These are words or phrases I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time pondering before. I don’t mean on a personal level but in our nation and the world today.
I can’t begin to make a complete list and by the time this appears, I’m fairly confident that the list will be longer and—who knows?—maybe even more devastating if that’s possible.
We’ve had hurricanes and rains described as once in a hundred years. Earthquakes have ravaged Mexico City. Forest fires in the West, including rapidly moving fires through urban areas in Northern California where lives have been lost. Are we helpless and simply vulnerable against natural disasters?
On Oct. 2, we all woke up to the “deadliest mass shooting” in recent American history. (There have been other mass shootings like Sand Creek and Wounded Knee where hundreds were killed.) How do we begin to understand why someone would mow down people at a country and western concert? Since there weren’t any of the “predictable” factors that have led to mass shootings before, I heard some people exclaiming that there was “nobody to hate!” We don’t need more hate right now; we need to make our country safer from people with rapid-fire guns.
But in addition to yet another mass shooting, we also have the threat of North Korea and people have just experienced the worst month (September 2017) for violence in Syria, claiming 3,000 lives in a country about the size of Illinois and Indiana together. Massive migration exists across the world, leading to despair for many people as they not only face a long winter ahead but years of living in refugee camps, waiting for placement.
These are acute human-made threats and natural disasters, coming one upon the other. The chronic disasters such as poverty and racism just get worse. The impact of both the hurricane in Puerto Rico and earthquake in Mexico are felt here in Northern Illinois as hundreds of people come to live with relatives after their lives and livelihoods have been destroyed.
A friend’s granddaughter who was a high school senior in Puerto Rico and has come to live with family in Chicagoland now faces a disrupted and unknown future. What impact will this have on her life? And so many like her? Funds which were already tight in many Hispanic communities are now being divided between here and family and friends in Puerto Rico and Mexico.
How do we respond to these human and natural disasters, particularly the mass shooting? Did it motivate you to make a change toward what the overwhelming majority of Americans want: safe, sensible gun laws? Or did you find yourself feeling either numb to it all or even resigned to the reality that this is just the way it is? Or how did you feel as one hurricane after another pounded the communities in the U.S. and the Caribbean? Some were fearful for friends and family, but some of us might have just experienced compassion fatigue.
No matter how we feel and how it impacts us personally, it’s why we all need a faith community. We need to remember that those who are suffering are our own brothers and sisters. We need to resist “weak resignation” (as the hymn, God of Grace and God of Glory, says).
A friend of mine told me recently that other people’s hope gives him hope. We can’t be hopeful or motivated or able to make a difference alone; we need to be a community—and more, the body of Christ—which is lifting each other up, praying and providing support through relief and mission, and working for advocacy for a better way to live for all God’s people, not just for some.
During the difficult recovery period after Maria, The Methodist Church of Puerto Rico’s Bishop Héctor Ortiz Vidal encouraged all local churches to keep meeting for Sunday and weekday Bible study and prayer to “maintain our spiritual connection.”
“Our local churches have to be communities of hope,” he wrote. “The hope of the Gospel is much more than optimism. The hope that comes from the participation in the construction of the new ‘mañana’ (tomorrow), when we can transform the reality that our people are living today. We are committed to that.”
What the world needs now, including me and maybe you, is HOPE. Let us be the body of Christ in the world, inspiring hope in each other and those who are suffering in our communities around the world today.
May the God of green hope fill (us) up with joy, fill (us) up with peace, so that (our) believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope! (Romans 15:13, MSG)
~Bishop Sally Dyck