Last weekend my husband and I drove two hours over to Salida, in the Arkansas River Valley, to have our raft frame worked on. It was a spectacular Saturday afternoon in the Rockies and we spent the entire time in the car chatting and taking in the gorgeous scenery.
We talked about the day to day things we might have missed out on in the past week, we reminisced over the graduation fun we’d just had with our kids, talked about plans for our upcoming empty nest (don’t EVEN get me started), and we expressed our gratitude at this marvelous life and the beauty around us as we ascended and descended Independence Pass. If you have kids at home you know that two hours in the car alone doesn’t happen very often so we were full of chatter!
But it was the trip back that I really noticed. The entire drive home from Salida, Tim and I were content to just simply be together. We didn’t chit chat or start any long conversations. We simply drove, happy in each other’s presence. Aside from an iced coffee in Buena Vista and a marmot on Highway 82, we simply took in the views (which, as you probably know, are spectacular.)
It occurred to me later that this is the way it is with our relationship with God. For many people there is a familiarity with God, such that when we find ourselves in prayer, we are full of chatter — notes of thanksgiving, petitions for people we love, pleas for help in our challenges, requests for God to be part of future planning. And that is all as it should be. In fact, when I think back on those first drives with Tim when we first began dating, I can imagine that’s also what it’s like with God the first time we meet him in prayer: awkward! What’s interesting to me, though, is what happens when we can finally just sit with God in silence, content to be in each other’s presence. Happy to just BE.
Those are the moments, I believe, when God fills us up with whatever it is we need: more joy, inspiration, hope, love. Those quiet moments when we invite God into the driver’s seat and we allow ourselves to sit back, relax, and bask in the presence of the Almighty.
My hope is that when you come to God in prayer, your relationship eventually allows you the simple pleasure of being one with your God.
It might be a coincidence that it is my turn to write the Mountaineer article this week immediately following the mass murder of 49 people with 53 injured at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL. As I thought about what to write, two words came to mind: Scapegoats and Binaries. We find lots of examples of binaries in life as well as in the Bible. Dark & light, hot & cold, love & hate, saints & sinners, good & evil, heaven & hell, lost & saved, friends & enemies, etc. I think that most of us look at these binaries as being opposing sides. Today I’m going to challenge that idea.
We are conditioned through endless storytelling to believe that there are good guys and bad guys. The good guys have to fight and kill the bad guys in order for us all to finally live in peace. By the way, although it makes for really great storytelling, that is the very definition of a scapegoat. Everybody knows that a villain just goes about doing evil constantly. Nobody wants to watch a movie about the evil goblins at home eating dinner with their families with a mother goblin and a baby goblin at her breast. Nobody wants to see an army of good guys storming their home and slaying small child goblins asleep in their beds. We need our bad guys to be dancing around a fire, roasting their victims. Sometimes they even oblige us by doing these things so that we can feel really good about judging and killing them. It ruins our narrative when villains do normal, justifiable, human things and act in loving and sacrificial ways.
We have been conditioned to accept and even celebrate violence against people who have been framed as the “other” side of whatever binary in which we have come to believe. How many of us are poised to accept the idea that ISIS extremists should be killed for their extremist beliefs that resulted in the shooting at Pulse in Orlando? Or maybe we should target the government officials who could have voted to ban assault rifles and didn’t? I have no doubt that the Democrats, Republicans, rich, poor, gay, straight, transgender, corporations, Clinton, Trump & Sanders are all certainly to blame! Isn’t there some way that we can just get all of these people out of our lives for good?
Or… Maybe we could pause our violent conditioning long enough to consider the possibility that our binaries are not real. What if dark does not exist? What if light is the only real truth? Dark, in fact, is not a force. You can’t flip the dark switch and drown the light with some counterforce. Where light exists, it illuminates and where it does not exist, there is darkness, but it is not a force. You don’t kill the darkness by attacking it and annihilating it and then breathing a sigh of relief, “Good, now the darkness is dead and we can all live in light and peace.” Darkness cannot wage war on the light. Darkness is simply what happens when light is not present.
In the same way, we cannot eliminate violence by killing it off. If we killed or at least imprisoned every possible scapegoat in the world, how many of us believe that then the rest of us would finally be able to live in peace? Trying to kill off violence is as senseless as trying to kill off darkness.
I’m going to ask each of us to simply begin to notice how often we frame people in terms of binaries. Who would I eliminate so that there would finally be peace and happiness in my life? As Nadia Bolz-Weber writes in Pastrix, “Every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it.”
I don’t know about you, but I usually feel powerless when I think about the massive scale of violence in the world. But that doesn’t stop me from buying into the drama of my binaries. I commit murder in my own heart as I wish people out of my life and out of the world. Do we have to come down to the last two people on the planet before we stop trying to kill the darkness? Instead, we need to flip on the light switch.
Begin by loving and forgiving yourself. (How much of our violence and judgment against other people is really redirected from our internal violence and judgment of ourselves?) Then love the people who are easy to love. Finally, go for the real challenge: be like Jesus and love the people who are hard to love. In the same way that darkness does not stand before light, violence and hatred cannot stand before love. Our response to the shootings in Orlando should be to love outrageously just like our Father in heaven. If people don’t raise their eyebrows at your love extremism, you’re not doing it right!