against the same trends of decline that have been afflicting and reforming the church all over. 25 members strong on a Sunday morning, they wonder what God wants to make of them, wonder why more young families don’t want to come. On a critical day, I could offer a whole list of reasons.

But as I bask in the lingering glow of being truly loved by the body of Christ, however small, a different thought emerges…

Perhaps quieter than all the other voices aimed at “fixing” the church.

It says things like:
These are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased
and
The kingdom has come near
and even this:
The salvation of the world is in loving community such as this.

For a moment, I hold in my heart’s gaze all the world’s suffering, including those responsible for inflicting it, and I imagine all of us in the dinner line together…

Ruthellen’s tender embrace welcoming each one, assuring us,

“there is plenty, take what you need.”

We sit at the table and stories are shared and souls are mended and the whole earth begins to heal.

This is what love can do. This is the secret treasure we hold that the world craves. This is what I long for deep in my bones. This is the hunger that keeps drawing us together.

This is how the living Christ shows up and breathes upon us-
Peace.