The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tragedy, Mental Illness, and Christmas

My initial response was to not to comment on the tragedy of the shooting of twenty elementary school students and six teachers in Newtown, Connecticut. I decided in the beginning that part of being a responsible blog owner is knowing when to lay off an issue when it doesn't pertain to your area of specialty. 

This blog is a pastoral response. 

The gospel reading for church this weekend is based on Mary's song of praise, after finding out that she is pregnant with the Messiah. She sings, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior." I'm preaching on this text in a few days, shortly followed by Christmas Eve services where we celebrate the birth of Jesus who is Christ the Lord. It's a happy time.

Jesus has come. Jesus has died. Jesus has risen. 

But tragedy still finds us. 

I have friends who like to put the phrase "post" in front of everything. We're "post"modern, "post"christian, "post"9/11. The idea of "post" is that life is new now, that we have become self-aware of how wrong modernism/Christianity/9/11 was. "Post" means we want to define ourselves in a new way. It means that whenever we experience something, we learn, and adapt our behavior so that we do not make the same mistakes of the past.

Every generation is "post" the previous generation, destined to succeed where others have failed. But for every two steps forward, we fall one step back, because self-awareness does not lead to perfection. 

Call it sin, imperfection, or brokenness- but the human condition is like a piggy bank that has been smashed and hot-glued back together over and over again.

The problem of human suffering is called Theodicy. It is often posed like this: 

God is all powerful
God is loving
Human suffering exits. 

The theological puzzle is to have more than two of these statements be true. If God loves us, and can do anything, then why not stop people from suffering? 

There are volumes written about the problem of Theodicy. You ought to be weary of anyone willing to give you the easy answer. 

But here's a hard answer. Do we really know what it is like for God to love us? We imagine God as a grand parent, who, will spoil us any chance He gets. Without repercussion, God coddles us, spoils us, and yields to us for all of eternity. 

Is that love? 

In your version of heaven, are we all consumers taking holy handouts?
 Or is the greater love the love of a parent, who video tapes us while we walk for the first time only to watch us fall. In the long run, giving us free will is showing us the greater love.  
The shooting of beautiful children of God by a mentally ill child of God is just about the worst thing I can think of. This is a time when the whole notion of free will seems like a failed experiment.  Tragedy of this magnitude is so horrible that the desired response is to react quickly to ensure it will never happen again. 

We must fight the notion to become "Post" Sandy Hook by buying weapons, beefing up security at elementary schools, or shielding our children from all people with mental illness.

We will never fully get over this. Just like we were never "post" Columbine, or 9/11, or Oklahoma City, or the Holocaust. 

We must remember to breathe. We must be committed to each other's humanity for the long run. We're all in this together. 
Look at the outline of human history: the journey from learning how to use tools, to building pyramids, to establishing currency, to the evolution of medicine, to the beginning of democracy, to the end of slavery, to the end of the cold war, to the rise of the internet. 

We're getting better and better at a lot of things.  

But human suffering still remains. Sometimes those with Mental Illness know only suffering.

As my favorite theologian Pastor Martin Luther King, Jr says in his letter from Birmingham jail, "The arc of history bends toward justice" 

Do you know who Dr. King was writing the letter from Birmingham Jail to? 

Clergy who opposed the Civil Right movement. Even clergy sometimes fail to see the justice that we are being called to.

The world is united in the 21st century in a way that it never was before. Lives change quickly as we move on to the next big thing. We are never really "post" anything, because the past is never really gone. We carry the memories of the past forward as we continue to love each other for the long haul.

 Building the Kingdom of God is a marathon, not a sprint. This Christmastime and every time, we weep with those who weep, and we rejoice with those who rejoice. We live in hope. We love in hope. 


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