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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tsunami and Ash Wednesday: Context for discussion

I intend to continue reflecting on "where to draw the line" in the days ahead. It is tricky business and my mind is literally racing in a wide variety of directions. The issues with which we wrestle in the church are literally about life and death. Wars have been fought and many died in the past over religious differences. Today churches are torn apart, families divided and friendships ended over the debates. I am reminded of Jesus' words (paraphrased) "I have come to bring division, not peace"  I pray any division generated here comes from Jesus and not me. I pray for salvation, reconciliation and healing in His cross.

All these discussions about our debates need to be in a context. Last week I talked with a priest-friend in Nashville. He reminded me of something I said years ago (as we stood together for the faith). "Some day awful things will happen which will make us forget about our church debates, and miss them as 'the good old days' in comparison." I do believe that still.

Yesterday, like many of you, I saw the video of the Tsunami and earthquake in Japan. The overhead video of the water, choked with floating cars and debris (much of it pieces of shattered houses) was too much to take in. Miles of cities and towns were just washed away. Gone. Today the survivors are living in the horror of the aftermath. The physical and psychological scars will never be healed for many of them. I pictured myself living there. Somehow debates on eucharist or marriage would feel insignificant in the face of such devastating loss and suffering. That is why feelings are not enough.

On Ash Wednesday we spoke of death. We told each person, one at a time, you will die. I shared that I choked up several times as I did this sacred act with word and sign. Memories of the personal losses my parishioners had suffered were stirred up and whispered "death" in my soul. The next day, this global loss screamed in our ears, "DEATH!" It is Ash Wednesday writ large: Death.

One of the debate points of the other side (from mine) is that in the face of all the suffering in the world, shouldn't we focus our church's energies and attention on serving those who are broken by "Death" in its many forms? Can we imagine the Japanese victims of the Tsunami or grieving widows and orphans really want to debate the fine points of theology? The answer, of course, is no. People who watched their entire village swept clean of everything familiar, people sleeping in tents, hungry and cold and heart broken would probably not want to discuss the issues which tear our church apart. But I don't see the advocates of the "new theology" dropping their push to innovate. Seems to me that the "aren't there more important things" argument is a smoke screen. It is an effort to make us stand down so that they can replace the faith of the saints with half truths and falsehoods. I for one am not falling for it. Hiding behind human suffering and tragedy to do such things is wrong.

I do not live in Japan. I live in Collierville. In a little while my family will leave here for a baseball tournament. Across the world most of us will live our lives. Japan is far away. We have experienced sadnes and  said our prayers. We have made our contributions and we are living our lives. Two things about that. First, I was struck by the number of home videos of the earthquake shown on the news. If it wasn't so sad it would be comical that in the midst of buildings shaking apart and collapsing roofs, so many Japanses people decided make videos rather than seek cover. Amazing. So people are still people, even in the midst of all the horrors. And second, I am just like them. In the face of trauma, I still am me. I mourn losses, weep and move on. Today my parents will miss my son's games, again. They never watched him play. Mom never even saw him, she died years before he was born. Dad died when Luke was a toddler. I can still recall Luke tapping my dad's dead body saying, "bampa, bampa." That was years ago. The pain, though real, is abated.

The world I live in right now has plenty of room to discuss and debate theological issues. These issues, I said to begin with, are life and death issues. Not just wars. Not just relationships. Life and death issues of eternity. Life and death issues in the Kingdom of God. Should we discuss and debate them? Yes. That is one line I have drawn on my journey of faith.

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