Again?

I don’t know where to start. Part of me has hoped beyond hope that somehow we would have found a solution to the problem of mass shootings in the United States. I’m wrong. And I am pretty well convinced that I will remain wrong until the most profitable field in medicine is Mental Health.

Oh…don’t get me wrong. I do not blame ALL shootings on people with mental health issues. Nah. That’s not what I mean. I just mean that until mental health becomes a priority for us in the United States – and let’s be honest, the only real priorities in the United States are profitable priorities – then we will not even be able to carry on the conversations that we really need to have in order to fix this problem.

We just are not sane enough.

Why do I say that, you ask? Well, it happened in 1999 in Columbine and all of our thoughts and prayers and energy went into changing nothing. It happened in 2012 in Newton and all of our thoughts, prayers, energy, and ranting on social media went forward to change nothing. It happened in 2018 at Stoneman Douglas High School and all of our thoughts, prayers, speeches, energy, and ranting/raving on social media went forward to change nothing. Does doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results sound sane to you?

We are not sane enough to have conversations about people killing people that lead to changes in laws that will protect life because our minds are clouded by the insanity that our rights may somehow be trampled. We are not sane enough to have conversations about people killing children because we are so entrenched in our own “belief systems” that we cannot even hear someone else without making them into a villain

We are not sane enough. And until we make mental wellness the most profitable branch of medicine – Nothing. Will. Change.

Am I speaking in hyperbole, being just a bit sarcastic, or attempting to be prophetic? I don’t know yet. But after this next batch of sad, needless funerals take place, if nothing changes, AGAIN, then we will all know.

So, today, I did what I do when I am forced to think about 19 dead elementary school children and their families and community trying to comes to grips with the loss. I prayed. And I worked on my own mental health, because we must all be a little bit insane since this is still happening.

I also share with you the prayer that I have prayed all day in hopes it will bring you to a point of lamenting both the violence and the lack of mental health we face as a society. Enjoy the song. Cry if you can.

Getting Rid of a Killer

My heart and mind is still filled with images and overwhelmed with emotions about the school shooting in Newtown.  As a pastor, I am dealing with parents and others looking for answers where there are none but I am offering them the Hope that this season of Christmas promises and praying that we will see God’s Light in the darkness.

I have had many conversations with people about “how to stop” these kinds of things from happening – fixing our mental health system, stricter gun laws, safer schools, etc.

I want to say that I don’t have the complete answer to solving that problem.  I read a haunting article on the first school bombing which took place in 1927 where 45 students and teachers were killed.  It made me take a very deep breath and realize that this is not a problem of our generation – it is a problem of our human nature.  It is a problem that only the God we find in a manger and on a cross can solve.

Yes…we must do ALL we can to make things safer but we must also do all we can to expose the darkness to the Light so that real change can take place.

At the same time that all this has been happening, I have been meeting with a group of people who wanted to study about how they could have “A Different Kind of Christmas.”  It has been a wonderful study.  We cried a lot as conviction ran through us.  We laughed at ourselves and the ways we get caught up the commercialization of this Holy Day.  We promised to look at ways we really can change the way we celebrate this holiday. We made plans for next year so we would not be facing the same convictions. And…we talked about living simply so others could simply live.

Personally, I have made a commitment to get rid of a killer. Watch this:

At least half of everything I receive at Christmas this year will be going to rid the world of the killer that is malaria. We may not know how to stop a shooter in our schools (yet), but with just ten dollars, I know that I can buy a mosquito net that will stop this other killer from taking the life of a child. I have been “texting” donations during worship. I am setting aside money to send in to “Imagine No Malaria” and I have just been letting everyone I know that this is something that captures my passion.Imagine-No-Malaria-Logo-3

I have even gone so far as to try and get the Imagine No Malaria team to send confirmations of text donations on Christmas Eve that include a picture of a candle, so that we can have “two” candle lighting services at Christmas Eve this year.  (Those of you who go to Christmas Eve services and have cell phones…think about it…let your imagination go for a minute!)  I don’t know if the folks at INM have worked things out with mGive.org yet, but I am still praying that they will.  (mGive, United Methodist Communications and Imagine No Malaria are all great groups…I just pray that they can capture this vision as well.)

INM Logo 2At the end of our “Different Kind of Christmas” study, the group I was with gave Jesus a wonderful gift in my name. Together, our class gathered enough money to buy ten more nets.
It may not sound like a lot to you – but think of it as ten more children getting to live.  Ten more parents not having to grieve.  Ten more people laughing and hugging and celebrating Jesus’ birthday.

I think Jesus would like that!

See you on the way home…and know that on Christmas Eve, I will be texting “MALARIA” to 27722 in order to send another $10 to get rid of a killer that can be stopped.

Newtown

Last Sunday morning, I had a wonderful group of children gather around me on the steps of the chancel at Princeton FUMC as we talked about a little owl that someone shared with us.  I told them that no matter what, “God knows ‘WHO’ you are.”  It was corny, campy and cute.  Yet, I don’t regret a single fist bump or hug any one of those children gave me.

Last night I listened to the Princeton Senior High School Jazz Band, First Block Choir and The Madrigal Singers all perform beautiful music for the season.  Their selections this year were interesting – even according to the director – who said many of the pieces were chosen simply because the showed a part of the “music of the world” that is so much a part of our culture.  Some of the songs were not Christmas songs but simply recalled that anyone could praise God.  I don’t regret clapping for a single one of the young people who gave of themselves.  I don’t regret being in tears as I heard the words to the Lord’s Prayer in an African language and English at the same time.  I don’t regret moving to the front of my seat and bursting with love and pride as my own daughter sang a duet of “O Holy Night.”

This morning I am doing my best to prepare myself for worship.  There are lots of good things that have happened this week as I prepare for a different kind of Christmas this year.  But this morning I read an Associated Press story on the shooting in Newtown and one quote brought me to tears again.  One child, in the midst of the shooting said, “I just want Christmas.  I want this to stop.  I just want Christmas.”   And now, I go to worship in song as we present our annual Christmas Cantata.  It is difficult to do that in the midst of all that has happened in Newton, Connecticut this week.

I was reminded on Friday by Bishop William Boyd Grove of the following:

Connecticut and Bethlehem

Our cheeks are wet with tears,
and our hearts are angry.
In our minds, the image
of our own children last Sunday
with their smiling faces
and their blue and white robes
Singing the Jesus story.

Violence and death
are not new to Christmas.
There is a part of the story we usually skip because it spoils the mood.After angels had gone home
and the shepherds back to
their fields, Herod’s soldiers
killed every boy child
younger than two,
hoping one of them was the new king.
And within a few days
the Christmas Child was a refugee headed for Egypt.

Christmas was violent
and is today.
Bethlehem and Connecticut.

We pray that Christmas angels
Who sang on Christmas night
will hang out in Connecticut now;
much work to do there.

His words reminded me of the story I mentioned during last week’s sermon from Matthew:

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

And I was also reminded this week that in some places in our world children die by violence each and every day – the Sudan, Darfur, Palestine are just a few that come to mind.
This morning, our congregation will gather to worship.  We will gather to proclaim boldly that even in the midst of the darkest that this world can bring, our Savior comes.  Jesus arrives in the messiness of our world.  Jesus arrives in the midst of the grieve of Newton and all those who look at their children differently – in our country and through out the world.
May Jesus come to us this Advent and Christmas…God knows we need him!