Empty Chairs At Empty Tables

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George Hochsprung, the husband of slain Principal Dawn Hochsprung, spoke to CNN this morning. I watched through eyes brimming with tears as he talked of his wife, almost like she was going to come back. That common tragic disconnect that occurs in the wake of such unbelievable devastation. In the interview, he spoke of his life no longer making much sense. Being 20 years older than his wife, he never imagined a day that he wouldn’t be with her. He always thought he’d go first. He says he should’ve gone first.

 

As the people of Newtown pick up the pieces from last weeks tragedy, I am reminded of the routine feelings that keep survivors up at night. The parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues, collectively crying out through sobs

 

It should’ve been me! It should have been me.

 

If they could, if it were possible, they would go back and take the bullets for their babies.

 

If they could, if it were possible, they would happily hand over their lives for their loved ones.

 

In the play Les Miserable there is a musical number called “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” A powerful lyric sent shivers down my spine in light of last week.

 

“Oh my friends, my friends forgive me that I live and you are gone. There’s a grief that can’t be spoken. There’s a pain that goes on and on.”

 

This is not simply a dark hour before the dawn, this isn’t just a trial. Losing a child and a wife and a colleague cannot and will not make sense to us because it violates every version of reality we cling to. It is incomprehensible. It is impossible for anything to ever be the same again. And quite often it leads to feelings of guilt of sustained life.

 

While thinking and praying about this, I was struck by the goodness and the Godliness in survivor’s guilt. Wishing one’s life away in the stead of another is the very definition of love. A love that is beautifully bold and knows no limits. A love that defies logic The very sacrificial love that melts our hearts before Christ. That sacrifice of it all with nothing held back is the heartbeat of the gospel message.

 

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

–       John 15:13 (KJV)

 

For his sons and daughters

For her husband

For a student

For a stranger

For the gunman himself

 

George’s wife did just that. She gave herself over to the barrel of the gun to protect the children in her care. Reports have come out that as the teachers urged her to come with them and the children into hiding, she kindly refused, resolving to try to talk the man down. A holy act of sacrifice.

 

We can ask every question in the book as to why this happened. How it can be prevented. How evil threads its way through this world.

 

But I believe when we are brought down in agony by evil, what is most true about our spirits is what rises to the surface. Survivor’s guilt is the lingering reminder of a love so real. A love that death cannot remove. A love that is unselfish, caring less about our own well being than that of our loved one. A love some would say is ludicrous.

 

A father willing to walk the plank for his little girl emulates Christ. A mother making herself a human shield instead of coming home to her kids is the bedrock of kingdom come.

 

 

Praying for Grace and Peace in Newtown today,

 

RR

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We Still Don’t Know How to Grieve

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I remember remaining silent as I sat huddled with friends around the TV. The news had just interrupted our show to tell us that Seal Team Six had taken out Osama Bin Laden. For the next half hour my buddies tried to one up each other on what they would do if it was them in front of Bin Laden. How they would bloody his nose a bit first, maybe waterboard him, and then kill him as slowly and painfully as possible.

 

It was a lot of weird feelings. I knew exactly what Bin Laden did. He was responsible for deaths of thousands of innocent lives. He was unrepentant and smug about it. He believed that God was on his side.

 

And yet, I still found myself torn. Two distinctly different forces were pulling me in opposite directions. While I should have been happy that “justice” was served, all I could think about were crowds outside the White House dancing and singing. The jeers and Huckabee tweeting  “rot in hell Osama”, all of it, made me feel so sick. There was no peace to be found that night. Collectively, we had found a reason to let our inner beasts roar. We desecrated prayer. At least the ones people mentioned on facebook. I saw prayers for locks on the Pearly Gates, and that the pit of hell would come alive with suffering.

 

It was the clearest and most understandable moment of cognitive dissonance in my life. The world was telling me throw a party, ding dong the wicked witch is dead! Fly the flag, relish in revenge, take the kids to the TV and say “guys! This is what justice looks like”.

