It’s almost ironic that just a week ago in my last blog to the parish I spoke about the need for peace. I spoke about my own experience as a pastor and as a priest and how all I want is peace. I also spoke how elusive peace can be in a world that doesn’t seem to know how to stop arguing, always trying to be right, and uses religion and politics – sometimes simultaneously – as a weapon of war.
Now the world doesn’t have just 32 major wars or conflicts going on (Yes, that is 32!). It has another war that has always been terribly difficult to resolve. The Middle East and the tensions between Israel and Palestine have not been resolved literally for hundreds of years. And no matter where you place your allegiance or your belief system, terror is never right, and denying a people their humanity is never right as well.
I recently asked few people who never quite made it back to regular worship since the pandemic why they stayed away. One family said that they are just out of the routine and it’s terribly difficult to get the kids up on Sunday mornings now. Another couple said that they’ve tried different churches since the pandemic and they just can’t find one that is “fun”!
After praying about these comments, and others, and trying to find ways to allow the parish to recover from the losses suffered over the last few years, I realized that somehow we’ve all been seduced into thinking that church is meant to always be ‘fun’, or the ‘happiest place on earth’, like Disney without the rides and admission fee! It’s supposed to always somehow be ‘entertaining’ to us.
When I was in seminary, I felt in love with the insight in the wisdom of noted protestant theologian and biblical commentator Walter Brueggemann. Brueggemann is surely one of the most influential Bible interpreters of our time and perhaps he said it best when he reminded us that the church is not supposed to be a place of entertainment, but rather a place of revelation. The church isn’t meant to be happy all the time, but the church IS meant to be honest all the time. In other words, the church is to be a safe place where prophetic voices still reign, and followers still believe, and listeners still hear the word of God, and the Word of God! As Brueggemann ended his commentary, “Out of such honesty, happiness arises. There is nothing more emancipatory than being able to tell the truth and a safe place.”
It’s almost impossible to believe that the terror group Hamas (somehow unbelievably worse than ISIS ever was) attacked Israel during Simchat Torah, a festive time when the yearly cycle of the Torah is completed and the next cycle begins. And yet Jews around the world still recited the first words of the Torah. ‘The world was in darkness, and there was one alone until a partner was created to be with them in union and in unity.’
As I stated on my personal Facebook page in reaction to this conflict and horror of a people.
“I’ve watched the posts. I’ve tried to pray, too but words remained silent. It’s not so easy to put my full support behind any one nation when there’s so much hate and so many civilians who are hurt, dying, dead, and simply want a life of peace. This isn’t black and white for me because evil dwells in the equation and peace will never come when a people are oppressed or marginalized or threatened. So I turned to a place I often find balance and in their words I found a moment and a way to pray, if only for a moment. I pray now for everyone. I pray for a solution that won’t be easy. Then, again, look at what our nation has become. Yes, it’s not easy.”
No, it is not easy and no, the church isn’t always a place of peace or agreement. But perhaps we should all be reminded that darkness comes, and when it comes, it’s far better to be in a place of honesty and truth and community than to be all alone no matter how happy you can seem to be at other places, but oh so briefly, like Disney.
See you Sunday. At least I pray so. I won’t have all the answers, but we can still pray as one community in hope.