For weeks now, flags have been flying at half-mast.
It is a consistent reminder that there is much to grieve.
It is like as a culture, we are all grieving, but because of the impact of multiple events one after another, we cannot finish grieving, so are left raw, and sometimes, desensitized.
A good friend heading 20-some hours on a bus down to training camp for National Guard, two weeks ago, was inundated with violent movies on the ride down by those in charge. One after another. He texted us at the 6th movie asking for prayer. “Could you give me some things to pray for?” He asked us. He texted later that that had helped but that they had just started the 8th movie. Eight violent movies in a row.
“What’s the purpose?” I texted.
He wrote, “I don’t know. Desensitization?”
In our lives and culture, that is what it is like for us. We get one event on top of another — international events from Brussels, to Nice, to Bangladesh, to Istanbul, to Baghdad, to Munich, to Kabul and then local events, the stress of race relations, the shootings by police in Falcon Heights, Baton Rouge, and Miami, and the shootings of police, in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Does the grief become raw because we can no longer feel it any longer? Or are we so desensitized to death, that we don’t feel the grief that might be normal?
One famous photo of the possible healing of race relationships is from December 2014 in Portland when Davonte Hart, at a protest in the aftermath of the Ferguson decision, was holding up a sign that said “Free Hugs.”
Portland police sargent Bret Barnum saw it and asked if he could have a hug. The photo caught on camera by Jonny Nguyen became famous, a picture of what we hope would be the call and reality of this nation.
In the wake of the Dallas shootings in which 5 officers died, the people of Dallas poured out love on the police there, bringing cookies and treats to the stations, and lining up to offer the officers hugs. In the movie “The Fellowship of the Ring” Galadriel tells Frodo: “In all lands, love is now mingled with grief.” Isn’t that true.
In Luke 7 we encounter the story of Jesus and the widow of Nain, when Jesus, filled with compassion, goes up to the widow as she follows her son’s bier out of the village to burial, and says: “Don’t cry.” He then touches the bier, and the bearers stop, and speaks to the boy, saying, “Get up!” At once the boy returns to life, sits up and begins to speak. And Jesus restores him to his mother.
In worship recently, I asked the question, “What might we learn about Jesus and compassion that he says to the widow, ‘don’t cry?'” And certainly, at first glance, we might wonder at his insensitivity. Except that the text tells us he did this because he was filled with compassion for her. If she was weeping, perhaps uncontrollably, as all her prospects for a hopeful future lay on that bier, then anything that Jesus did would be missed by her. One of the people at that worship service caught this saying, “Had Jesus not told her ‘don’t cry,’ she never would have seen her boy raised to life. She would have missed what God was doing.” This woman observed that Jesus had great love for the widow, and had told her “don’t cry,” or,
She would have missed what God was doing.
Perhaps in this era of being both desensitized to death and loss by the numerous losses, and in being raw with emotion, as we seek to grieve, we too can totally miss what Jesus is doing, we can miss how God has drawn near to us, at such a time as this, we can miss the intimacies of Jesus because of the emotions or the numbness we feel.
So, dealing with emotion has become a part of the preparation of the Camino for me. The Camino, the Way, is not just my journey, but all of our journeys, as we find our way in this season in this nation in this world at this time. It is a time to remember to look for God in the middle of numbing grief, and flags at half-mast. It is a time to look up so that we can see what Jesus is up to. It is a time to embrace others with compassion, for we know that this life is much too short. It is a time to say “I love you,” as often as possible. It is a time to remember that everyone around us feels emotion in different ways about the current events. A guy at the pool told me yesterday he was “scared as hell” about what is going on in the nation as I reached out to him.
I think it is not easy when we are all at “half-mast” to remember that there is hope, there is a reason to ‘look up,’ but there always is.
One last line from the “Fellowship of the Ring.” Galadriel tells Frodo: “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” And that can be true of each of us as we but “look up” and see Jesus at work, joining him.