 

But my faith, my conscience, the moral compass within me held back on throwing my hands in the air. I knew this couldn’t be justice. This couldn’t be Christ.

 

Over the past couple days I have seen Adam Lanza called an evil, vile, human piece of garbage. I have seen heartwarming posts of prayers for the families of victims, only to be followed by “burn in hell Adam”.

 

There is a devastation in our disconnect.

 

I understand the anger, I am angry and I think we should all be very pissed right now. But is our anger misdirected?

 

Maybe that’s something to think about.

 

Mental illness comes with all the shame as any stigmatized status in today’s society. Hollywood has made billions off of horror movies of psychos, scary schizos, and those with split personalities. People are terrified of it.

 

But maybe a facet of that fear is of ourselves. Maybe on some subconscious level we all fear our own insanity.

 

I have problems with anxiety. There was one bad spell where I told my parents I thought I was losing my mind. I didn’t believe I truly existed. There is nothing more frightening than fear of yourself. Fear of our fallen nature. Fear of becoming the monster.

 

It is time to think differently about evil.

It exists, but it is not always chosen.

 

As Christians we know that this man was not evil.

Satan is.

And all of us, even Jesus, have fought against his advances every day of our lives.

 

But sick people don’t have the same strength to fight back. That’s what we are here for.

 

Adam Lanza was the least of these. He was the one Christ called us to care for. He was sick and we failed him. We failed those families, we failed humanity, and worst of all, we failed the Father.

 

Calling this man a monster only makes Satan that much stronger. Every time we do, we are stealing every ounce of credit he deserves. He couldn’t ask for a better deal. He bets on our inability to see the monster behind the man whispering in his ear. We know spiritual evil when we see it. I know Satan loves nothing more than taking kids away from parents. In the days of Christ he would send demons to posses children, make them hurt themselves and their loved ones around them. This is NOT to say that Adam Lanza suffered from possession, but his weakness were exploited by the enemy. Satan is the culprit. We can hate him.

 

This man needed compassion and protection. He needed a society that didn’t shame him for his vulnerability towards violence. If we continue to wage war on the symptoms and not the causes, we should not expect any recovery. If we continue to ridicule those that feel isolated and misunderstood, it should not surprise us when they hit back. If we continue to neglect their need for attention, our children will bear the cost with their blood.

 

We need to rethink evil. We need to remember Satan. And we need to start seeing the least of these in every corner of life.

 

RR

Jesus- An Accessory to Murder?

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Yesterday, the world watched in horror as children screamed and ran from a mentally ill monster out to kill them. We were heartbroken as we saw their trembling faces, disgusted as we saw the media thrusting cameras in those same faces, and we were left confused and angry and, most of all, sad.

It is in these moments. These moments of madness and misery that Christians have something redemptive to offer. Church folks need not recite turn-or-burn scripts or reflections on the afterlife of these innocents, they can, but it’s likely the last thing parents and communities want to hear.

BUT there are those with shoulders made for mothers to cry on and there are others with ears to simply listen of their lament. There are those that have passion and are willing to move into the fray and speak out on the fact that, as President Obama said yesterday, we’ve been through this too many times before.

And so it’s never fun for me to see a face of Christianity waste it all away.

Mike Huckabee, the former pastor, former presidential candidate and now TV personality, claimed he knew what went wrong. It was not the number of bullets that could be fired from the magazine clip. It was not the fact that the murderer suffered from mental illness. There was nothing we could have done what.so.ever.

But it was because of those damn liberals taking prayer out of public schools.

Come again?

Okay. Let’s forget the constitutional arguments, even though they sit soundly on the side of separation of Church and State. Let’s thrust past the theological arguments, where Jesus clearly states prayer is a private affair. Let’s not even delve into Huckabee’s past statements, they’re there if you want to find them.

Let’s look at the claim he made about Jesus.

In effect what Huckabee said was that because school sponsored prayer was deemed unconstitutional decades ago, Jesus got really pissed off yesterday.

