The Morning After

 Psalm 77.4-6
“Are You listening God?
You’re preventing me from getting sleep;
I am troubled and have no words.
I think about what’s happened in the past and today.
I’ve stayed up all night strumming my guitar trying to find words for my heart to sing.”

I’m a singer-songwriter. Not necessarily a good one, but I, and most children for that matter, fit the definition: We sing songs we write.

Some songs are extemporaneous: born alongside a specific moment in history only to fade into silence with the memory of that moment, never again to be heard.

Some songs are years-long in the making, usually inspired by life experience or the romanticized ideal. [And what a gift when the two meet!]

Shortly into my 30s I reached a milestone in adulthood. I was suddenly more aware of people’s troubles, including my own. Of course I knew sooner or later everyone had trouble, and some more than others, but I was unaware that some people’s burden was heavy and permanent.

This epiphany was rather embarrassing.
Jokes I’d previously made about hard life situations were no longer funny. They were stupid and inappropriate.

Speaking carelessly about the life experiences I never had was proof I was immature and unseasoned. I used to think the silence from the 40/50 year olds meant they didn’t get what I was saying. I was the one who didn’t get it.

When I began to see the heaviness and permanence of people’s trouble, I felt like I had arrived late to a party. I wanted to leave and find my way back to the land of Blissful Ignorance. However, the other partygoers graciously welcomed me and invited me to eat and drink. The food and drink was different. It was  satisfying. They taught me empathy. They taught me it’s a different kind of party.

My songbook had songs of angst but not lament.
Those are two different songs.
Angst is matured by the song of lament.

I didn’t have songs to sing when marriages fell apart. Or when death paid an unexpected visit, especially to babies. Or when careers were shattered and families uprooted. Or when the poor were oppressed and there was nothing I could do but watch.

What songs could I sing?
Sure there were songs of lament out there, but they weren’t my songs. It’s hard sometimes to follow the tune of someone else’s heart.

So I started writing songs of lament and started using a line in my preaching “there are two types of people in the world: those who suffer and those who will suffer.”

So today, 24 hours after three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers were gunned down on a quiet, sunny, Sunday morning, the heartache and headache we’ve experienced the last nearly two weeks has morphed into a heavy burden. And it’s not going away anytime soon.

What song can I sing?
What song can we sing?
What songs did our human ancestors sing when the burden was heavy and seemingly permanent?

Psalm 58 and 77 have provided comfort.

(Psalm 58.6 – God, kick out the teeth of all the bad leaders who keep biting us!)

God knew Humanity would need songs of lament to cope with reality. We must learn how to lament, to grieve deeply as individuals and a community.

Why learn to lament? Because our days are not always free of the cares of this world.

Having carefree days are nice, but it’s not always reality.

The one who expects everyday to be carefree won’t know how to handle a day of trouble.
Such a person will be filled with angst.

Angst leads to cynicism.
Cynicism leads to apathy.
Apathy leads to the destruction of a city.
And when a city is destroyed her people are left abandoned and without hope.
No hope is death.

Lament is the path to hope.
Hope is the path to life.

And where there’s life, there’s a party.

It’s time to put down the kid juice of angst and learn to drink the wine of lament.

Welcome to the party.
Invite the others in.

Christ, have mercy.


Peacemakers, make peace

It’s been a wearisome few days. Hard to get a full night’s sleep. Heartache. Headache. Not many words to say. The police officers in Dallas showed full integrity in their vocation in the face of tragedy (see yesterday’s post). 
Yet, it’s another day. I must get out of this bed. I have a lunch appointment. But first another challenge to myself:

Prayer without action is ineffective prayer.
This is what God says:

“If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.” – Holy Scripture, James chapter 2

It is right to ask/pray/think/desire peace and healing in our families, cities and world. 
A true prayer for peace results in change. 

A change to stop the turmoil. To prevent further violence. To bring understanding. To unite and heal our community. To keep our families safe. To change systemic injustice. To alleviate generational poverty. To provide access to education and healthcare. To provide avenues to create wealth. 
Yet when our voice calls for change, the first ears to hear must be our own. 
Uh-oh. You mean I might have to be part of the process? 
Yes. Peace comes through peacemakers. 

The one who sees turmoil and offers prayers/thoughts/desires for peace, yet does nothing, has dead faith. It is an ineffective prayer/thought/desire. 
Living faith breeds action. 

Action proves living faith. 

What does peacemaking look like for you? Only you know and God know your heart. 
Maybe it’s time to finally pursue that diplomat position to help countries negotiate. Maybe it’s time to start that NGO to help alleviate poverty and suffering. Maybe it’s time to build that health clinic or school. Maybe it’s time to engineer designs for better farming and more effective food distribution. Maybe it’s time to join a demonstration. Maybe it’s time to fight for integrity in your vocation. Maybe it’s time to offer a smile and handshake to a colleague or to someone who represents a segment of the population you scorn. Maybe it’s time to finally meet the neighbour. Maybe it’s time to offer “Welcome” to a refugee trying to establish a new life in a new culture. 

