We Are the Mercy We Seek…

The Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings

The Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings

Krystle Campbell. Martin Richard. Lingzi Lu.
Three orchids withered on the vine this week.  They never had a chance to fully bloom.

This week, a nation grieves after having once more stared into the bloody, gaping maw of death and destruction visited upon the city of Boston.  Promising lives and futures were swallowed whole behind a cowardly and senseless act of terrorism, and the survivors now begin their struggle behind the unanswerable “why?”

As a nation, we will rally around the families of the dead and maimed and will embrace our brothers and sisters in Boston with action, thoughts, and prayers.  And despite their heroic efforts, the first responders will need our support as the floodgates of emotions finally catches up with them. We will be there for them as well.  But what about us?  What does the average person across America do to navigate the hopelessness and despair we feel in connection with these continuing acts of horror?

What can we do but personalize it?  To extend our support and love to those within our own sphere of influence.  While there is little most of us can do to directly help those who were caught up in the actual nightmare of Boston, we can certainly look around us and see ample loss and suffering in our own communities.  We can take that sense of hopelessness and turn it around, extending our compassion, our strengths, and our love to those who can use it best.  To feel a broken, aching heart for the victims of the Marathon bombing, yet remain blind to the suffering and pain of those closest to us is a cheap, selfish emotion.  We are better than that.

I had a back and forth with a writer friend of mine this week, before the bombings, about the need for each of us to take our gifts, whatever they may be, and assume responsibility for confronting the evil that is so prevalent in our daily lives.  She made what I thought at the time to be a defeating comment about how little we could do to combat all the evil that surrounds us.  I responded to her, perhaps a bit more harshly than I intended, that to accept that and do nothing was, in my opinion, an even greater evil.  She is a powerful writer with a gifted, compelling voice, and I reminded her that with that gift comes responsibility.  She already knew that…but I think my words caused her to stop and reflect for a moment on how powerful her gift really was.  Through the power of her writing, she can galvanize and motivate others into action.  She can do something!  And I know she will.

I often turn my own readers off when I chasten them not to look to earnestly for God’s mercy in times like these.  It isn’t that I don’t believe in God. I do.  I just don’t think He’s as merciful as we are lead to believe.  I believe He expects us to be the channels of that mercy.  But too often, we convince ourselves that falling on our knees in prayer is action enough, and nothing could be further from the truth.  We keep searching for God’s mercy while withholding our own.  And the acts of mayhem around the globe march steady on.  God has no stake in this, or at least none that my weak mind can discern. And if I spend my time looking for his tender mercy in these horrific acts, I’ll be spending most of my day walking in circles.  His mercy is not evident.  But ours can be.

Wow!  As I write this, the radio news channel is reporting a massive explosion in the city West, Texas.  15 people, including first responders, are dead.  Entire city blocks are leveled.  There are over 150 people wounded, and the count has just started.  Say a prayer, if you must, but once you get off of your knees, take then a step toward just one person whose life you can impact and do something.  If you want to honor the victims of far off tragedies, do so by embracing and helping those in equal dire circumstances nearest you.  Figure out what your “gift” is…and extend it to others.  Then, and only then, can we each do something about the relentless evil that invades our lives.

Is God a Heavenly Voyeur?

Helpless-Children

History is strewn with the wreckage of broken lives of those foolish enough to believe God really gives a damn.  There are those who fall to their knees in silent, unheard prayers when suffering threatens to consume them.  In the absence of reasoning, they fall back on a blind faith, a belief that there is some higher meaning behind their loss.  But their faith has never been anything more than the posture of not pulling the alarm when the fires of evil begin to spread. They relinquish their involvement or complicity, their grief, to the dark void of a silent, impassive God.

Waiting for God to intervene is both foolish and tragic. Like many people, I have been struggling to align my faith (or lack thereof) with all the insidious tragedy in the world today.  How is it, we doubters ask, that a compassionate and loving Father (God) allows an endless flow of hate, violence, death, and destruction to inundate our world?  Where is the omnipotence conveyed in the Bible?  The promises and the facts just don’t seem to come together.

How do we accept the “free will” argument of devout Christians who, in lieu of a meaningful discussion, always fall back upon stories in a Holy Book as evidence that God does not interfere in the affairs of man.  The good book is full of examples of Divine intervention.  He saved David from the Philistine Goliath, Daniel from the Lions, and Jonah from the whale. But He simply could not find the time to save 20 young first graders from the wrath of a scrawny, disturbed young killer in Newtown this past December.