So pissed was God that he played accessory to the murder of 20 children and 7 adults. Because… how else are we to understand that if you do not support state-sponsored prayer, Jesus will kill your kids? It is an obvious divine reminder that God is not the father of the prodigal son, he is the father of wrath and hate. Nothing is sacred, not even the life of a child. This is the God out to get us.

Herein lies the problem of Mike Huckabee and others like him. When you slap a cross on any cause, it becomes untouchable. The reasons you cite cannot be proven or tested, because they are of the divine. Unseen. God’s invisible hands. So when folks start to call out your political positions (in this case gun rights), the public prayer card works because you need no basis to make your claim. Simply state that you believe God is punishing us for taking prayer out of school.

This isn’t intended as an argument. It’s intended as a prophecy. Or at least, to appear as a prophecy.

Despite Jesus making it incredibly clear that public pressure of prayer is the exact opposite of the point of prayer, folks like Huck continue to pin all of our societal evils on the removal of prayer from the public arena. They say these schools sit in Godless grounds.

Really?

Cause I sure remember praying in school. I prayed for my friend when he got hurt during recess. I interceded for my bawling teacher when she received the news her dog had died. I came to God for the usual things of a child, loved ones and Christmas presents. And yes, I prayed I would win the spelling bee.

I prayed secretly and I loved it. I didn’t have to worry about eyes watching my lips as they silently move or be tempted to peek to see if anyone else wasn’t closing their eyes. No, it was my personal place of rest. There were times when the classroom setting was the stage for my most holy and intimate moments with Christ. To me that is a much more authentic form of prayer. I would choose to come to God with my worries and joys, fears and hopes, and I developed an honest relationship with Christ my savior.

And that savior is not one to arbitrarily load guns and put parents in a lifetime of hell. He is not so concerned with the fact that prayer pressure no longer exists in schools. He is concerned with the fact that his followers aren’t responding to the sick man next door that needs protection from himself. He is upset that we are more comfortable with a sword in our hands than the unwell’s snot on our sleeve. He is frustrated that it is still easier to acquire a weapon than a therapist. He is saddened by the fact that Christians write on the internet that this man will burn in hell. He is brokenhearted over our self-righteousness and our clenched hands unwilling to offer grace.

And he mourns Christians confusing our failure to respond with love and mercy and grace, with an angry God behind a divine machine-gun.

And I mourn over that too.

RR

The Shooting in Connecticut

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Something horrifying happened this morning. It was one of those heartbreaking, stop in your tacks, wipe a tear from your eye and hold the hand of your loved one type of morning. A day where evil escalated to new heights.

27 dead.

18 Children.

A cold chill shot down my spine as I read those numbers this morning. It was one of those moments where the world stops spinning. If you haven’t heard, a father of a elementary student in Connecticut open fired on a school and took 27 lives, 18 of which were children.

When I first read this, I stopped. And knowing I should, but feeling bitter about it, I reluctantly turned to God. I briefly mentioned comfort and peace to the families but then got to my real reasons. My authentic anger. I prayed:

Why the fuck was this allowed to happen?

 

I am certain that as the dust settles on this event and the fog of grief and mourning starts to clear, the parents of those 18 children will be asking the same question. Perhaps even more profanely. And they won’t get an answer. They may get some clichés from family and friends like, “there’s a reason for everything” and “God needed another angel” (to which I think of Nicole Kidman’s character in Rabbit Hole, asking: “Why didn’t He just make one?”)

Senseless killings of innocent children will never make sense, but we should never stop trying to understand how they happen. The reaction of the status quo is to always claim insensitivity to those who call this what it is: a Wake Up Call. To those that understand when the pin is pulled the grenade will blow. That while we may not have pulled the trigger, we sure as hell missed something.

 

When gun related deaths in the city of Chicago outnumber slain soldiers in Afghanistan, we know we are living in a war zone. When bags have to be checked at movie theaters, when metal detectors are installed in high schools, when people shoot their girlfriends over episodes of the Walking Dead, we know something is not just wrong, but terrifyingly evil. This is hell on earth.

Our culture is fairly fucked up. We glorify violence in the theater and then are shocked when someone turns the gun on the crowd. We hold the 2nd Amendment above our heads as if God himself ordained the freedom to buy whatever weapons we please. We say things like, “People kill people, guns don’t kill people” and “if the victims were armed no one would have died.” To which I say look at the stats of our State. The US has both the highest number of people killed by gun violence and the weakest gun control laws in the developed world. As Michael Moore said after the Aurora shooting, “Who kills people? We do.” Arguments of the slippery slope, losing rights if you don’t use them and arming the public are red herrings to avoid the admission that 2 + 2 in fact equals 4. That when guns are as easy to get as groceries, blood will inevitably be shed.

And guns are a huge part of the problem, but they are hardly the whole of it. We live in a society where mental illness is considered weakness. We shame those afflicted in pain with stigmas in films and neglect their need for treatment. We encourage people to bury the very feelings that they know aren’t right. The thoughts that push people over the edge. These illnesses that are so serious are too often disregarded as the “blues” or “phases”, never given due attention until its too late. And religious institutions do not have clean hands when it comes to this. To some (key word) depression, mental illness, emotional disorders are considered crises of faith. Medication, something as essential as eating and breathing to the severely mentally ill, is thought of as a lack of trust in God. These are serious errors.

I understand that this can be read the wrong way, as insensitive in the early aftermath, but we cannot let this tragedy become just another rung in the ladder. There is a pattern of evil that is evolving at a rapid rate and it breaks my heart to watch us as we sit and simply respond with , “God has a plan”. Yes, God has a plan, and it’s us. He is counting on us to rebuild what is so clearly broken in today’s world. In this time when we know people will cling to their guns and claim the constitution as their protector, we have to take a good hard look in the mirror and see how we have failed. How have we made our children less safe? How have we allowed sick people to go untreated? How have we placed the constitution above the Bible? When will we wake up?

Why does evil happen? We allow it.

As you finish reading this, fight against the anger I had, and turn towards God and pray a prayer for each of those parents this morning, and the families of the other faculty that were killed. Pray for comfort and peace, even though they seem like unreachable requests. Pray for protection from the national spotlight on their personal tragedies. Pray for reconciliation and pray for future prevention.

Pray, pray, pray,

RR

Six Reasons Rick Warren is NOT the Boogeyman

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Recently I shot out a tweet to Rick Warren that I… half regret. I say half regret because the second half, in which I said, “who have you become?”, was unfair. The first half, asking him why he still hasn’t responded to the Human Rights Campaign’s call to again condemn and reach out to those in Uganda in an effort to stop the Kill-the-Gays bill from passing, is still very concerning to me. But there are many things I do not know. For instance, he may be doing it covertly and sees a public condemnation as the worst path to reconciliation. You attract bees with honey not vinegar.

 

But after thinking about that tweet and who Rick Warren is, I came to the conclusion that I had written him off as a Boogeyman. My timing is also in sync with many other organizations and blogs have come after him. His perceived silence and stupid comments regarding the LGBT community (Piers Morgan the other night when he compared homosexuality to arsenic).

But many of these writers don’t know how the inner rings of conservative Christianity work, and many do not see how, in the grand scheme of things, Rick is further along than his peers.

 1. He Regrets 2009- Publicly

When Proposition 8 was up for a vote, Rick Warren released a video expressing his support for the measure. What many of us didn’t know was that it was a video only for his church. He wasn’t working in conjunction with the National Organization for Marriage or the GOP.

 

Recently he said that if he could do it over again, he wouldn’t have made the video. A humble admission.

 2. He battles ignorance

Boogeymen love ignorance. It’s what feeds their followers and creates a reality separate from those pesky facts and reasonable people. 

