Why I need church in times like these

Not two weeks ago, I wrote a piece describing that preceding couple of weeks as “shitty.” Apparently that window was not yet closed. Last week the world witnessed a heinous attack in Nice, France where a man armed with a truck mowed down dozens of revelers celebrating Bastille Day. As if that were not enough, I left church today to reports of more violence, this time aimed towards law enforcement personnel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a city that has recently become an epicenter of unrest after the extrajudicial killing of Alton Sterling at the hands of police themselves.

Details of what happened are still coming in, and the fracturing camps of our collective society will surely spin the details into their favorite narrative. I, for one, have been weary for a long time of the ways in which tragedy upon tragedy only causes us to turn further and further away from one another. It seems to me that we might be able to find common ground instead of allowing ourselves to descend into scapegoating and defensiveness.

In times like these I needed Mass like the one we had today, where everything from the scripture readings, to the sermon, to the hymns and anthems, to the celebration of Holy Eucharist are reminders of the true destiny of humanity – peace. Perhaps we grow tired of violence and pain because we were not made to abide in it. We were created by a loving God who created us to dwell in unity and godly love. Despite the present brokenness, I still believe we will make it home to love one day.

I need church in times like these because I need to be reminded that when I look across difference at my neighbor through eyes of suspicion instead of eyes of grace, I am chosen carry the burden of hate, no matter how insignificant it might feel in the moment. The saying is simple, but it bears repeating: “love your neighbor.” Moreover, as the Parable of the [Good] Samaritan suggests, there is no asterisk or clause that allows us to draw anyone – no matter how broken they might be – outside of the realm of God’s neighborliness because, in the words of Bryan Stevenson, “each of us is more than the worse thing we’ve ever done.”

I need church in times like these because I need hear the word “reconciliation” and to allow it to sink down into my bones. There are those for whom “reconciliation,” particularly in terms of the dynamics between racial groups in the United States of America, is not a helpful word. “Racism is a one-way street,” they’ll say. “We just need white people to stop being racist.” I agree with this to an extent. Institutional and systemic racism and the white-supremacy that supports it is a one-way street of power and dominance, but the love of God is a radical re-routing of the lives of every living thing. Reconciliation is a two-way street because of how “love” is set up. Love erases the status of victim and victimizer. It seeks to re-establish broken and exploited power dynamics. It desires to radically reorganize the topography of our relationships – interpersonal and systemic – in order that we might walk together and not grow weary. Reconciliation is the theme of Mary’s song – a complete upside-down-ness of our world that shakes us out of the well-worn paths of death and pain.

I need church in times like these because I need reminders of a God who is making all things new and whose mission in our world is not thwarted because of the violence we perpetuate upon one another. I need to see this light in the eyes of children as they reach up to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, grabbing onto reconciliation and community with both hands. The communion we share, literally and mystically, is a vulnerable, palms-up endeavor wherein we lay ourselves open to receive the grace of God even when it comes to us from unseen, or even undesired, directions.

I need church in times like these because I need to be reminded that I have an active role to play in recreating this world around the love and justice of God, that the command of Jesus Christ to “love” extends to me and to every human being. I am called not simply to think good thoughts about religion and to pray to the God of my religion, but to allow that religion and practice of faith to take over the actions and connections that define my life and move me down the path of love. Love is the only way we will unseat the power of death. Violence only begets more violence, whether that violence is war, vigilante attempts at justice, or terrorism. Love is the only way forward. Fear and division, suspicion and hatred, oppression and violence will only bear more of the same.

It might be a waste of time for some, but for me, stopping for church presses the mute button on the prevalence of violence in order that I might hear the voice of God who still sings “love… love… love…”

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