Newtown victims

If intervention exists, why did the children of Aleppo, Aurora, Columbine, Iraq, Syria, Chicago, Los Angeles and Joplin, MO, and even the children of the  Holocaust, perish in such horrible deaths?

GermanyHolocaustChildrenPoland

Why the continual absence of settling answers? Not having answers certainly does not disprove the existence of God.  However, it certainly begs the conclusion that if there is a God, he is neither merciful or compassionate.  If His sole purpose is merely to sift through the wreckage of mankind and pick up the pieces,  this would seem to suggest that He serves more as a melancholy janitor and not the all-powerful deity we are urged to embrace through prayer and communion.

Faith requires that we enter into a relationship of God as Father and we as children.

God-The-Perfect-Father

I have to reject that offering.  A true Father figure allows his children to grow by painfully sitting back and letting his loved ones learn  through their mistakes, Yet he intervenes when the child is on the verge of mortal consequence. In that moment, I, as a father, would give my life to protect my children from lethal harm.  But God, it appears, sits back and watches, up to and through the bloody end of it all. Sure, He sacrificed his Son, His most precious gift, so that whoever believes in Him might one day know peace and love…just not today!

Christians are quick to point out that it all comes back to the miracle of faith.  They claim that to know is irrelevant and a false journey, and the only thing that matters is that we “believe” there is a sound celestial reasoning for the evils we encounter as we journey through this life. But it just doesn’t add up.  Believers respond that the reason I cannot find an answer to this and similar questions of Divine indifference is because of my lack of faith. I would argue that my lack of faith stems from clear evidence that God, in allowing such horrific events to shape our lives offers a  path toward reconciliation that is too great a burden for any of us to bear.

Ask the parents of the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy.  Ask the Mother of the child killed by collateral damage in a drone strike in Pakistan.  Ask the orphan who not only loses his biological parents, but is then placed in an abusive foster home.  The examples of pain are endless.   The examples of God’s alleged compassion can fit in one book.

bible

More importantly, believers argue, while we may openly seek understanding and purpose, it is only through the power of prayer that we can even begin to approximate resolution.  On bended knee, we utter our fealty to our Creator, accepting without question that He knows what’s best.  We should leave off our incessant whys. And so many, including myself,  refuse to accept tragedy through supplication and prayer, and continue to stand up and question.

no-prayer

It is somewhat patronizing to suggest that God is tolerant of our doubt and ultimately forgiving of our lack of faith.  He cannot be both the architect of this grand design of free will and demanding that we surrender it at the same time in order to achieve a more perfect union with Him. 

free will

If in fact we are flawed from the cradle due to the original sin of Adam and Eve; if we are offered salvation through the sacrifice and blood of a crucified Son, why then not completely deliver us from evil today rather than offering a rain check for peace and happiness only once we expire?  How is that compassionate or loving?  Why do we call Him Father and not the great Procrastinator?

Proverbs 21:30 offers, “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord.” I don’t enjoy struggling with faith.  I wish I could take the easy path and just turn everything over to His “voyeuristic” style of non-intervention.  But I can’t. More than anything, except truth, I want to believe that this all means something. Yet, I would rather confront the evils of this world from a position of knowledge and sympathetic understanding than to close my eyes in prayer and call that a day.

Our Creator put us in a scientific world but left us with an instruction manual no better than the Ikea assembly sheets that serve only to baffle and confuse.

science vs religion

I do not believe, or want to believe that He is nothing but a heavenly voyeur when it comes to our pain and suffering.  Unfortunately, that does seem to be where the evidence points.

I can already anticipate a Christian response for my questioning the “wisdom” of God.  I will be counseled to seek Him in prayer.  I’ve done that, to no avail, for 40 years.  How about instead of my falling to my knees in prayer, you Believers fall to your knees and help a parent mop up the blood of his/her slain child.  And please, don’t ask why.  Just have faith that somehow He knows why.  Your job is to accept and live with the pain.

The Making of a Delinquent

Sheldon McAllister, the youngest of the three boys huddled beneath the west entrance awning of the church adjoining the schoolyard, was feeling almost dizzy with excitement. This feeling had been intensifying all morning, ever since Chris Sheppard and Matt Pike had approached him just before the start of school and asked him to join them during recess. He was far too excited during classes that morning to even consider the why of the invitation; it was just such a good feeling that they were finally including him in something. Anything!

