I have to admit, I have been avoiding social media in the last couple of days. Other than post Birthday wishes to my friends, and a quick peek, I am not spending much time there. I could say that Lent began and it is part of my Lenten devotion to spend less time on social media and more time with God. That would not be true.
On Wednesday afternoon, as I was going over the service and putting last minute touches on my sermon the news flashed about another school shooting. This time in a high school in Parkland, Florida. I don’t need to post any links it is all over the news. Confronted with services starting soon, I was frozen and unable to figure out what to do. In odds with how I usually handle these things, I didn’t change my sermon. The tragedy was mentioned in the midst of the prayers.
I am immobilized by what seems to be a non-stop litany of mass shootings. I have several drafts over the last year of blog posts that never got finished because I couldn’t figure out what to say. There are so many blog writers that can articulate the grief and pain and anguish better than I can.
In November of 2017, I started a blog and this is what was saved in my drafts:
Another mass shooting. ANOTHER MASS SHOOTING. This time in another church, a small church, 26 dead,, 20 injured. I don’t know what to say anymore.
I didn’t post last week about the attack in New York City where bicyclists and walkers were run down by a truck. What is left say? I find myself sick to my stomach, numb to the numbers and my mind blank as to how to respond.
There are no words. None that can speak to this insanity.
And then three months later, there are still no words. I have wandered around with tears in my eyes and what little I have glimpsed on social media sites hasn’t helped. The left and the right posted incredibly unhelpful memes pointing fingers. These tactics do not change hearts and minds and spirits or bring back one of those loved ones.
I want to rant and scream and point fingers and assign blame. Instead like Jeremiah, I am appalled and grief stricken over the platitudes and empty words of us all, myself included. In chapter 8, the prophet says:
My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
my heart is sick.
Hark, the cry of my poor people
from far and wide in the land:
‘Is the Lord not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?’
(‘Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
with their foreign idols?’)
‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved.’
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
not been restored?
O that my head were a spring of water,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
for the slain of my poor people!
Or from the thirty first chapter of Jeremiah:
Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.
In Lent, in some denominations, Christians are marked with ashes. It is a reminder that we are fallible, sinful, prone to go our own way, prone to only look after our own interests to the exclusion of others, with a propensity for evil. We don’t like to admit to sin or at least to our sin being as “bad” as others.
In my Ash Wednesday sermon, I gave permission for people to not berate themselves, that instead of giving up chocolate or candy, to give up bitterness and anger and give it up to Jesus among other things. I am not berating myself, but I am confessing that I do not know how to address this kind of evil in the world. I am ill equipped to change hearts and minds and spirits and lives in a way that stands against the forces of evil and destruction and death that are so often made real in these mass shootings. I am an utter failure at encouraging and helping people be change agents in this world of violence and hatred.
What I can do is stand in God’s grace and love and be challenged to not give up, to believe that God is still active in this world and has not deserted us in the mess we have created. Thoughts and prayers are not enough to bridge the gaping canyon between so many people. Thoughts and prayers will not change the violence, the hatred, the bigotry. Thoughts and prayers will not heal the deep despair, pain and fear so many feel.
In verse 16 of Jeremiah 31:
Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
and a promise of a new heart and covenant for a people in exile:
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (31: 33-34)
I will trust that God is challenging me, and perhaps you, to not turn away from what is happening, but face the evil in the world with power given through the goodness of God’s grace and love. If Lent teaches me anything, it is that I believe in a God who is embodied in Jesus. In Jesus, God confronts evil all the way to the cross. Jesus doesn’t shrink away, but stands against the powers of evil. Jesus proclaims a new way of livings and reminds me and us all that the kingdom of God is at hand.
Last year, Jan Richardson, a woman of great words and beautiful paintings wrote an Ash Wednesday blessing for the ashes. In it she writes, “did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?”
She finishes the blessing with these words
So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are
but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
So I am remembering what God can do with the dust and ashes of my life. I am reminding myself that out of my confession of all that I am unable to accomplish and do, that God is already creating in me a new heart and writing the law of love within it. Out of the tears and grief and prayers of my heart and spirit, God is making sure to empower me out of my frozen state into a renewed commitment to the reign of peace, justice and love I have been promised in Christ. During this time of Lent, I will focus on the journey of Jesus. I will walk the long road to the cross filled with evil, betrayal, injustice and pain and believe that there is resurrection and new life yet to come.