Most years, the days leading up to Lent are spent stuffing my face with the food and drink that will soon become religious contraband. This is the "Game of Lent" that I play, and NOT a religious exercise. At best, it is my annual attempt to get in shape, drop a few pounds and cut back on beer under the guise of 'spiritual practice.' The hope is that out of this physical discipline will come some spiritual mindfulness.
I came across the saying, 'may you live in interesting times.' It is meant to be a curse of sorts, kind of like saying, "may trouble fall on you." Indeed we do live in these interesting, complex, and heartbreaking times. That is it. Heartbreaking.
For the past months, my heart has been broken. Beheadings in the Middle East, shooting rampages in Europe, and the almost daily killing as the result of gun violence in my adopted city of Chicago.
This Lent, giving up chips doesn't seem to cut it. Not with the constant violence in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world. Not with the trial of young adults in Mississippi who tortured and killed an innocent black man. Not when young children of God are murdered, and rather than mourning this horrifying loss we consume ourselves with debating whether or not it was a hate crime.
Each of these moments has produced powerful and prophetic words. I can't help but feel the transformative power that they invoke. Let this season of "taking in" prepare us with a way to "live out" the lessons, the hope and the promises that lie ahead.
During lent I am going to study the verdict delivered by Judge Carlton Reeves in the death of James Craig Anderson, read Kayla Muller's letter to her family, and listen to interviews with Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, who was murdered along with her husband, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. These individuals died because of fear and hate. Yet out of the tragedy come a lesson, a hope and a promise.
1. Judge's breathtaking speech to three murderers. (A Lesson)
In his statement, Judge Reeves wrote: "How could hate, fear or whatever it was transform genteel, God-fearing, God-loving Mississippians into mindless murderers and sadistic torturers?" His statement reminded me of how the late Maya Angelou used to quote the Roman playwright Terence, when she would say, "I am a human being, and therefore nothing human can be alien to me." We are all capable of doing good or falling to horrific evil. How do good people end up doing terrible things? It happens. It happens when we are ignoring our past, when we are forgetting to remember, when we let hate creep back into the public square and fail to stand next to it in love.
Let us choose to remember.
2. Kayla Mueller's letter to her family (A Hope)
Kayla's letter is filled with pain and anguish. It is also filled with such grace, forgiveness, pain and promise. Her life was short but it was certainly not wasted. What a joy to have been a part of this young woman's life, to be the base and the source for such strength, grace, love and devotion. I came across a picture of a high school-aged Kayla, holding a sign that read, "Time is running out: Stop Darfur." I have wondered what good comes out of crayons and poster board. Now I know.
Let our faith inspire and sustain courageous engagement.
3. StoryCorps interview with Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha. (A Promise)
When I learned of these killings, again I thought of the parents of these young people. I wanted them to know that as a Christian, as a parent and as an American I was outraged and grieving. I shouted, "Where is the mourning? Why are our flags not at half-mast?" And I wondered why there is such little outcry for change.
In her StoryCoprs interview with her former principal, Sister Jaen, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha tells us this: "Growing up in America has been such a blessing. And although in some ways I do stand out, such as the hijab I wear on my head, the head covering, there are still so many ways that I feel so embedded in the fabric that is, you know, our culture... "And that's the beautiful thing here, is that it doesn't matter where you come from. There are so many different people from so many different places, of different backgrounds and religions -- but here we're all one, one culture. And it's beautiful to see people of different areas interacting, and being family. Being, you know, one community."
Craig Hicks describes himself as an atheist. Much has been made of the fact that because he was not a Christian, Christians are absolved from a 'presence' in all of this. A Christian may not have pulled the trigger, but I can't help feel the influence we have in the community -- or in this case, did not have. If only the church were more focused on facing head on the injustices in our financial, educational and judicial systems or building the beloved community rather than dividing over issues of personal choice and identity.
While I no longer subscribe to the old Christian slogan of 'The Whole World for Christ,' I do believe that it is our job to have the whole world know Christ's love. In this charge we have failed. I can't help but feel our hand in all of it. We have been distracted. Maybe because we have been focusing too much on giving up chocolate.
Let us build upon the trust that Yusor Abu-Salha had in us to create that "one community."
Lent is an urgent call to listen, comprehend and act.
During Lent we commit to live into the darkness and brokenness of the world. Yet by searching and walking toward the light we find ourselves called to act wisely, faithfully, creatively and compassionately. The darkness on Ash Wednesday will be transformed by the light of Easter day. Let this Lenten journey be a time of learning and preparing to "live out" a life of reconciliation, courageous engagement and the creation of one loving community.