22 April 2019

Five things at difficult times

On the day of the Christchurch tragedy I was at school doing a day's relief teaching, which means an eight hour media blackout.  So when I eventually checked my phone it was clear that something terrible had happened in the world that day.  Fortunately I'd been spared the awful vision - it had been well and truly taken down by the time I got near it.  But  Facebook lit up with all manner of opinion and reaction. Of the many comments made online that day, one stood out for me - words from a dear and wise friend - which included the following, shared with permission.

"An horrific crime and tragedy has taken place in Christchurch, NZ. Keep silence, pray, weep, help. Then, reach out to someone who is not like you."

Keep silence.




Reach out.

Everything in this list is deeply good and the order is perfect, but it is the first point that ironically screams YES to me.  We are quick to speak, especially in this age of social media, and in increasingly unguarded fashion.  We are quick to anger.  Quick to level blame.  Quick to draw comparisons.  Quick to offer commentary when we're not in full possession of the facts.  We're apt to say things in the heat of the moment that at best, we regret down the track and at worst, bring the gospel into disrepute.  Keep silence.

And then we can pray.  Instead of talking to the world of social media, to our colleagues around the water cooler or even (perhaps especially) to our families around the dinner table, let's talk first to the One who is sovereign over all things.  Talk to the One whose care and concern is for the national and also the individual. Talk to the One who desires not the death of a sinner but that all would repent and turn to Him.  Talk to the One who understands the mess of emotion we all feel at these times - even the lack of emotion if compassion fatigue has set in.  Ask God to intervene in the situation.  Ask that He would help those afflicted, the families involved, those responding and those making important decisions in the midst of chaos.  Ask that he would help Christians on the ground to be and to do whatever they can, whatever their circumstances.  Ask that He would help the media to report wisely and well.  Ask that our own responses - wherever they might find their home - will be helpful and God honouring.

And weep. Giving rise to those feelings and sitting with the sadness for a while brings humanity to the moment, makes us a little less brash and a little more vulnerable, and maybe provides a moment for God to work in us.

At which point it's time for God to work through us.  It's time to help.  If you are in close quarters is there something you can do?  If you are further away from the epicentre is there something tangible you can offer like a donation of money or goods?   Do you know someone closer in who needs something or who knows what is needed at the source? 

A friend of mine, a quilter, found a group who were making quilts to give to the families affected by the Christchurch event.  She was able to make one, filled with all the love she could muster, to be sent to the source.

Perhaps far, far away from the epicentre you know someone who is impacted ("triggered" seems to be the word at the moment) for reasons known or unknown.  Can you hold their hand for a while?  Even carefully crafted words - like the words on my friend's Facebook post after keeping silence, prayer and weeping - help to encourage, redirect, point in the right direction.

Ring Theory
Don't forget the Ring Theory.  This is the most on point thinking I have encountered on the whole subject of helping.  Comfort in and dump out.  If you're facing into the epicentre you pour in comfort and help.  It isn't helpful to moan and groan to someone closer to the tragedy.  They're already suffering.  If you need to vent or debrief then you turn out from the epicentre and find the support you need with someone further away from the problem.  (Click on the links to read more.  It's life changing.)

And finally reach out to someone who is not like you.  Unless you are right at hand to help in the midst of the tragedy it is easy to feel helpless and hopeless. We want to reach out, to hug or hold a hand, to share what resources we have, to provide something immediate and tangible.  But if we live elsewhere we can't easily do that.  But we could take that energy, that motivation, that desire to help, that beautiful part that sits at the core of our humanity, and channel it where it's needed right where we are.  Don't waste it.  That may mean crossing a socio-economic, ethnic, cultural, religious, educational, age, hygiene or quite some other divide.  And that's a good thing.  Because when we truly hold hands with those different from us who are impoverished by their circumstances we begin to see that we're not all that different after all. 

Today we find our world in the midst of another tragedy - as I write the death toll in the Sri Lankan attacks is nearly 300 with 500 more injured - and we know that there will be more tragedies after this one, many unreported, and that this doesn't even begin to account for crises that occur at an individual level.  But these are good words to remember and to put into practice at times like these.  Keep silence, pray, weep, help and then reach out.