 

Earlier this year, Christian radio host Bryan Fischer, called HIV “harmless” and not the cause of AIDS. And then he basically went back to the AIDS-to-gays is as God-to-judgment analogy, a grotesque theological belief. Even more, he didn’t think AIDS victims were the type of people Christians should care about.  Warren’s wife was first to condemn Fisher, calling his remarks, “indefensible”.

 

Later on they released a joint statement saying:

 

“People living with the virus are people that Jesus created, loves, and died for. Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan teaches us that when you find someone bleeding on the side of the road, you don’t say ‘Was it your fault?’ You just help them in love! Let’s be very careful about what reality we deny; lives are at stake.”

 3. P.E.A.C.E.

Rick and his Church launched the PEACE Plan as a way to use their treasure and influences to change the world for the better. The acronym goes: Promote Reconciliation, Equip Servant Leaders, Assist the Poor, Care for the Sick, Educate the next generation. So far this program has been wildly successful and has brought many folks around the world to Christ.

 4. Kay

When an individual is married to someone as wonderful as Kay Warren, they are probably not a boogeyman. Kay Warren is a champion for finding the cure to HIV/AIDS. She has been a relentless advocate on issues within Africa and around the world. Kay is not simply the woman behind the man, but a force to be reckoned with in the dumpster of poverty and disease. The world is better because of her.

 

 5. He doesn’t use the pulpit to belittle others

Pastor Warren only discusses his views on homosexuality when he is asked, which happens to be a lot since it is the most divisive issue in the church today. He doesn’t hit the gay community from the pulpit and the only time his platform was used as a way to push back gay rights, was in 2009 which he has regretted doing.

 6. He is a Bridge Builder

Pay attention- this one is important.

 

I watched an episode of HuffPost Live this morning, where the interviewer asked about the controversy (in culture) about his views on homosexuality. Warren rightly pointed out that if he disagrees with some on this issue he gets called a hater or a homophobe. Which makes no sense to him because he doesn’t hate anyone nor is he “afraid” of gay people.

 

The pivotal point came when he said that he bases his views on Bible, while others base it on other things like the world and culture. At this moment, the interviewer interrupted him and said, “other people base their beliefs on the Bible too, but have a different interpretation.” Instead of doing what I thought he was going to do, roll his eyes or skip on to something else, he said this:

 

“that is very true. What we need are the kind of conversations you and I are having right now. Non inflammatory, non flaming throwing, not saying ‘you must be a bad person because you disagree with me’ in fact, you can’t convince me to agree with you if you’re saying I’m a bad person… we’re losing our civility in civilization.”

 

THIS IS WHAT MY BLOG IS ABOUT! I love that he said this, because it is so reflective of a heart pursuing reconciliation. That we should never forget the difference between righteousness and rudeness. It is one of the best statements, I believe, he has made on this issue.

 

And some may argue that what he said doesn’t take much to say, but when you think about the other power players in the conservative Christian community who are so rigid in their loyalty to doctrine, this could potentially become a chink in his armor. That is, if they choose to attack him on it.

 

 

Pastor Warren is not perfect, neither am I and neither are you. He has said stupid things about sexual orientation, made ridiculous equivalents to homosexuality, and he will probably continue to do so. But he is not the Boogeyman. He is a faithful pastor who actually has a desire to engage in a meaningful dialogue on the most controversial issue facing the Church today. And he’s learning quickly how to do so in a manner that makes grace and love a top priority.

 

As I said in my post about Mark Driscoll, just because I think Pastor Warren has said destructive things, doesn’t mean his intent is destruction. And even further, he’s a huge net positive for the world. He chooses to take action instead of cheap shots.

 

No Boogeyman here!

 

RR

Killing Time With a Vote

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On the morning commute that I travel every day, I pass a sign that reads:

Marriage: One Man + One Woman.

Vote Yes!

I put pressure on the gas.

Then I pass another. And another. And another.

Immediately my mind goes to the water cooler conversations these folks must take part in. I hear “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” and “can you imagine being attracted to guys? How gross!” I see them sitting at home, sending out emails about Sodomy. I see people that really don’t like or love me.

