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.

The “Real” World

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

The summer is winding down. The mosquito bites on my ankles have waned in their itching intensity. As family camps and youth camps have begun drawing toward closure, we are left with our reflections on this peculiar communal practice of going into the wilderness together to draw closer to our God and remember our belonging to one another.

It is not unusual to feel a strange dissonance in these early stages of entering back into normal daily rhythms. It may still be beyond articulation, but what one senses in the soul is a restlessness with the way things are compared to the glimpse of the way things were in a more relationally, spiritually grounded way of being. Many will have just experienced the holy relief of pure acceptance for the first time. The desire to hold on to those moments of God-presence and radical inclusion is surely an understandable feeling.

Every year, I notice something interesting as we dialogue with each other about the initial strangeness of re-entry. It has to do with what is really real. Comments will range from, “time to go back to the real world” to “camp is the real world and everything else is fake.” I find myself increasingly troubled by both ends of the “real world” spectrum and how we attempt to make meaning of these transformational moments in our lives. Isn’t all of it real?

Without integration, the experiences we’ve had lose their transformational potential in our lives and the world. The mystics throughout the centuries demonstrate that genuine spiritual experience is not meant to occur in isolation but always has real-life implications. To so quickly label one experience real and the other somehow less real is to diminish the potential for both experiences to impact each other. If this is all God’s world and God’s Spirit is incarnate everywhere within it, then all that is required of us is our attention in whatever place we are in to discover it!

Perhaps in places like youth camp and SPEC and Reunion (family camp), we find ourselves more diligently practicing attention to God’s Spirit through regular personal and communal spiritual practices like worship and prayer and shared meals and time for holy conversations. The time, which seems to be so scarce in other moments of our lives, is suddenly set-aside in abundance for this exact purpose. Does this make the other times any less real? No! Every moment, every minute is an invitation to dwell deeply in the reality of God no matter where we are or what is on our daily agenda.

In Heart of Flesh, Joan Chittister challenges us to see more clearly the link between our spirituality and the culture surrounding us. “The spiritual life, because it must be lived in the present to be real, is anything but esoteric and abstract. Culture and spirituality, in fact, are of a piece. Culture creates the framework within which the spiritual life comes to be and grow. Some people, of course, look to spirituality for refuge from the real world… But a life that takes us out of life is no life at all.”

An authentic spiritual life allows the deep roots of experiences like camp to shape the way we see the whole real world around us on a daily basis. We are not called to reject this world as some half-truth giving it our half-heartedness while counting down the days until we can escape again. We are called to draw from the reservoir within us of stargazing around the campfire and prayers for healing and inspiring messages of justice and the dream of being one in Christ to influence every detail of our daily actions. We are called now to embrace everything and everyone as real and as revelation of God’s real presence… even what we don’t want to see or accept.

The dream of shalom that has grown as a foundation in the soul does not remove us from the real but prompts us toward deeper engagement as we encounter injustice and separation of many kinds and feel that dissonant nudge reminding us of another way that can be real if we have courage enough to live its truth. We can’t forget that hungry children are also real and so are warzones and long lines on city streets waiting for the homeless shelter to open. If our spirituality is not also for these real spaces and only takes place occasionally in seclusion, we may need to ask some hard questions of ourselves.

Yet, what is also real is the power of invitation to a common table, a holy conversation, to the church which can become that place in our lives that mends the wear and tear in our shalom dream from its weeklong living. What remains real is the radical acceptance you found (even when you feel rejected) and the belonging you felt (even when you feel alone) and the relationship with the Holy that came to you with an embrace you craved (even when it’s hard to feel at times). You can trust in the realness of these things too. You can live their realness everyday and strive to make them real also for those who have never sat around a campfire singing “Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me.”

I would like to suggest that this year we embrace all of it as real, all of it as space for holy encounter! The fact that these incredible experiences we’ve had are real means that they can happen and become real again anywhere and anytime we open our hearts to the reality of God’s presence wherever we are!

WORDS THAT UNSETTLE

Lenten Practice: Lectio Divina
Daily Act: Allow God’s Living Word to speak through you as you raise your voice for justice and peace. Find the courage to speak out against an injustice that weighs on your heart.
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“LIVING WORD, LIVE THROUGH ME.”

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

Politeness can be as much of an injustice perpetuator as anything else. There is so much we don’t say that is flaming hot in our hearts. What if these words are searing in their release? I don’t want to be rude. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad, even if we are complacent while oppression abounds around us, within us, because of us.

The prophets didn’t care. Their words promised searing. Their words provoked disruption of the status quo and had the power to make you shift uneasy in your seat. The prophet Isaiah is unrelenting about a God who desires justice and sees instead the greed and power-lust that are driving the oppressive, complicit, half-hearted actions of the people. I wonder if he had many friends.

“When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you!” (Isaiah 57:13) Wow. Do I really want to be honest about my own collection of idols? It pulls in me as sacred tension. What am I clinging to as a hollow substitute for the real thing?

Sometimes words are holy that we do not want to hear. Sometimes what we do not want to hear is what we most need to hear. It’s hard to imagine at times that this is actually about the world as it could be… that this is actually good for us… like medicine bitter as it first touches the tongue to then work healing deep within.

I surprise myself with the burning yearning for words that are sharp and actions to match. There are times for sifting through complexities and then there are times for stating simply- ENOUGH. There are moments when the Spirit swells as clarity on the side of the oppressed no longer allowing us to hide behind ambiguity.

It is time to say we have had enough of
inequality
hunger
prejudice
greed
violence
polarization
endless consumption
destruction of the planet
complacency without thought of cost
politeness in place of faithfulness

I tremble at the thought of saying more. What will you think of me? I don’t want to sear you with my words… or myself. What do I do with this fire within? How do I balance the pastoral with the prophetic in a world that is aching for transformation?

Maybe I need to spend 40 days in a desert letting the red hot stone and sand and sun burn away at the fear in me, untangling my attachments to false idols, practicing saying “no” for a while to the things that seem like good options only at first.

Maybe then I will have gathered just enough courage to speak truth in love to what I see within myself, within the world… for the healing of myself, the healing of the world.

Do I even want to pray this prayer? Holy Confronter- Burn away what is false in me. Awaken me to injustice that I knowingly and unknowingly contribute to. Shake me out of my complacency. Unsettle me that I may be liberated from everything that is not your vision of shalom. Amen.