I've kind of shied away from doing anything like this lately, but it's starting to bother me, so I'm just going to throw it out there...the world is going to hell in a handbasket. That's nothing new. It's been happening for hundreds of years, maybe longer.
People are scared...and rightly so.
We have become ill at ease while engaging in the most basic things of life...meetings, shopping, going to the movies.
The level of trust for any who are different has nose dived...and again...maybe rightly so.
We've circled the wagons, and the rhetoric coming from our newsfeeds has tighened that circle.
Over 16 years ago, I answered a call that has forever changed me. I'm not the same person I was then. Oh, I'm no saint, don't get me wrong. In fact, sometimes I can be an absolute ass...but I think differently about things now than I did while I was still driving nails every day.
Things that I would have never given a second thought to saying out loud then, give me pause now. I was a hard man then. I had very little tolerance for any who didn't share my views, and if you worked for me, you had better tow the line. I've fired guys for things that seem so trivial now.
I have two daughters now, who are almost grown, and that has changed me as well. I think about how to keep them safe, who they're talking to, what they're doing, but especially about how to keep them safe.
I watch the news just like everybody else. I see the images. I hear the stories. My heart breaks.
I read the stories from our faith, study them, expound on them every week. And that's where I'm torn. So in the spirit of transparency, the reason I'm torn is that while I'm a pastor, I'm also a man.
The pastor in me knows about the call of Christ to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. That's what I preach. It's what I try to live...try to. The man in me knows that to do that opens myself, and any around me, up to all of those things we fear. The struggle is indeed real.
Then I remember part of the liturgy of the table in my denomination:
"Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
I'm torn. And I own that. I haven't always heard the cry of the needy, nor sometimes do I even want to. Yet, I'm not 100% sure that I'm free for joyful obedience all of the time.
I realize the call to welcome. I understand that I'm supposed to love unconditionally as I have been unconditionally loved. I've heard over and over again that if I claim to be a follower, I'm also claiming to be a messenger of peace. Hell, I've even said that, over and over. But...
...but I'm also a man, living in the reality that there is indeed evil afoot, struggling to find any sense of balance between who I'm called to be and my human nature...and I'm not alone. This is a very real struggle among those of us who claim to follow the Prince of Peace. We want to honor our faith, but at the same time, we're scared. And I get that.
So what do we do?
With the presidential campaigns in full swing, I'm seeing a mix of fear mongering and denial. It makes me wonder if we're seeing some of the same kinds of things in the church, and in those who make up the church.
What does the Church do in the face of terror attacks? What does the Church, the followers of Christ, do with mass shootings? What does the Church do with gun control? What does the Church do with the Prince of Peace? How does the church balance our instinct for safety and survival with the call from the itinerant rabbi we claim to follow?
These are very real questions, and we can either openly and honestly struggle with them or we can stick our heads in the sand and pretend that our people are not genuinely afraid of the times.
There have been calls to arms...part of me gets that. There have also been calls to peace...and part of me gets that. But what about those of us who are finding ourselves stuck in the middle...on the proverbial fence, if you will?
Do I own firearms? Yes. Would I use them to protect my family? Without batting an eye. Am I willing to take the risk of welcoming someone who may wind up doing me harm? I think so, but wouldn't do so knowing that was their intention. I don't think many of us would.
Do I want to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked? Yes. Is it because I really want to, or because Jesus tells me to? Honestly, it depends on the situation. Am I afraid to do that?
But that doesn't negate my call to do those things. Fear does not undo the reality that, as a pastor...whether the man within me wants to, or not...I am called to seek peace. Why? Because that was the example Christ left us. It wasn't just some catch phrase...it was the way he lived...and died.
So for now, I continue to struggle. I guess I'm still sitting on the fence, and some may say that's a coward's way out...but I'm just being honest. I know who I've been called to be, what I've been called to do, but I also know how unbelievably dangerous it can be. I know that my fears and struggles are real, and many of yours may be as well.
This could absolutely blow up in my face, or...there could be someone who reads this and says, "Thank God I'm not alone." I welcome conversation, as long as we can keep it focused and civil.