What Waterfowl Taught Me About Suicide

For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. — Wisdom 11:24, NRSV

When I was eleven years old, I tried to hang myself in the bathroom of my elementary school gym before basketball practice. Luckily, it didn’t work, and as I lay there, cursing myself, jacket sleeve still tied around my neck, my Dad came in looking for me. I will never get the quiver of his voice out of my head, as he cried my name and moved like lightning to my side.

I am not sharing this for shock value or pity, though I am sure some of my readers are surprised. The reason I tell this story in detail is because suicide is a major issue that many speak of and experience, yet the loudest voices seem to come from those who have never felt that depth of darkness. I am telling my story because I want you to know, dear reader, that I have looked this monster in the eye. It left its mark on me, and if there is one person out there who sees that it doesn’t have to be the end for them, then this post will have done its work.

I mentioned in my previous post that I went for a walk in a local park this past Saturday. Besides the super happy dog and lovely dandelions that I got to see, I saw some ducks and other assorted waterfowl in the pond that the park is centered upon. Watching them churn their feet and “swim for their lives” as I approached the shore, I noticed something I had never given much thought to before.

As the ducks swam, they cut through the water, leaving behind a triangular trail that expanded as they went, leaving an enduring mark that was much larger than the duck herself. I had considered writing this post for a long time, but it had retreated to the back of my mind until I noticed this seemingly minor detail. As it turns out, nature has much to say on the topic.

You see, we all leave trails behind us. Like the duck, we cannot see the trail, as we are continuing to move on through life, but it is still there, always expanding until it becomes a part of the greater body of water. In the same way, our lives (all of them) leave a trail that moves from our immediate vicinity into the greater narrative of human history. We cannot always see it, but it is there.

I often hear that “life can’t be that bad” for the suicidal person, and I get what those people are trying to say. Keep things “sunny side up” and such. But in that place of deepest darkness, there is no sun. There is no “bright side.” We cannot see the positives of our existence.

I had no idea of my parents’ love for me at that time when I was 11 years old, and many years after. There was no seeing the friends I had made and the lives I had touched in my short time. But now that I have the chance to look back and reflect, I am so glad that my plan failed that night.

I would never have met my little brother, who I now can’t imagine life without. I would not have the amazing wife I have now, nor would my relationship with my parents have had the chance to heal so that I could enjoy the closeness and mutual love we now share. Mission trips to Costa Rica, Mexico, and all across the U.S. would not have happened for me, and that would be one less positive relationship for me and for many people. I never would have preached the Gospel and worked with an amazing group of youth for over four years, never would have had the chance to be there for my dearest friends, and never would have come to the understanding of God’s transformative grace that I have now.

I also wouldn’t be writing this message that I feel many of us need to hear.

If you are reading this and struggling with suicidal thoughts, whether they are ideational or actually being planned, please talk to someone. Say it to somebody, because right now you do not know the impact your life (and death) has had and will have on the world around you. You are not broken. You are not worthless. There is a point and a purpose for you.

I have often quoted the verse that started this post, that God loves “all things that exist,” and He detests “none of the things” He has made. But the passage continues to say that God’s “immortal spirit is in all things” (12:1). God’s immortal Spirit rests in you. It rests in all of us, and that means that none of us are here on accident. We are here because God desired us to exist. God wanted you here because He loves and believes in you and your ability to make a difference.

Now I am not promising you that everything will always be good. This is not an appeal to “keep on the sunny side of life.” I still struggle with depression and suicidal ideation. These things are a part of me. However, they are now tools with which I can empathize and love others as I feel I have been called to do. No matter what darkness you face in your life, the power of God can turn it into a blessing that will ultimately serve Him and help to heal you and others.

But that cannot happen if you are not here. If your life ends, your story ends at its darkest moment, and nothing can ever be made better. That is something worth remembering.

My prayer for you is that you remember that we all leave trails behind us. Our stories are a part of the greater “pond” that is human history, whether we know it or not. There are people who are a part of our story we have yet to meet. There are people (and a God) who love and care for us, who would notice our empty seat or cold side of the bed.

If you struggle with suicidal thoughts or ideations, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are planning to go through with it, call 911. Your story does not have to end. You matter to us all, and this world would not be the same without you.

