In the span of 7 days in late March, I found myself in two very different settings, in the midst of two conversations that seemed to be diametrically opposed to one another. I struggled in each of them, and reality requires that I treat them both as having truth, rather than seeing either one as fully right or wrong. They were settings and conversations related to safety.
Webster defines “safe” as: protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost. Common synonyms are: secure, shielded, guarded, out of harm’s way. “Safe” has a high value among human beings, it is a component of survival, it is what we want for our children and other vulnerable persons. It is why we lock our doors, or turn on lights in the dark, or stop at red lights. We expect, we demand that our food, our cars, our medicines, and our appliances have high safety ratings. Safety is so important to us that we create an illusion of safety even where it does not exist, and we are shattered when that illusion falls short of reality. It is necessary to our physical, emotional and mental health to feel safe, and we cannot thrive in a continuous state of high anxiety or threat. Men and women who face constant unpredictable danger on active military duty often return home with PTSD and other stress-based illness. So it makes sense to want to be, or to at least feel that we are, safe.
I attended the ALICE training offered by the Flint Township police one Thursday (See the info about ALICE in this Newsletter) along with some others from our church. We learned some very practical ways to be more aware and better prepared to face a potential threat in our church building. We heard many non-violent ways of saving the most people from harm, along with advice for those who carry a concealed weapon and might choose to fire. We were told what to do when the police arrive, in order to help identify the intruder and avoid confusion. We were taught how to be as safe as possible in the midst of an unthinkable event.
The following Thursday, I joined the choir as part of the Living Last Supper. Although Jesus has very little dialogue in the drama, the words of his disciples rang loud and clear. Someone would betray him. Someone would deny knowing him. Most would flee, and Jesus would be crucified. Crucified – not because God demanded or orchestrated his execution, but because he challenged the power and control held by those in high places of government and religion. For three years, Jesus continued to speak the truth, to live a message of mercy and forgiveness, of equality and worth for all people. He not only turned over the tables in the Temple, he overturned the social structure, threatening those whose power and prestige rested in the status quo. Every day, he stepped out of the safe places and preached God’s justice and compassion to a world that did not want to change. Every day, he ignored the warnings of those who tried to silence and keep him safe. Every day, he gave up his personal safety and chose to heal and teach and love – to show us who God is. And then, one day, they arrested and tortured and crucified him. He did not back down or defend himself. He did not retaliate, he did not fight back, and he did not draw a sword. He submitted to the hateful violence of others, and offered forgiveness and mercy instead.
So, these two experiences leave me struggling with what God wants of me in the face of violence today. My heart and mind wrestle with many difficult questions: What does it mean to follow Jesus when it will cost me my life? After taking preventive and evasive steps to avoid an intruder, is a violent response my only choice? Or am I called to live, and to respond, differently because I have chosen to follow Jesus? Is how I live more important than the time / way in which I die? Is there peace to be found in giving up the illusion of complete safety and the chronic anxiety of searching for it? And, if I embrace a non-violent response for myself, do I have the right to impose it on others? As a community of faith, what response will we choose and claim for ourselves?
These are challenging and uncomfortable questions. In a day when physical, emotional and spiritual violence surround us, they are also very important questions. I hope that you will pray into them, that you will attend the ALICE training to be offered June 10, and that you will talk with me and with one another about your struggles and insights. We are called by God to do so, that we might find God’s wisdom together. Shalom, Pastor Cathi