The headlines earlier this month stopped me in my tracks. The week before last they said it was a bad week for religion. In fact, CNN called it “religion’s week from hell.” There was controversy at the national prayer breakfast. Coptic Christians were murdered by terrorists claiming to be enacting God’s will and enforcing God’s justice. And in Chapel Hill three young Muslims from Raleigh were murdered at their apartment by a raging neighbor. Usually such headlines are well reserved from us, but Chapel Hill is far too close.
We can debate, argue, discuss and talk about the causes of all this violence: Extremism? Religious fundamentalism? Both? Anger gone amok? Some in the media blame Islam, blame Christianity, or blame all religions carte blanche. Still others blame the stress of global forces, cultural shifts, and the thinning of the modern nation state as personal privacy becomes ever more endangered and security becomes an end in and of itself. Regardless of the focus of the blame, the “old lines” and reliable parameters of political and economic systems are no longer solid lines. Safe havens, like peaceful college towns, no longer seem safe.
I am in a national pastors group called the Community of Pastors. The uncertain and violent times in which we live have been much on our minds and in our prayers. We have been exchanging articles and theological insights for several weeks. What should we say about events like police shootings and protests against public law enforcement? Geo-political crises like ISIS? Gun violence run rampant on America’s streets? How do we stand for peace (remember it was Jesus who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers”) while being honest about those in our time who would do evil as they kidnap, enslave, and murder the innocents? It is Jesus who calls us to pray for our enemies, yes. But one cannot simply pray monsters away. So how do we pray for those who would harm us while we work to keep ourselves safe?
I have been much in thought about all of these things. I have grieved. I have shuddered. I struggle for words. It is all so tragic. It is all so senseless and unnecessary.
We’ve lived through more than a decade of upheaval. The near future appears every bit as challenging as the immediate past. The call to people of faith is, “do not to lose hope” (read Romans 5:5). The call is for us to refuse to give in to our fears (read Luke 12:32). The call is to take courage and wait for the Lord even when the enemies seem strong and the odds seem long (read Psalm 27).
One of my daily disciplines this Lent is that I am praying fervently for peace. Alongside these prayers, I am going to keep reading about and studying the complexity of our times. And from these disciplines I might discover some words to say. I may even discover some words to share and actions to take. Words which are not complacent. Words and actions which are faithful to our Lord, our Savior, our God and our friend.