Even if you do not struggle in this way, remember your trail. What are we leaving behind? Are we leaving examples of love, compassion, and just action in our wake, or are we leaving… something else? Let us go forward remembering that God’s purposes for us are to live life fully and for the glory of His name, and let us leave our mark on this world, following in the example of Christ, who has won the victory over death and darkness, and who passes that victory on to us.

Peace be with you!

The Task Ends With Peace

When the Lord gives rest to your kindred, as to you, and they too have occupied the land that the Lord your God is giving them beyond the Jordan, then each of you may return to the property that I have given to you. — Deuteronomy 3:20, NRSV

If you’re like me, you have wondered when everything finally stops. Life is a constant, tiring journey full of stressful decisions, twists and turns, hills and valleys. For the person of faith, concerned with the improvement of the world based on their belief system, this is made even more difficult by the constant clash between one’s ideals and the seeming reality of earthly life. For every step we take forward, it seems that we are given yet another series of challenges to face.

Therefore, when joy in our progress is constantly hindered by new challenges, it is only fair that we sometimes wonder when it all will finally stop. Isn’t there some checkpoint that we get to when the veil peels back and we are able to just coast? Unfortunately not, my friend.

You see, the effort of changing one’s world by way of God’s grace is a life-long trek sustained by faith, hope, and (above all) love. In the text for today’s post, Deuteronomy 3, Moses recaps his conversation with the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, all of whom having been allotted terrain beyond the Jordan before Israel’s formal entry into the Promised land (verses 12-16). The temptation must have been strong for those tribes to settle, so Moses instructs them to continue in the journey until “the LORD gives rest to [their] kindred” (verse 20). The Israelite journey began together, and it will end together.

The same essential truth is evident in our lives. Only when peace, justice, and wholeness are a reality for all can our efforts cease. As such, it stands to reason that it is only “when the complete comes” that we will achieve the rest we seek (1 Corinthians 13:10). The life of faith is not a checklist that, once fulfilled, allows us to rest on our laurels. It is a journey to the day when Christ comes in final victory and we all experience the blessed feast together.

So perhaps you have been sprinting through life. In spurts, you make progress only to be slowed by even more derailing challenges. In that case, it is best we examine how to consistently sustain our efforts to share the light and love of God in Christ with the world. We must exhibit the humility to accept our constant room for growth, stay connected to God through prayer and ritual, and regularly commit acts of charity that we may embody the peace we wish to one day experience.

It is important to note that Moses assured the tribes that the day would come when they could rest. I am offering the same words of encouragement. The day will come when you and I see and understand the fullness of God and become partakers in it. We will have our rest. For now, however, we must be content with the little glimpses we are allowed through our everyday interactions with the Divine.

With every kind word and action, with every embrace of the Eucharist and other rituals, and with every moment spent in community with the Spirit, we are able to foster an enduring sense of joy that will be brought to completion at the appointed time. It is my prayer that you will join me in our long journey together. May we all earnestly tread the road of Life, helping each other experience a little bit of Heaven all along the way.

Peace be with you!

For the Days I Don’t Believe

No, you didn’t misread the title. There are days when the idea of believing  in and connecting with the Source of all Being in the universe makes no sense to me. Usually, these days are spawned by my rebellious nature. Someone tells me what I should believe or what people of my faith believe, and my instant response is to resist when the subject appears to be arbitrary or unknowable.

Do you ever have those days? I bet you do. I have found that people are reluctant to admit it because, as I covered in a previous post, doubt is not considered acceptable by many in the Christian world. It is often seen as a weakness, and people like me are often blamed for our unbelief and the inability to “feel connected” to God.

This is consistent with current worldly trends. Faith is seen as a matter of feeling, so we seek worship environments with plenty of good music and lighting. When we don’t get what we want, we move on until we do, never thinking that our dependence on how we feel is getting in the way of our worship.

Our world also promotes tribalism. Whether it’s politics, social causes, or our faith, it is considered weakness to question the groups to which belong. After all, there is no security in admitting we might be wrong.