And this may not be the case. There are hateful bigots who say hateful things and do hateful things and love hateful things. But there are also good and Godly people who simply believe in traditional marriage. We should always give those with the yard signs the benefit of the doubt.

Yet it’s still hard. It’s hard because every time I see a sign, read a tweet or watch a commercial in favor of the amendment, I feel like I just got cut from the team. Words, whether written or spoken, can rip at the core of me. When the faith that I so strongly believe in elevates one characteristic about myself as its default punching bag, it makes me feel like damaged goods.

The vote has hurt me more than I expected it to.

Now, before you write me off as just another marriage equality supporter, keep in mind a few things.

1) I am gay.

2) I am a devout Christian.

3) I don’t know if God does or does not bless same-sex relationships.

The journey I am on will likely be a long one. Quite honestly, most of the time it feels like I’m hollering over a crowded room to Jesus, trying to read his lips. Daily, I wrestle with the words of scripture. I read and pray and talk to others and I STILL cannot say definitively that I know where I stand. Or where God does.

So much has been learned and so much let go. And on this road, I was once close to giving up the search.

Thank God I didn’t.

There was a night when the world seemed to be throwing its full weight upon me. I tossed and turned and after several hours, I still couldn’t sleep. Moments before I had hit the pillow, I caught the evening news playing a story about a pastor in North Carolina. He was calling for my imprisonment in a concentration camp. Just a couple days before I watched another pastor say my parents should have beaten me.

I got up. I walked outside, and I wept.

Hard.

Looking skyward, staring at the stars, I asked, ”How could these men speak for You? Could they possibly be right? Are you even there?”

I buried my face in my palms.

And then, I heard it.

In my heart of hearts, five words consumed my being.

“I am not like them.”

It took a moment for me to grasp what had been spoken. And then it sunk in. Every mold I had made of the distant Christ came crumbling down.

The wind hit my face, and I knew he was there. An owl hooted, and I knew he was singing. A star shot across the sky, and I knew he was dancing.

He was real.

For the first time, he was real for me.

He told me he wasn’t like them, and now I know to never mistake the will of the majority with the will of God.

Even though there is definite daylight between hateful pastors and principled supporters of traditional marriage, between the good and the Godly and the hateful and heartless. Even though I know not to mistake the two, why do the signs and the sermons hurt me all the same?

Why do I feel like those people would be ashamed to call me their son?

The vote itself feels like a punch in the gut. It feels threatening.

It confirms the fears of my folks about the world I am entering.

It makes me think the darkness behind the closet door is still safer than the darkness on the outside.

What Minnesotans should know is that a vote for this amendment doesn’t just hurt same-sex couples. It hurts single gay people. It hurts celibate gay people. I am even willing to bet it hurts “ex-gay” people. It hurts children that are told their family is not a family. It hurts people with LGBT friends. It hurts teachers of LGBT students. It hurts seniors with LGBT caretakers. It hurts bosses of LGBT employees. It hurts straight couples looking for a church home to love. It hurts gay couples looking for a church to love them.

And if the yeas have it, they may stop searching.

Don’t mistake my words as a full-throated endorsement of same-sex marriage. Like I said, I still wrestle with this. But when a group of leaders in my home state decide to hold a public roasting of a particular demographic, I cannot stand idly by. This is not a vote for or against gay marriage. If the nays win out, gay marriage won’t be legal on November 7th.

The only thing that will happen is the defense of dialogue. Christians may have to ask themselves what it means to be a citizen, a Christ-follower, and a loving neighbor. LGBT folks may have to engage with and learn from people that hold a different perspective. Christians may stop calling LGBT people special sinners and gay folks may stop calling Christians Biblical bigots.

A cease-fire is possible here.

But it can only happen if you vote for more time.

If you vote for dialogue.

If you vote for reconciliation.

If you vote to take that morning commute with me.

If you vote no.,

RR

 

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