These are some ways to answer the prayer for peace. 
Maybe you’re upset and thinking “God is powerful enough to bring peace without me! Let’s not forget that God is God!”
Yes, as the Maker of all things, God All Powerful. 
However, God does not sprinkle fairy dust upon the Earth to bring about peace. God uses peacemakers to bring peace. They are blessed and called children of God. 
Our cities will not magically change apart from people. Spiritual change occurs in people. And people build cities. People are responsible for the life or death of their city. I am challenged to reflect on how I contribute to the flourishing of my city. I am challenged to ask if I am spiritually awakened and matured by God to be a wise peacemaker. 
Jesus said the Church is the salt of the Earth and the light of the world. 
Faith without works is simply dead faith. 

The thought of wanting peace without the willingness to make peace is an empty and vain thought.

— Christ, when I asked You to bring peace, I asked in the hopes that You would do it quietly, without interrupting my life and status quo. While turmoil occurred around me, I had hoped I could avoid being inconvenienced and keep the plans I made for myself. But what an invasive surprise You are! I asked You to bring peace and You told me to go make it in my home, community, city, and world.

You gave us peace when You gave Yourself. Now in Your peace we peacemakers go. Christ, have mercy.

Alton Sterling: a pastoral reflection

Baton Rouge: our City, our Home

In light of Alton Sterling’s death, I sent the following to our congregation.

I am weary from my groaning; with my tears I dampen my pillow and drench my bed every night. My eyes are swollen from grief; they grow old because of all my enemies. Depart from me, all evildoers, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. 
Psalm 6.6-8

You already know today is going to be a long day for our city, our home.

I wanted this to be in your inbox before you woke up. It’s a short reflection for our diverse congregation to read. I hope tone and instruction conveys pastoral care and concern. Writers more skilled than I will provide fuller commentary. My intent is to shepherd us: Grace Mid City. Let this be food for thought as we process today and pray before engaging in social media and water cooler talk. Let us walk and speak in wisdom from above.

Today will be a long day for the bereaved family and friends of Alton Sterling, a resident of our city whom our Coroner said died after being shot multiple times by the BRPD. I don’t know Alton Sterling personally, but I know he – like all humans – is an Image-Bearer of God created by God for relationship with God. As his family and friends mourn his death, he awaits – along with all those departed – Resurrection and Judgement. Any death is tragic.
Christ, have mercy.

Today will be a long day for the two police officers involved in the death of a fellow human being. Whether it was outright murder, an arrest gone terribly wrong, or officers following standard operating procedure, these men took the life of another man and will have to give an account of why they took such action.
Christ, have mercy.

Today will be a long day for our city leaders. They woke up early this morning (if they even slept) and had breakfast (if they even ate) knowing an international news media stage awaits. It is no secret our nation is embroiled in tension as the world watches – and we now experience in our own city – the conflict between black citizens and white police officers. Earlier this morning I drove to the corner store where Alton Sterling died, to pray for his family and our city. It’s less than two miles from my house. The corner was empty. Three or four cars were in the parking lot. Two or three people were standing silently by the table in front. No traffic but me, no noise but the truck engine. The calm before the storm? Soon we’ll hear from our black mayor-president and white chief of police. May they lead us well.
Christ, have mercy. 

It’s going to be a long day for the Church in Baton Rouge. Most of our city’s congregations are homogenous. It’s been said our city is segregated most on Sunday mornings. I don’t know the numbers, but I do know we tend to describe congregations as being a “Black Church” or “Korean Church” or “Hispanic Church” or “White Church” or “Vietnamese Church” or some other ethnicity. Right or wrong, it’s a reality. Our reality is that Grace Mid City, albeit mostly white, is a multiethnic congregation. As such, we must – for Christ’s sake! – hold these two realities:

1) Of utmost importance is our unity as Brothers and Sisters in Christ Who, by grace through faith, has brought us into the eternal family of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God has gathered us, different walks of life and all, to be a local expression of the Body of Christ. We, in our diverse backgrounds and views, are united in the communion of saints.

Our unity is made in Christ.
Our unity is held in Christ.
Our unity is our witness in Christ.

2) Different ethnicities react differently for different reasons. Maybe it would be easier if we all reacted emotionally the same way about the same things, but we don’t. That’s okay. Our different backgrounds and experiences affect how and why we react to certain situations. This hasn’t changed in all of human history (Eve blamed a snake, Adam blamed Eve). Preserving unity in Christ is hard. It requires heavenly wisdom, heavenly empathy, and earthly action. Followers of Jesus, both black and white, will be vocal today. Some will speak in wisdom from above, and some will speak in wisdom from below. [Listen to the last two sermons for context of those phrases.] The pages of the New Testament are replete with calls for unity to be upheld among Christians of various backgrounds and experiences. Let us be sensitive to understand the complexities of our city, and let us be empathetic toward those who are hurting and questioning…on both sides. These deep issues are not going away anytime soon. Our enemy would like nothing more than to distract the Church’s mission and divide the Church’s unity.
Christ, have mercy.

Today will be a long day for you and me. Baton Rouge is our city, our home. This horrible situation adds to the already deep repairs our home needs in the areas of Education, Healthcare, Tax Reform, Business, Roads, Infrastructure, Overflowing Prisons, Fractured Families, the list goes on and on. Where do we even start? With the psalmist, I’m weary from my groaning!
Christ, have mercy.

On Baton Rouge, our city and home: Christ, our True Hope, have mercy.


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