Yesterday was one of those days when I didn’t feel like a believer. My connection to God just wasn’t there, and my mind was deconstructing everything to which I normally devote myself. It was a rough day, but like all such days, an important lesson was close at hand.

Today, I stand as a believer, a person of the Way of Christ, not because I feel fuzzy when I think about it, and not because there was an open, front-row parking spot at Target this morning.  I believe by choice. I believe because I have an entire life story to look back upon wherein I see the power of my faith at work in my life.

My faith has made me a better man. It has sustained me in some of the darkest and most painful moments in my life. Days may come when my feelings and thoughts betray me, but in the end, I have to make a choice. We all do.

I don’t know if this is a struggle you have, but if so, I want you to know that you’re not alone. Instead of relying solely on how you feel or how well you’re able to rationalize your faith, I encourage you to remember the powerful transformation brought about by belief in Jesus. If you don’t have that experience, I pray that you will decide to strive for it. In any case, don’t judge yourself for questioning. It can actually be a healthy practice for your faith!

If you don’t struggle with your faith and tend to… admonish (judge) those who do, please stop. Compassion is part of the Christian witness, and when we fail to show it to everyone, we fail to walk in the Way. It is scary when people we know and love express doubt in something so dear to us, but it’s important to remember that love, support, and camaraderie stand a much better chance of promoting faith and peace than judgment and fear tactics.

Jesus let’s us know that faith is costly, and it won’t bring us all the peace, security, and prosperity we crave in life. Rather, we will be met with persecutions. We are told, “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name” (Luke 21:16-17, NRSV). There are going to be days when the Way of Jesus doesn’t seem appealing. So what then?

We have to make a choice. Faith is a decision to walk in the Way, even when it doesn’t appear to do anything for us. When we make the choice to worship and act in faith in spite of our feelings and doubts, we are actually closer to the heart and mind of Christ.

I pray that you will join me in making this choice. It is a Way of adversity and self-sacrifice. Days will come when it makes perfect sense for us to want to abandon it. However, we must remember that it is also the Way of God’s transforming love, which makes the risks well worth it.

Peace be with you!

Focus, Please

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. — Romans 15:13, RSVCE

We had our weekly Bible study at the church last night, and we managed to finish our study of Revelation. I love studying the Revelation to John, though many people are put off by its intense and foreign metaphors and imagery. It took me a long time to crack it open and appreciate the depth and meaning behind each passage, and the most important lesson I learned from Revelation, which translates to the entire Bible, is to be careful not to miss the forest for the trees.

We as 21st Century humans tend to get lost in the details. With Revelation, all of the gore, death, plagues, and judgments snag onto us, and we end up so worried about the who’s, what’s, and when’s that we forget what the letter was designed to convey. By the same token, while I may post a lot of stuff about what it means to think, act, and live according to the faith, it can sometimes be easy for me or my readers to forget the underlying truth that serves as the foundation of the Scriptures and traditions of the Church.

Paul sums this truth up wonderfully in his letter to the Romans when he offers up the short blessing at the top of this post. For all his theological explorations, moral exhortations, and apologetic explanations, Paul brings his readers back to center by invoking a blessing from God that perfectly describes the intent of the entire Gospel. God seeks to give us “joy and peace in believing,” that through our Christian faith we might receive the presence of the Holy Spirit which fuels us with real, substantive hope.

Faith in Christ is not designed to fill you with guilt or a sense of responsibility for solving all of the world’s problems. It’s true, Christian religion should produce works in us that help channel God’s grace to others and transform the world for the better. We should be made humble enough to recognize our sinful nature, calling upon God to restore to us the Divine image He always meant for us to have. The purpose of all of this, however, is to provide believers with a sense of joy and peace.

We are to be filled with joy knowing that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made. Each of us is here on purpose, and we are redeemed by the love of a God in Whose eyes we are worth dying for. A sense of peace should fill us at the knowledge that God has already overcome the negative powers of this world, and they are just slow to catch on. We no longer have to stand in the fear of death which makes us act sinfully. Rather, we are free to recklessly love each other as Christ did for us.

