A horrific murder-suicide took place across the street from my house in September. I didn't hear a thing. Gunshots. A struggle. More gunshots. Nothing. I have wrestled with what I could have done. I wish I could have helped. I've wondered what happens that pushes a man to kill his wife while she slept and then their two boys that he adored. But never have I wondered if God is good. I know that it sounds weird. But I haven't.
Where is the good in three lives lost so violently at the hands of someone they knew and trusted? Coverage of the signs of depression in people and warning signs that could help someone else avoid this tragedy. There's a good. Neighbors out talking to each other - another good. Taking inventory of what is really important, yet another.
Could God have stopped this? Most certainly, He could do that. Do I wish He would have? Resoundingly, yes. But He did not, so we grieve. We get up each day hoping to feel the sting a little less. We heal. We hope. We love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. We remind ourselves to love our neighbors as ourselves because you never know what they are going through that you might be able to help with.
Go. Love your neighbor. Love them like you want to be loved.
A former co-worker had an odd habit of verbally characterizing practically everyone in terms of abnormal psychology. The accountant who simply requested a spending report was “anal-rententive”. A staff member who forgot a meeting had “dementia”. On entering a meeting that had lost heat on a cold January day, he asked, “Why is everyone so anti-social? How can I tell? Because you have crossed your arms over your chests.” My IT colleagues and I were shy. He labelled us “autistic”. However, a tech who gave a presentation he upgraded to “passive-aggressive”. A planning session? “Exercise in paranoia.” A change in plans? Yep, “schizophrenic”.
To be fair, our parents and teachers have conditioned us—oops—to judge, identify, and categorize. Our safety and progress depend upon adequate, timely discernment. Good leadership includes the ability, given incomplete information, to decide correctly and act at the right time.
Perhaps the telling difference between psych-guy and me was that he said what he thought, or as he diagnosed himself, "sometimes I have trouble with impulse control".
Psych-guy's extreme helped me recognize that (a) too often I judged when no judgment was required, (b) too often my judgment proved to be wrong, and (c) too often I was inclined to stick with a wrong first impression.
Subsequently, by avoiding hasty conclusions I have more time to see and hear. If judgment eventually is required, I usually by then have better facts, and less bias to confirm a previous impression.
For example, there’s the matter of you. Yes, you there, reading this blog.
Probably it is safe to assume that if you have read this far that you are smarter, more spiritual, and altogether nicer than most people. Do I think you are needy, hurting, and anxious for the future? Many people are. But you might be the opposite, overconfident and presumptuous. I don't know.
By not prematurely judging, I have saved time and embarrassment. The trick is to use that time to hear, see, and serve.
“Stop judging by appearances. Judge by what is really right.” — John 7
"You will be judged in the same way that you judge others.” — Matthew 7
"Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.' So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, 'He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.' But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, 'Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.' Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.' — Luke 19
"You should not play that in this place!" I shouted. "Stop it!"
On the church piano my three 6th grade classmates were banging out "The Knuckle Song", "Heart and Soul", and "Chopsticks". Simultaneously. To me, these piano vandals had no sense of the sacred—nor of music.
Last week at church I asked a new generation of kids, "Is any thing holy today?" We had read the scary story in 2 Samuel 6 where an apparently helpful guy touches the Ark of the Covenant, and God zaps him dead, just like in Indiana Jones. The kids were unanimous.
"Yeah, there are holy things! Praying is holy."
"This place, this church, it is holy."
"This book here? 'Holy Bible'!"
"At school we have holy water!"
Such is youth, believing in holiness but not respecting it. Is that worse than adults who show polite respect but don't believe?
I got older, and for a time came to believe that nothing holy remained in this world. On entering a country church or the National Cathedral, I had the same glib remark: "You sure could put a lot of hay in here." I wanted the holy, but I couldn't find it. Paul Stookey's "Hymn" kind of spoke for my yearning:
Sunday morning, very bright, I read Your book by colored light
That came in through the pretty window picture.
I visited some houses where they said that You were living
And they talked a lot about You
And they spoke about Your giving.
They passed a basket with some envelopes;
I just had time to write a note
And all it said was "I believe in You."
So I ask: Is anything here holy?
I'm not talking about merit a human confers on something, no holy hand-grenade. I'm not talking of sentimentality. I cherish certain favorite old shirts, but the shirts are holey, not holy. I'm not talking about "thin places", the Grand Canyon, or Gettysburg battlefield. Although I have a special feeling for February 29, no day really stands out as holy for me. Music and art often move me, but music and art are not necessarily holy. Exhibit A: The Knuckle Song.
A jovial rabbi once explained to me, "with the destruction of the Temple, we found that prayers substituted for sacrifices." I bit my tongue to suppress my disappointment at this convenient switch. I ❤ prayer. God hears and answers prayer, and so prayer can be holy. But praying does not make me holy, no more than running down the highway makes me a car.
By "holy", I am talking about what God Himself designates as set apart and dedicated to Him, where a person can reliably expect to meet God. Hard-core holy. I'm talking about a situation of unbearably frequent epiphany.
So, is there on this planet today anything holy?
Do you know what surprised me in this search for the holy? That I found it.
The holy that I found has the expected qualities of revealing God. The holy that I found can be very dangerous. The holy that I found can be very inspiring. The holy appeared where I least expected it.
A more articulate fellow than I spotlighted the discovery this way:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.... Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ ... is truly hidden.
People? In my life I did not need many bruises or a lot of study to come to view people as anti-holy. My own heart? Desperately wicked. Who has sinned? All. I stink, therefore I am. Sure, there's that "created in the image of God", but we lost that when Adam and Eve sinned.
Or did we?
Generations after Adam and Eve, after destroying most of the human race for its evil, in Genesis 9, God makes a big deal out of having made man in God's image: "Whoever kills a human being will be killed by a human being, because God made humans in his own image."
Even later, Paul does not hesitate to identify people as God's offspring (Acts 17).
James says you can't really praise God and then curse people who are made in God's likeness.
Peter has no love for people outside his little group, until a voice tells him, "God has made these things clean, so don't call them 'unholy'!" (Acts 10).
Jesus makes the outrageous assertion that, "God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son."
Today I am not so upset with silly music, and create some myself. Other music can make me more aware of God, and because God participates in that, I call it sacred music. Some places are places where God works, and therefore for my concerns are holy places. But that sacred music and those holy places depend on people, and I tend to recognize their significance only after the fact. Despite the knavery and distractions humans present, the holiest items around me are people. Dangerous people, challenging people, comforting people, creative people, instructive people, encouraging people, and many other kinds. I admit that whereas I was often disgusted, now I am more often intimidated if not by how people exhibit God's image, at least by their potential to do so. A holy place attracts sentiment, but it will crumble. God has created human beings in his image. People are where God has declared that he wants to live.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.