While all three were altar boys, Chris and Matt had never shown any interest in Sheldon except as the butt of their private jokes. He had known them since they were all preschoolers together here at Mary Star of the Sea, but he had never quite fit in; they were both taller and stronger, while he was thin as a rail. Chris cussed and spit, even in front of girls, yet Sheldon was too shy to even talk, except when answering a nun’s question, which in and of itself was a rare event. Matt, meanwhile, was mean, but funny. Sheldon was polite and dull. But now all of that was finally changing…they had reached out to him. They needed him!

Now, here he was, right in the thick of it, keeping an eye on the nuns patrolling the schoolyard full of kids in their white shirts and blue-plaid uniforms. He was supposed to give a signal when Sister Mary Alice and Sister Jean slipped behind the rectory office to grab their forbidden smoke. But what kind of a signal? Should he whistle or cough? He had once watched a show on T.V. where the lookout for a group of men about to rob a store had whispered loudly, “Hey, morons…the coast is clear!” Yeah, that’s what he would do, minus the crack about the morons. But before he got the chance to practice the line in his head a few times, he heard his name almost shouted out. “Hey Sheldon, you freak, get in here!!”

Chris was already inside of the church door, holding it open for Sheldon and impatiently waving him in. Sheldon looked back at the rectory for any sign of the nuns, and then quickly ducked into the church. They weren’t’ supposed to be in here alone! Father Brendan had been quite clear about that this past summer when he had caught Richard Longworth, another of their altar boy clan, fishing quarters out of the metal offering box beneath the votive candle stand. This brought Sheldon back to his current situation. Exactly what were they doing in the church right now?

“Get over here, you putz!” Matt whispered with urgency. He was standing next to the 3 foot tall offering box at the foot of the stairs leading to the altar. Chris bumped him roughly from behind and Sheldon reluctantly went to join Matt at the front of the church. He’d say something about the “putz” comment later, he swore to himself, knowing full well that that was highly unlikely. He didn’t want to put his newfound “friendship” in jeopardy by making early demands for respect. Chris took up a position on the left side of the box, while Matt stood ominously to the right. “Reach in and grab the money,” whispered Matt, almost as a threat more than a dare. “What?” replied Sheldon as his stomach pitched sideways. “Your skinny ass arms are the only ones that can reach the bottom,” added Chris. “What?” repeated Sheldon, unable to put any other words together that would convey his growing panic. “Reach in NOW!” demanded Matt as he reached out and grabbed Sheldon by the elbow, physically pulling him to the opening on the top of the box.

“That’s stealing,” croaked Sheldon, his voice cracking, almost pleading. “If you don’t put your arm in the box right now, I swear I’ll break it!” warned Matt. And Sheldon believed him. This new friendship was not going as he imagined, but at this point what could he do? Slowly he reached into the top of the box, his eyes never leaving Matt’s glare. The front of the box opening sloped to the back, and there was a row of sharp teeth lining the edge before it sloped again back to the front. Sheldon could feel the metal teeth scratching his forearm, but by now he feared Matt and Chris more than he feared getting scratched up.

Sheldon’s eyes rolled upward, and in that moment he was looking directly into the sorrowful gaze of Christ nailed on a cross hanging over the altar. Ashamedly, he closed his eyes and continued reaching. He twisted his wrist around the teeth and reach down another few inches. He could feel the crisp bills against his fingertips. “There’s money in here!” he croaked. Matt giggled almost girl-like and suddenly Sheldon realized he didn’t really want to be friends with either one of them.

“Grab it!” yelled Chris, no longer whispering, all caution thrown out the window with the anticipation of the impending bounty. Sheldon wrapped his trembling fist around a couple of bills, and in that moment, the end of recess bell rang out loudly. Startled, he jerked his arm upward whereupon the jagged metal teeth dug deeply into the soft flesh of his arm. “Owww!” he yelped, astounded by the echo of his cry ringing through the Church. “Help me…I’m stuck. Ow!” he cried.

But Matt and Chris had bolted for the exit, leaving Sheldon impaled to the collection box at the front of the church. “Hey guys!!,” he yelled, “help me!”, but his newfound “friends” were already out the door and back into the playground. It was in that moment that Sheldon realized with a darkening sense of fear what was about to happen next. School mass followed morning recess and before the first tears could fully fill his eyes, the doors at the front of the church swung open, and his classmates began filing in.

Sister Mary Alice was the first to spot him. “What the hell!” she screamed. Sheldon could feel his knees buckling and the teeth dug in deeper into his arm. He could feel blood trailing down to his wrist. Almost floating in her long black and white habit, the red-faced nun bolted to the front of the church, grabbing Sheldon by the shoulder, and jerking his arm violently upward.

The last thing Sheldon saw before he blacked out from the mix of pain and fear was the gold cross dangling against her white starched collar.