Finally, there is hope. You may have noticed that I added the words “real” and “substantive” to the word “hope” earlier, and this is because we have had hope peddled to us in very shallow and insulting ways for a long time. We’ve been promised health, security, and happiness if we just looked a certain way, feared certain people, or had a certain amount of guns. False gospels preach that God will always be on our side if we but “plant that thousand dollar seed” in some scoundrel’s televised ministry. All of this is garbage, and a mockery of what hope actually is.

Real hope is something that fuels your life. It takes root in your soul and is unshakable. It enables you to think, speak, and act in ways you never thought you could. Hope is the belief that what we see is not the end, and that a better reality is coming and is already here.

I plan to write more stuff that gets into the “nitty-gritty.” After all, details are fairly important. What’s more important, however, is that we remember the point of it all. God’s will is that you and I live our lives with true joy and peace, and that our faith in Him might spark hope in us. This hope is rooted in our identity as beloved children of God, the love of that God that defeated the grave, and the understanding that the best is yet to come.

Peace be with you!

Freedom Isn’t A Blank Check

…Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.” — Matthew 17:26-27, NRSV

Why is it that whenever someone defends “freedom of speech” in this country, it’s because they are being a jerk? I suppose it is technically true that one can say (mostly) whatever they want, and people can respond (to an extent) however they feel is appropriate. My issue is that the freedoms we seem so eager to embrace appear to be free of any duty to utilize them responsibly, and this is a problem, especially when we are examining Christian behavior.

Enter Jesus. In the text above, the full passage being found here, Jesus and the disciples are accused of not paying the temple tax, a payment that more or less went to the upkeep of the Jewish Temple. To not pay it would be considered both rude and unlawful according to the mandate set forth in Exodus. Jesus then has a conversation that parallels earthly kingdom practice with the nature of God’s kingdom, and in both of those, Jesus indicates that “the children are free.”

Yeah, buddy! Dang right, we are free. We don’t have to pay a stupid temple tax. Of course, Jesus then says, “However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”

Wait a minute. You just said we were free… Yet we still have to act in a way that is inoffensive and perceived to be costly?!

That’s right.

It concerns me when I see my fellow Americans, particularly Christians, emphasizing freedom when it comes to what they say and do with no regard for how it affects others. The current situation with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford is a perfect example. For me, the question isn’t even about those two individuals anymore, especially when I  see people react the way they have to Dr. Ford’s accusations. Our nation has once again had its rape culture exposed, this time defended by partisan politics. Little “jokes” and “jabs” here and there have surfaced, many of which amounting to outright attacks that make light of sexual assault survivors in general.

Sure enough, when someone is accosted about these tasteless comments, they use words like “freedom” and “opinion.” But if Christ teaches us anything, it is that our freedom is not a blank check to speak and act however we want, as God is still concerned about how we use our freedom. After all, Adam and Eve had freedom… and their bum choices had severe consequences, yes? So will all of our crappy words and actions.

In Romans 6, Paul encourages us to “No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness,” but to “present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.” Jesus did several things He didn’t have to in order to not ruin His witness to the truth of God. We should follow their lead and stop using our freedoms and feelings to justify our callous comments and actions that could have damaging effects on others.

I hope you will join me this week in keeping better track of how we use our “rights.” While we technically can do many things, that doesn’t mean that we should make use of that freedom at all costs. If we are willing to sacrifice the emotional and physical well-being of others to express our “freedom,” we are still under the slavery of sin and far from accepting of the transformative grace of God. If, however, we temper our freedom with understanding and compassion, we will find ourselves walking in the way of Christ, the way of the Cross, the way that leads to life.

Peace be with you!

Black and Blue Lives Matter

Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?” He replied, “Neither; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” — Joshua 5:13-14, NRSV

With the shooting of Botham Jean by a Dallas Police officer and the killing of Garrett Hull, an undercover Fort Worth officer, we here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have seen another set of contributions to the national “debate” regarding police officers and their treatment of people of color. I render “debate” this way because we aren’t truly debating, whether it be this or any other issue. Debate is a discussion in which two positions interact for the purposes of finding the truth. It is a conversation that happens in community. What we are doing these days is more like screaming at each other from inside our own little boxes.

