When I woke up this morning, I was not planning on adding to my blog. In fact, I was going to take a play out of my buddy Pastor Dan’s playbook (danielmrose.com) and call it a year. I could post my sermons and my pastor’s notes, but nothing specifically blog-flavored.
Something happened though, a couple of somethings actually, that made it impossible for me to stay silent. Once again death and destruction were my alarm clock. This time it was a suicide bombing at a Methodist Church in Pakistan. At last report from the BBC, eight people had died and dozens were injured. It could have been far worse; two other suicide bombers were stopped before they made it into the church.
Every time these tragedies occur, be it in a church or a mosque or a school or a night club or a concert, my heart breaks. It breaks because life is too precious and far too short for us to be running around and killing each other over differences in our beliefs.
This morning in worship we spent some time in I Thessalonians, specifically where Paul tells us, “Rejoice always… [and] give thanks in every circumstance…” (I Thessalonians 5:16,18). Those are hard words to hear and even harder to live by, given the violence and death and hatred that we see all around us.
It was a little over four years ago when our son Carl succumbed to his battle with leukemia. In the midst of that grief and pain, I wouldn’t have believed that I could ever experience joy again. I figured rejoicing would be something other people do, but not me. I thought that my once-fervent faith would wane, and I would find another way to pay the bills. But that isn’t what happened.
Even in the midst of the most devastating loss of my life, I was able to find joy. I found it in my daughter’s hugs and laughter. I found it in the embrace of my friends. I found it in the things Carl loved, like the minions, and the Avengers, and the color orange. Most importantly, though, I found joy in my quiet moments with God, when I felt God’s embrace. When I knew that God wept with me.
I experienced joy because I remembered another verse in I Thessalonians where Paul tells us that we “do not mourn like those who have no hope” (I Thessalonians 4:13). I have hope, sure and certain, that when all is said and done, when my time on earth is over, I will see my son again and we will never have to part. In that I can rejoice. In that I can give thanks. Regardless of my circumstances.
So in this latest attack on humanity, I can rejoice that those who have died are with God. I can rejoice and give thanks that it wasn’t as bad as it had been planned to be. I can give thanks for the reminder to pray for my brothers and sisters in Pakistan and other parts of the world. But at the same time, just pinning my hopes on “could’ve-been-worses” and “some days” rings a bit hollow, in the realization that so many people are hurting. Every death is tragic; every grief is bottomless, and though I have hope that one day every tear will be wiped away, those tears still fall today.
A few hours after I heard the news of the attack in Pakistan, I was in worship at one of my churches. We were singing our closing hymn, “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” when all of a sudden the door to the sanctuary opened, and a man of middle eastern descent entered holding a box.
One of the members of that congregation noticed this stranger – and got up, going over to greet the man and his young son who had come in behind him. The man spoke quietly to my church member and handed her the box. Then he waved at me and smiled and walked out the door.
I didn’t know what to make of it. My church member brought the box up to me as the last verse of the hymn began, and I noticed a card taped to the box. I opened the card and read these words:
We wish you happiness during this holiday season.
Our joy is with your joy during days of celebration and happiness.
May God bless your families and may your new year
be a great one.
– Muslim Community of the Western Suburbs of Detroit (Canton Mosque)” (mcws.org)
I was floored. On virtually the same day in one part of the world, a Muslim entered a Methodist Church and tried to kill everyone in it — and in another part of the world, a Muslim entered a Methodist Church with a wonderful gift (a giant tray of baklava…YUM!) and a card of blessing and joy and holiday greetings.
The contrast is glaring. The Muslim Community in Canton didn’t have to do that. They didn’t have to think of us (and I am sure many other congregations in the area), but they did. They took the time and spent the money to extend peace and joy to their neighbors, regardless of their religion. Friends, we can all learn a lot from this community, from this act of kindness.
There’s a lot of evil in the world friends. But there is also a whole lot of good, and love, and joy that can cancel out that evil, when we decide to see each other as brothers and sisters and treat each other with respect and grace.
My very first thought after receiving this gift to our church (other than “Don’t cry! Don’t cry! Don’t Cry!) was to begin to think about ways to extend a similar blessing in the direction of other faith communities in our area.
If violence and tragedy can snowball, then so can goodness and love. And it may not make everything better, but it’s a good place to start. During this season of holy days and nights, look for ways to add to the love, and joy, and peace that is already out there, and begin to flood our world with God’s grace once more.