19 April 2019

Notre Dame Cathedral and our homing beacons flickering into life

Notre Dame Cathedral.

Day zero - the fire. 

Day one - the shock, with its epicentre in Paris and reverberating out across the globe, when it was still unclear whether or not this edifice would be saved. Shock felt by architects, historians, curators of precious things and maybe even a few musicians, given the cathedral's beautiful pipe organ.  Felt by tourists with their memories, tourists-to-be with their bucket lists and lovers of all things French.  And most significantly, but unreported and rightly so, the numbing shock of a small section of the population who call the cathedral their home church. 

Photo Credit: ABC News Thursday
18th April. Reuters: Philippe Wojazer
Day two - the curiosity.  What survived?  What didn't?  What does it look like?  What caused the fire?  What happens next?

Day three - the rebuilding. Millions of euros donated and we're moving on and fixing it all up.

It's such a fast moving world.  And it's such a tragedy that the world didn't sit with the emotions of Day One for just a little bit longer. 

I recently finished reading through a large portion of Jeremiah with a friend – the book of the Bible that documents in sad, brilliant detail the besieging of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and ending in the death of many, the destruction of the city including David’s palace and Solomon’s temple and the exiling of small number of faithful Israelites who listened to God's words through Jeremiah and obeyed.  

Since then I have been reading Lamentations and a selection of Psalms written in the early days of the exile.  These writings capture that Day One shock as they sit with the pain of their loss - the loss of their homes and their city, their key and defining state buildings, the life they knew - and the horror of the final months leading to the exile.  And it's clear that those who mourned most deeply mourned for something far deeper than the loss of buildings and livelihoods.  They mourned their loss of God who had come to dwell in Solomon's temple but was no longer there, and the loss of their capacity to meet with Him in the absence of the structure and the structures that enabled worship. 
And so on Notre Dame Day One the themes of Jeremiah and Lamentations were ringing in my ears.  And I think there was something far deeper than just the shock of losing beautiful things and an iconic edifice. 
When we went on our Grand Tour of Europe a couple of years ago I loved visiting the grand cathedrals and old, old churches.  Many of the grand cathedrals were built on ignoble foundations, financed through the sale of indulgences by the powerful to the terrified and the powerless. 
Even many of the tiny churches have their own unorthodox beginnings. We visited a beautiful Norman church in Newton Tracey, a tiny village in Devon.  My husband grew up there and the St Thomas-a-Beckett Church was his family’s home church.  Legend has it that back in the day the knight of the village was one of the four who murdered Thomas-a-Beckett and apparently said knight's mother ordered him to build this very church as penance.  We enjoyed a Sunday service there and had my mother-in-law’s ashes interred in the graveyard of what was her home church.
What I loved about these grand cathedrals and old, old churches was that they were places set aside for prayer and worship, and no matter how steeped in curious and corrupt goings on, there will have been faithful folk worshipping within their walls in every generation.  For centuries.  As one of my sisters said, walls imbued with the prayers and worship of the faithful. 
So I think the Day One shock seems to have struck something deeper in many.  So strange in a country that is known as being post-Christian and with the rest of the western world fast turning its back on the things of God. But I think for one day the homing beacon that lies within our souls, calling us Home, was flickering into life.  The part of us that recognises we're made in God's image and that wants to be in relationship with Him, even if we don't realise it.  There was something deeper happening than merely the grief of losing something physical.  And so many just didn't know what to do with it, having pushed God so far aside.  It is a great shame that in our fast moving lives this discomfort was quickly overtaken by curiosity and then plans with backers to rebuild in under a week.   
But the shock of the Notre Dame fire and the flickering of the homing beacon IS something.  For the Christian we are reminded that our hope is in God through Jesus, not in buildings and beautiful things - as much as we might love them.  And we have been given an opportunity.  Maybe there's still time to share the hope we have with those who, on Day One, felt a deep sadness at this news but didn't quite know what to do with it...that one brief day when they felt the call to Home.  But we'll have to be quick.  The world is moving on.