No, I don’t write books about God like Tony does. And I’m persona non grata on the Evangelical circuit where Tony thrives… But I like Tony–lots– and I’m rooting for his new book and him too. Here’s an excerpt.
Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
An Excerpt from ALOOF: Figuring Out Life with a GOD Who HIDES By Tony Kriz
We religious folks work very hard to try and conjure up God’s presence. We will do about anything we can to infuse enough God-feeling into an event to get people to show up. We use inspirational music, emotional films, and charismatic speaking to try to make the God-magic happen.
If God is real, maybe the mechanisms of spiritual longing already exist all around us. Now if we could only be attune to it.
Just last week my phone rang. It was Wilson. Wilson told me a tragic story of a twenty-one year old man who had been killed in a car accident. His name is Layne. Layne comes from a broken home and an unchurched family. His mom had no one religious to turn to for aide in her dead son’s memorial.
Wilson was apologetic. He didn’t know who else to call, so he asked if I would be willing to come to the boy’s high school on Saturday and perform a eulogy. What could I say? If there is one thing that Jesus cares about, it is a mourning mother and the care of a hurting community.
I arrived at the school and found a gathering of close to five hundred people. After a few songs performed by friends (all songs that would not darken most churches), a loving obituary and a slideshow of Layne’s short life, I climbed the stairs and took my place behind the podium before the large auditorium.
As the applause from the slideshow lingered, I let my eyes drift around the room. Bikers, tattoo-artists, and dozens and dozens of young people filled the seats. I wondered how many of them would ever consider entering a church, yet here we were, together.
This is what I said:
I woke up this morning earlier than normal. My first thoughts were about Layne, his father, Jason, and his mom, Michelle. I am not the sort of person for whom peace and faith comes easily. The emotion I felt as I lay in bed was anger. Anger that our young men and young women keep dying. This anger is what my Bible calls the “groaning.”
Throughout all of human history and across all cultures, when people are hurting, when they are sad, when they are overwhelmed by the groaning, we have always looked for something to help us understand. We have looked to one another and that is what we are doing here today.
We humans have also looked to our ancestors for help and for wisdom. When we hurt, we reach into the past and lean on the words of those who have gone before us. I want to try and do that for just a moment now.
Two thousand years ago a wise and thoughtful man said that if we want to move toward spiritual wholeness we will celebrate with those who celebrate and we will mourn with those who mourn. Today we celebrate together and we mourn together.
In all of my travels and in all of my studies, I have encountered one person that has consistently captured my loyalty. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” By blessed I don’t believe that Jesus meant lucky. If he did, that would be a barbaric thing to say. What Jesus meant by blessed is that when we mourn, we have a unique opportunity to be on God’s wavelength, we have a chance to be tuned into God. Today you have that opportunity; you have an opportunity to be tuned into God.
Jesus finished the statement by saying, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” In one of the letters in the Bible it says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
You see, you are being invited into a spiritual relay race. God is offering you his comfort, and in turn you are invited to participate with God and take that comfort to others…
I went on to quote Jesus’s words about preparing an eternal home and finished with Psalm 23.
I was shocked by the auditorium full of folks who would never go to church, but who hugged me and thanked me for taking the time to come and welcome them into life with God.
All of us religious folks want God to be near. We want people to come to our meetings and sit in a space where there is a plausible suspicion that God might just care about us, might be welcoming us, and might want to know us. We will do almost anything to make it happen.
Instead of planning church calendars with well-fashioned outreaches, elaborate programs, and improved mechanisms for entertainment, what would happen if we just lived so that we were prayerfully prepared to be with people in the God-longing moments that seem to happen all too regularly in this broken and hurting world?
God has already promised to be with the mourning. Maybe God will be with us, if we are with them…
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace