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