The School of Tragedy

Stephen Colbert recently started his run in late night television with a captivating interview.  He had Vice President Joe Biden on as a guest and, if you haven’t seen it, I recommend looking up the video.  Biden and Colbert had both gone through traumatic losses in their lives, each man losing loved ones and family members in accidents.  Biden’s in a car accident and Colbert’s in a plane crash.

They discussed the recent passing of Biden’s son Beau, in May.  Both men being practicing Catholics, Colbert asked how Biden’s faith helped him in grief. Joe quoted Kierkegaard in response with:

“Faith sees best in the dark.”

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Yesterday we paused, as a nation, to remember the years since 9/11.  I believe tragedy and loss teach us more than the good times. Our struggles make us see God more clearly.  Our pain draws our eyes upward. Our emotions seed our souls for the divine.

Every generation has their traumatic moment.  My grandparents had WW2.  My parents had the assassination of President Kennedy. We had September 11th.  Our children will certainly have their own.

We can only hope and pray the scars do not run too deep.

For tragedy breeds hope. Hope, unity. Over a few days, back in 2001, we forgot about politics and dividing lines. Everyone just wanted to help.

In the Biden interview he also stated that America could be great if we could just get out of our own way. Maybe that’s the point.  The losses, death, struggle and despair helps us get out of our own way. It strips us from all pretense.

I pray, if you are in the midst of tragedy in this season in life, you find yourself closer to the divine.  I pray you see more clearly in the dark, for your time is not over.  Your story hasn’t ended.  You carry on, hold memories close, and step forward with those losses living right by your heart.

For hope is real and strength will come from above to carry you through.

~Matt

What to do When They Hate You

I was a freshman in college at West Chester University, seated in my Humans and the Environment class in September, 2001. The professor made her way into the room holding a sheet of paper she had printed from “the Internet.”

She told us that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers, paused, then started class.  After it was over, I waited for the bus from North Campus to pick us up and return us to our dorms.  When it arrived, students exited and many were visibly upset.  I had no idea what happened.

Until I flipped on the television.

In the span of a morning, almost fifteen years ago now, everything had changed. We woke up on September 12th with a new view of the world.

We realized that someone out there saw America as an enemy. They hated us.

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Flash back years before to middle school.  We had just purchased our year books.  The tradition was to pass around our books so others could sign them.  I remember looking in the back of someone’s book and seeing a paragraph mentioning my name with a derogatory comment.  This person had signed every book in the same fashion.

He didn’t like me.

Now we are living in one of the most exclusionary times in recent memory. There is a race to victimization, to rebel, to grasp for power against imperfect systems.  There are people calling themselves believers holding tight to fear, prejudice, and discrimination.

Jesus told us we would be persecuted by those in the World as we followed his teachings, but to not worry as he had overcome the world.

There is a calendar hanging at work, one with the Bible verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” on the month of September.  I had one man tell me he would forgive me for hanging it up and that he was offended.

So how do we respond?

Two things to think about:

1-Does your faith drive or pull you? God doesn’t owe us anything. Yes, Jesus taught us how to pray and told us that God will answer prayers, but is that the point? God is not the ATM in the sky.  God is the force that calls us to make a difference.  Faith is not a transaction or condition.

As humans we believe, then shake our fists at our suffering.

Faith is an engine.  It is the power driving us forward to rejoice in all circumstances, to pray without ceasing, to love those who hate us, to live without the pull of guilt. To follow Jesus in a new and radical way of existence. Faith and grace are hand in hand, erasing the transactions and evening the balances.

2-Can you let go?

Stephen, in the Bible, was the first person killed for his faith.  We read that, as he was stoned, he prayed for the forgiveness of the men killing him. We also read that, as he was dying,  the heavens opened and Stephen saw Jesus standing at the throne of God. This is the only point in the Bible where Jesus is noted as standing by the throne.

In Kentucky, there is a clerk defying the Supreme Court and refusing to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on her “faith.” There is a scene where Jesus is asked about paying taxes to Rome.  He replies with a question about the image on a Roman coin.  The crowd tells him that Caesar’s image is on the coin. He then says:

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.

He tells the crowd to pay their taxes.  Be good citizens and still own their faith.

She needs to do her job because she claims to follow Jesus, the issuer of the commandment to Love our Neighbors, not close the door in their faces.

I remember the middle school yearbook because it hurt me.  We remember all our scars and moments of pain. Our faith allows us to keep moving, be shaped into a new creation, and watch the scars turn into beauty.  When our focus shifts to others, we find peace.

I don’t know about you but, right now, peace is exactly what I need.

~Matt