What I mean is that both people of color and police officers have experiences that are true. People of color were never intended to have an equal share to success and dignity in this nation, and we are in the midst of historical growing pains as we try to overcome a prejudicial narrative that spans over two hundred years, made more difficult by the tendency to devalue certain lives based on whether or not they meet a fickle set of standards in the eyes of the public. On the other hand, police officers are often under-trained, under-paid, and unsupported as they enter into situations we’d all like to pretend don’t exist. They are tense, and they have good reason to be, especially when a routine traffic stop or sitting on a lunch break can become deadly activities.

Families of police officers are fearful every day that their loved one might not make it home. This feeling is both shared and amplified in communities of color, whose fear is actually stoked by the sight of a blue uniform. Further, both officer families and marginalized citizens earnestly desire justice and peace for those they love.

These commonalities, however, are largely ignored in our national dialogue. A motto as specific as “Black lives matter” chafes a public that is still not at peace with its own history, and is misrepresented as an attack on law enforcement and all other lives. Meanwhile, officers are demonized, killed, and blamed individually for systemic issues. To make matters worse, inflammatory rhetoric surfaces that further deepens a divide that never should have been there, putting all parties in greater danger.

So what do we do?

So far, it seems to me that we pick our “box” and scream at those on the other side, blaming “those people” for the present state of our country… and the world loves it. The world is all about handing us two human-made sides from which we must choose. We cannot stay in the middle, for this is a most unacceptable neutrality. When it comes to our politics, religion, or this specific example of Black and Blue lives being pitted against each other, we must exclusively decide.

Screw that.

I’m done, and I hope you are as well.

The truth is, there is no reason to “pick a side” in this worldly debate. Why? Because understanding and reform are needed across the board if we want this nation to move forward with justice and peace. When citizens feel safer, officers are safer. When officers feel safer, citizens are safer. Too much overlap exists for there to actually be exclusive “sides” in this (or any other) national issue.

To illustrate this, I’ll share a conversation I had with an Orthodox priest from Ferguson, Missouri, who was chaplain to both police officers and protesters in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer. During one protest turned riot, looters from surrounding areas had started tearing into a local food pantry. Within seconds, protesters, who were ahead of police forces, performed a citizen’s arrest, locking arms and barring the perpetrators from leaving the charity until officers arrived.

“There,” he said, “in the midst of all that chaos and shouting, I saw hugs exchanged, tears shed, and finally, everyone understood that they all wanted the same thing.” The priest went on to say that even in separate consultations with police and protesters, he found the concerns of both to be similar in every way. They all wanted justice, they all wanted peace, and they all wanted everybody to be okay.

My own experiences testify to the truth of his claims. I have marched in and been a part of Black Lives Matter protests and events. I have also sat with my father-in-law and the rest of my wife’s family in fundraising dinners in honor of fallen police officers. I’ve listened to my Black brothers and sisters and my police-related friends and family as they all described the horrific fears and realities that face them on a daily basis.

So what do we do? It’s true that we can’t just sit neutral, but I also believe that just picking one of the “sides” presented to us is far too simplistic. This is where the text at the beginning of the article comes into play.

At this point in Joshua’s story, he is preparing to attack Jericho. He sees a representative of God, and asks him which side he is on. Notice what the angel says. “Neither; But as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” The Hebrew word the NRSV Bible translates as “Neither” actually means “no.” God is not on any particular human-made side. God is on the side of righteousness, and perhaps that is the side we need to be on as well.

It is not righteous to use our experiences to judge or dismiss those of other people. We are not acting righteously if we do not recognize that God weeps for all who suffer, including our officers and brothers and sisters of color. Progress is not found in vengeance, violence, or one-sided narratives aimed at deepening social and cultural divisions. God’s desire is for all of His children to fully live, and the hatred, suspicion, and fear that so frequently guides our interactions these days will not help us honor that desire.

For us to be righteous, we must recognize that God’s image rests on all people, and they should be treated accordingly, regardless of their race, occupation, economic class, or even their misdeeds. We can’t go on only mourning officers or civilians, without striving to make life better and more sustainable for both. We can’t continue allowing the world to tell us who our enemies are and how we treat them.

We shouldn’t be afraid to specifically say, “Black lives matter.” It shouldn’t insult us, nor should we fail to understand the greater context behind the phrase, as it represents a continuous struggle that is not limited to (or even primarily about) interactions with police officers. It’s not a concept we should feel the need to argue with.

