Questions from #Charleston "I was coming to church. Why didn't God protect me?"

Mildred Gilpin and Peggy Trinkle were members of the Hollywood Hills United Methodist Church in Hollywood, Florida. They were in their early 80's, widowed, and both found companionship in each other's company. On a Sunday evening, as they were entering the sanctuary for worship, an assailant snatched their purses and pushed them to the ground. During this brief scuffle, Mildred's left arm was broken.

The next morning I visited Mildred in the hospital. She was battered, bruised, and shaken to the core. Her bones and bruises would heal. Her soul and psyche would not. "I was coming to church. Why didn't God protect me? Aren't you supposed to feel safe at church?"

A sanctuary, by its own definition, means a safe place. When Saul was chasing David and trying to kill his rival, David entered a make-shift sanctuary and placed his hands on the horns of the altar. No harm could come to you when you entered a sanctuary and did what David did. It was like claiming temporary asylum. When we played "tag" as children this was the equivalent of getting to "base." When on "base" you couldn't be tagged. You were safe.

Dylann Roof's acts of heinous hate have once again violated this sacred principle. The domestic terrorism that was perpetrated by the whoremongers of hate within the shadows of steeples during the 1950's and 60's is well documented. Racism, bigotry, and viral hatred are free-floating toxicity, and like parasites, they look for a target to attach and attack. This Sunday or any Sunday I don't want to pass through a metal detector and be wanded by ushers in order to worship. We are reminded, again, there is no place on the planet we can go in order to be safe.

Mildred never really recovered. Her bruises faded and her bones healed but Mildred was so utterly disillusioned she more or less gave up. She died in less than a year.

We can't afford to do what Mildred did; to give up hope and to give in to hate. Violence only begets more violence unless we are able to live into a higher level of consciousness. "For you have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." In these moments we desperately need the church to be a relevant source and force for reconciliation. We must refuse to be defined by another massacre or by the acts and actions of mass murderers who are themselves enslaved to an ideology of evil. We are called to follow the one who has called us into community by his body and with his blood. Because of his crucified brokenness he is able to identify and enter into our own.

Come, Lord Jesus, come! We are battered, bruised, and shaken to the core. The soul and psyche of our nation are wrenching with shock, anger, and grief. Come heal this land. Amen.

Dealing with the Holiday Blues

Let’s face it. This is not an easy time of the year for many people. If you’ve lost a loved one, gone through a divorce, suffered through an illness or injury, faced a job loss, lost your home to bankruptcy or foreclosure, or struggled with addictions for yourself or a loved one, it may be difficult for you to feel thankful or to feel warm and fuzzy about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Here are a few tips for you or to share with someone you know, love, or care about:

1. There are no bad feelings, only feelings that make us feel bad.We cannot assign a moral value to our feelings. Our feelings are neither good nor bad; they just are. Try not to run away, repress, or numb what you are feeling.

2. It is O.K. to feel sadness and loss. When we are feeling down, blue, or depressed, we tend to project on to other people that they don’t want to be around a “stick in the mud.” The way the psyche works with this is, “If I don’t want to be with me, why would anyone else want to be with me?” The holiday pressure to be “up” makes it that much more difficult and just another expectation that is going to make us feel like we’ve failed. Don’t pressure others to “snap out of it” or “look at the bright side.” If you find yourself wanting to offer encouragement by using a cliché then don’t. Instead, offer your presence instead of presents.

3. Mobilize Your Feelings. I read an article in the U.S.A. Today about a woman whose daughter was murdered ten years ago and she has now decided to track down those who killed her daughter since the police were unable to do so. One couple I know who’s son committed suicide after battling addictions and depression for a decade established a fund to assist young adults to help provide case workers for those who are transitioning from Halfway houses to independent living arrangements. What can I do to help me take my power back and make a difference rather than to “give in" to the hopelessness and helplessness.

4. Find someone to share how you feel. I read a book many years ago by Jess Lair titled, “I Ain't Well, But I Sure Am Better.” He stated that Montana is known as the "Howdy State." People ride around in their pick-up trucks and wave “Howdy” to each other. Lair pointed out that there are more suicides per capita in Montana than any other state. We need more than "howdy" relationships. Be intentional about building real relationships. A fellow pastor walked into my office one day and said, "We're going to go to lunch today, you seem to be the kind of person that I want to get to know, and I want to be your friend." I’ve never had anyone do that before or since but it worked. We may have to choose who will be our "friends." If not, find a support group, a twelve step group, a spiritual director, a pastor, or a trained counselor.

5. Tell Your Story. We all have a story to tell and a story to share. Your story, where you are from, what you have done, your family and friends, the experiences you’ve had, are all variables that have helped shape your life up until this point. Most of our stories have to do with either joy we have experienced or pain we have suffered. Something happens in the telling and hearing of our story. Joy that is shared becomes a celebration. Pain that we release becomes healing. If we are carrying shame that is accepted by another the power of the shame is diminished and we move one step closer toward wholeness.

6. Discover a sense of community. Much of what we pass off as community is really pseudo-community. We have to get beyond the "howdy" stuff (#4) and the assumption that we are all alike, we agree on everything, or we all believe the same things. We don’t. Pretending like we do make us all operate under the assumption “it is better to be nice than it is to be real.” In real communities we struggle to figure out how to do both. If your church, synagogue, or mosque is just another place where you can be anonymous, you haven’t found a true community.

7. Capture a sense of what it means to be spiritual for you. The essence of the spiritual message of this season is that of hope. No matter how dark the world gets God is entering into our world in the same way we all came. No matter how dark your world may be God is entering to meet you in it.