Monday, December 17, 2007

Yes, that's my church...again.

Last fall about a week after the stuff about Ted Haggard broke, I posted a little bit about my feelings surrounding the whole thing and how our church was dealing with it. When the shootings happened two Sundays ago, I knew I'd want to blog about it eventually, but I wasn't ready to think about it deeply enough to be able to organize my feelings into something you could understand, something meaningful that would be more than just writing for the sake of writing. Last night at church, Rob Brendle talked with us all about the shootings and now I feel like I have a framework from which to write; a way to organize my thoughts so that you might actually get a window into what I am feeling...and maybe what Scott and others from our church are feeling, too.

The shootings left me not knowing how to feel - I felt sad for the families directly affected, I felt frustrated that things like this keep happening in places that should be safe. At the same time, I thought that if I felt too sad or talked about it too much with too many people, it would be a sign that I was somehow self-absorbed and ignorant. So, I tried to avoid it. I answered questions when people asked, but I didn't broadcast that I was thinking about it or emotionally affected by it. Clearly, the people who have a right to be sad and disturbed are the people who witnessed it, the staff of our church, the families of the people who were injured and most of all the Works family, whose two teenage girls were shot and killed. What right did I have, really, to feel anything at all? It's my church, yes, but I was not there when it happened, and I don't actually believe that the same thing will happen again in the same place, so I'm not afraid to go back to church. More than the shootings themselves, here is what really shook me up last week: the comments posted on our local newspaper's website by members of the Colorado Springs community.

I was deeply affected by the same thing after the Ted Haggard stuff happened last fall. When a new article is posted to our newspaper's website, there is space for comments at the bottom. Ted's articles brought many, many, perhaps thousands, of comments. Most of them were extremely negative and did nothing but bash New Life, Christians, and the Colorado Springs community as a whole. When the shootings happened, one of my first thoughts was, "Surely after something like this people will not start writing trash again on the newspaper's site." I was wrong. So when friends and family members would ask me what they should be praying for in the wake of the shootings, my answer was usually something like, "Pray for our community. Our church loves this city and the purpose of our church is to love the people of this city into relationships with Christ. But, there's a divide in our city that seems to be getting deeper. There are a lot of people out there who hate us."

Maybe it's just me, maybe other people deal with this better than I do, but I can't stand knowing that somebody hates me. Even if it's a nameless bunch of people who don't know who I am - if they hate my church (and make public that they hate my church) I take it personally and I have a hard time dealing with it. All week I wrestled with this, and last night Pastor Rob made sense of it.

Rob didn't talk about the hateful comments online. In fact, he didn't mention the media in any way. He talked about the shootings, about the victims, Rachel and Stephanie, and he talked about the shooter. He talked about how much the shooter hated us and hated Christ and how this is in no way a new phenomenon. It makes so much sense to look at the whole situation from a historical perspective, to look at what the Bible says about persecution as Christians. Someday I hope I'll be wise enough to go straight to that understanding instead of wallowing in confusion for a week. When I think of persecution as a Christian, I think of Roman Christians being fed to lions. I think of Christians in non-Christian countries being tortured for their beliefs. I certainly don't think of persecution when I think of modern life here in the USA, especially Colorado Springs. It didn't occur to me to label the shootings and the newspaper comments as persecution. Now that I can see that the label works, here's a snippet of what the Bible has to say about persecution. I think it fits both with the shooting and the aftermath in our community:

1 Peter 4:12-13 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

What is encouraging to me is that in both of these passages, the Bible talks about joy side by side with suffering, trials, and testing. Rob made this analogy: imagine a boy who was raised by wolves. He grew up living out in the forest, and he sleeps under a log. The log doesn't provide much protection, it doesn't offer him much shelter. One day the boy comes upon a camp. Some people had left their tents set up and had gone away for a few days backpacking through the woods. The boy begins to sleep in the tent instead of under the log. The tent gives him more protection; it shelters him. Still, a tent can be leaky, drafty and cold. When the campers come back and find the boy, they try to take him back to their house. The boy says, "I don't know what a house is, but this tent is pretty nice. It's a lot better than that log, so I think I'll stay here." The boy doesn't know that there's something so much better waiting for him. When I go camping, after a few days I start looking forward to going home. I look forward to being able to jump out of bed in the middle of the night and make a salami sandwich (yes, Rob said that). I feel joy at the prospect of going home, because my house is so much better than my tent.

This world, the world that we live in now, is our tent. Heaven is our house, our home. No matter what kind of trials we face here, whether it's persecution, mistreatment by loved ones, or just the bad things that happen to us on a daily basis (like the light bulb that Callie shattered minutes ago on the carpet in her room), we should eventually feel joy because, no matter what happens here in our tent, we can look forward to going to our house, our home.

Psalm 30:5 says, "...weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." As Rob mentioned, it is somewhat humorous that the author doesn't say that "rejoicing comes the next morning." It doesn't happen overnight, but it does happen. The reason for that joy is that heaven is our home. We grieve and mourn, but not as those without a home. Those without a home...why would they stop grieving and mourning? When you know what you have to look forward to, it gives you a reason to feel joy.

I'm still not over the fact that people hate us. I will probably never be able to shrug off the fact that people in this city (and all over this country and world) hate Christians and really think (and I'm quoting one of those nasty comments now) that we're "the reason for most of the problems in this world." But at least now I have some perspective. If I had to live without a home to look forward to, I'd probably be nasty and filled with hate, too. But, I do have something to look forward to. Someday I'm going to be living in heaven. For eternity. I believe that. I know that it is true...which begs the question: what about you?

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