We also shouldn’t be afraid to support and respect our local law enforcement officers. The vast majority of our American brothers and sisters who enter this type of career do so out of a desire to do good things for their families and communities. While systemic issues do lead to particular biases, these problems are largely not conscious, and result from the day-to-day experience of officers in the areas they serve.

By the same token, being righteous means we have the courage to honestly look at what’s wrong within ourselves and our communities, as there are real issues that need actual attention. Such examination necessarily includes police and other institutions that impact our lives. When we let go of allegiances that blind us to suffering, we are free to question any practice or institution that denies equality, justice, and safety to any to our people.

I know this is a lot to think about. I am also sure I run the risk of pissing off a lot of people with what I am saying, as no one likes their reality to be challenged. The truth is, however, that progress and growth are impossible when we keep digging our heels in without taking time to listen with our hearts and minds open. It sounds like hippie advice, but take a look at our society and tell me with a straight face that what we are doing now is working out well. I’ll wait.

Can’t do it can you? So let’s try something different. Let’s prayerfully approach this and all other issues with the understanding that we all want a better future. Let’s acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers, and all we can do is offer our experience while being truly open to the experiences of others. Let’s strive to find our common ground and then try to discern together what a better way forward might be.

Peace be with you!

Violence and Christian Compassion

No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did. — Luke 13:5, NRSV

When I look at the world and all of its violence, I always try to look and see how we as a nation are responding to it. News articles from a variety of sources, social media, church and dinner table conversations, all of these are indicators of our position regarding the death and violence that occur on a daily basis. For the most part, our position looks pretty bad.

Take, for example, the shooting of Botham Jean in Dallas. He was a man in his own apartment, which was mistakenly entered by Dallas police officer who proceeded to shoot him dead. In the wake of the shooting, news reports emerge regarding the marijuana later found in his apartment. It may seem like a trivial detail, but it’s actually an act of character assassination that is all too common, as if to say, “Sure, it happened. But look! It wasn’t one of the good ones!”

We tend to be stingy with our compassion. When someone is killed or suffers violence, our response is proportional to their innocence. Death row inmates (understandably) garner very little compassion, along with anyone who was committing a crime of any kind at the time of their death. Certain states even have laws that seem to say property is worth killing another human over!

For the Christian person, this must become unacceptable. Too many of us in the faith operate by this system of selective compassion, and it is exposing a frightful hypocrisy on the part of a belief system that centers on a God-Man who was put to death according to laws of His day!

So, if you’ve stuck around this long, you may be asking, “Why?” It’s an expected question.

After all, why should we show compassion even toward the worst of the worst? After all, don’t they deserve what they get? Perhaps they deserve worse!

Let me ask you this: do you want God to treat you as you deserve? He will, you know. Jesus says so multiple times, and it is even a central part of our most sacred prayer, remember?

“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus teaches us, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 5:14-15). If we know this and repeat it every Sunday, why in the world do we treat others according to a standard we hope God will set aside for us?

God weeps tears for even the worst killer in existence. He may even weep more for this lost soul. On the cross, God even bled for the worst of sinners. How then, as His people, can so many self-professing Christians not see the danger in refusing to practice the spiritual discipline of unrelenting compassion? It doesn’t amount to a lack of desire for justice, nor is it a means of condoning wrongdoing, but it is an expression of the grace we believe we have received from God. It is our way of loving back the One who died because of our hard hearts. Further, it is a practice that is applicable without regard for race, creed, profession, nationality, or any other worldly criteria that are often used to determine the worthiness of others.

The good news hidden in this message is that God does love and is eager to forgive us, regardless of our past. The challenge is that He expects us all to pay that grace forward to all others, regardless of whether or not we feel they deserve it. The Christian’s response to violence in this world should consist of heart-broken compassion and self-reflection. These responses do not exclude a desire for justice, but they do temper it with awareness, preventing us from transgressing in thought, word, or deed.

This kind of change is not easy. It takes practice and a lot of grace with ourselves and each other. However, if we start to make the effort, the promised blessing will follow. After all, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Peace be with you!