Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Pastoral Letter

It has been a very difficult week for our country -- the bombing in Boston, an explosion in West Texas, flooding in the Midwest, tornado watches here in the D.C. area and the failure of cowardly senators to pass sensible gun background check legislation. I sent this letter to my congregation before Tsarnaev was apprehended in Boston, but I thought I'd still publish it on the blog. Terrorism will continue, so we will continue to find ways to respond as people of faith.

Sometimes I ready to give up on humanity. Really, I’ve had enough of the shootings, bombings, and grisly death scenes. The Boston bombings reveal my own deep-seated feelings: I am angry and I am scared.  Terrorism is designed precisely to do that -- to scare people far out of proportion to its actual danger. Since these events will not stop, my personal growing edge is to learn how to empathize while refusing to be terrorized; to be angry without being scared.

In response to the Boston Marathon bombings, comedian Patton Oswalt wrote on his Facebook page, “This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness.  But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil . . . So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.’”

I’ve noticed that, for whatever reason, some comedians have the ability to speak deep truth to us in this terrible situation. Oswalt’s message is in line with some of the Psalms. Consider the opening words of Psalm 91.
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
God alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
In God I trust.
God will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease . . .
God’s faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Or, consider the words of Psalm 56.
When I am afraid,
I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
In God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mortal man do to me?
Affirming this level of trust is so difficult! The temptation for many of us is to seal ourselves off from threats and close ourselves off to pain. Atlantic Monthly writer Bruce Schneier writes, “Terrorism isn't primarily a crime against people or property. It's a crime against our minds, using the deaths of innocents and destruction of property as accomplices. When we react from fear, when we change our laws and policies to make our country less open, the terrorists succeed, even if their attacks fail. But when we refuse to be terrorized, when we're indomitable in the face of terror, the terrorists fail, even if their attacks succeed.”

We empathize, we continue to trust, but we refuse to be terrorized. Fear not. Be indomitable and support those who continue to pursue compassion, peace, and healing in the midst of this bloodthirsty world.

Pastor Matt


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