I come down off the slopes, having spent a day skiing in Austria with some friends after a very full week of teaching students, meeting staff here, and doing church work at home. The day couldn’t have been better, and the upcoming night was perhaps, for me, the highest privilege of all. I was the speaker for graduation this evening. I love young adults, and at the end of spending a week with them, to be granted the privilege of offering final words before they sail from the shelter of these mountains to literally all corners of the world, is one of the great joys in my life. Could a day be any better? In fact, walking the 75 meters from the bottom of the slopes back to room I jokingly said, “I’m looking for something to complain about today, and I can’t find anything.” This perfect day is followed by a delightful celebratory meal where I sit with a couple German students who I’ve grown to appreciate this week. We shared laughter, hope, talk of the future. Shalom.
Shalom that is, until, just before leaving my room to go to graduation, I check my e-mails and get something about a mass shooting in Connecticut at an elementary school. 20 students dead. I feel nausea rising and scan the details before heading out the door to speak to these fresh young faces, alive with joy, anxious regarding their futures as they move into new, unknown chapters – as they move into this world that can be so stunningly glorious in one place and time, and so sickeningly dark in the other. It’s the same day in Connecticut and Schaldming, but the endings in each place are dramatically different.
I don’t change my message, because my message is the same regardless of happenings elsewhere: “You are called by Jesus, and empowered by His life, to be people of hope in the world.” I look at them, amazed at the fond affection that arises in my heart for these beautiful young adults in such a short time. I know a just a little bit of a few of their stories, but enough to know that, in varying degrees, the notion of being a person of hope in this world is intimidating, challenging, even unbelievable for a few. I say it again, with emphasis, “You can do this; and I know you can do this because One lives in you who can do this.” I tell a story about a time I was climbing, when a friend wouldn’t lower me after I’d failed, comparing that to our Lord, who also won’t pull us out of the story because of our doubts, failures, fears. We just need to hold His hand and keep showing up. I look at their faces, eager with anticipation, torn by the impeding dispersion, waiting, wondering… will this faith work? That’s the question they’re asking.
I don’t mention twenty dead children on the east coast of the USA. But when the ceremony is over, I go for a walk, and I ponder once again what we Americans mean when we call ourselves a Christian nation in comparison to other parts of the world, even though we:1. advocate for the freedom to own assault weapons in the name of pure freedom, in spite of the fact that six of the twelve largest mass murders in American history have happened since 2007
2. advocate for the freedom of late term abortion, which means that 50x more children die from late term abortion in one year than were killed today in a school on the east coast.
There are more policies that baffle me, but I’ll stop there for now and note that “Christian” can’t, in any sensible meaning of the word, be attached to either of these policies. Christian nation? “I don’t care about your church attendance, your commandments hanging in schoolrooms, your nativity scenes, or lack of them, on courthouse lawns. I care about your fruit. And when you continue to enact and enforce policies that make deaths like these so very easy, you aren’t looking very much like me at all.” That’s what I think Jesus would say .
Jesus is the one who “came that we might have life”, the one who’s Father doesn’t delight in the death of any person, at least if we take the Bible seriously. Our freedom to choose the fate of a fetus at 24 or 28 or 30 weeks, and our freedom to buy rapid fire assault weapons is more indicative of the idol we’ve made out of libertarian non-intrusion. As these examples illustrate, both parties do it; they just pick different issues.
When is someone going to take Jesus’ commitment to life seriously enough in this ostensibly Christian nation to address both sides of this equation and begin protecting life in the womb, and life in the schoolroom or the mall? I know, as you do, that legislation doesn’t fix the human heart, and that murders and abortions will happen anyway. But not as much, and perhaps more importantly, not with the blessing of the state.
There were smart students in the room this evening when I spoke, and as I looked around and watched them cheer for each other as names were announced, I prayed that each of them would become a source of light and life in this world, shining full on in the midst of this random hellish darkness that snuffs out lives. Maybe if enough of them shine bright enough, someday the killings will lessen. We hope, we pray… God help us