ENCOURAGED IN THE CONTEXT OF VIOLENCE
Recently I had the privilege to meet a victim. I noticed that he had a patch over his eye and I asked him what happened. He began to explain to me that he wore the patch because people seemed to have a hard time looking at what was left. Between what he told me and what others filled in evidently his eye had been shot out, so there wan’t any eye left. He, and the three others with him, had been coming home from church when someone opened up on their car. Fifty gunshots later two were dead and this young man had lost his eye. Somewhere in this terrible tragedy he did catch sight of Jesus.
He explained to me that he hadn’t been living right, but now he was trying to do right by his child, his girlfriend, and the Lord. So, he is preparing to get married and raise their child as a family. It was all a mistake, wrong car, not who the shooters were looking for, but people were dead and wounded just the same.
Recently one of our church planters asked for prayer because a lady that had been coming to church had just been murdered, by her grandson. This pastor was preparing the funeral sermon, getting ready to preach to a family grieving and traumatized. The grandmother had taken this grandson in to live with her, but they had fought from time to time and finally she told him he had to leave. He waited until she was asleep to cut her throat.
The Sunday after the funeral I heard a woman rise to testify that she was in church that day because of the love she witnessed from this church (the congregation that had ministered to the family, that prepared the food for the repast, that had preached the Gospel at the funeral.) She said she had felt called by God to come.
Violence doesn’t encourage me, especially when I find it to be inexplicable. It is probably a mark of how jaded I am that too often I just simply accept it as a daily constant in our culture. We live in a time when people live in communities where violence is a reality and a constant threat. Occasionally I am shocked, but most often I am calloused. There is so much violence that it just seems to make me tired, and aware of the possible play on words, I become deadened to its shame. We, all of us in this country, should be ashamed at the volume of violence to which we have become inured.
The stories above however make me feel encouraged, in the context of violence. That context is the place that most of us want to escape from, where we don’t want to live. It is one reason people keep moving from neighborhoods that have an aura of menace, attempting to find some peaceful glen or pasture, some beatific cul de sac where tricycles can wheel unhindered, toys left on the lawn without fear of theft, and the noise of explosions is left for the Fourth of July.
I am encouraged because in the very place that most of us with sense would want to flee, Jesus has come. He has come through his people, through his Church. Violence in this world usually makes no sense, there was always another way, another option. What does bring sense in the midst of nonsense is love, care, kindness, compassion. It resettles the world, it redirects the grieving, the victims, the wounded.
If the church is not there, close by, with its people not present to be the Body of Christ, then what is left for those neighborhoods, those families, except rage, despair, hardness, revenge, emptiness, and life unexplained? These stories happened in neighborhoods of Tulsa and Durham, but the violence is repeated in so many marginalized and depressed communities around our nation. What is not always repeated is the witness of a church that came because others have left, and came for just these kind of folk. May their tribe increase, and may the Prince of Peace extend his reign to bitter places.