Making Sense of Community

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December 4, 2015 – So, yesterday was a hard day around here. Wednesday was hard, but yesterday was difficult in different ways. At what point does violence affect you personally? Does it affect you when you hear about it across the world? In your country? In your state? In the next city over? In your own town? In your neighborhood? When it affects a public figure, or an acquaintance, or a friend, or a relative? At what point does it become personal? Up until now, I had no sense of the complexity of dealing with this sort of thing. Wednesday, I felt shock and sadness for people who I don’t know but feel geographically connected to (8 or so miles is not all that much), and I knew people who knew people who were mourning. Thursday was hard in a very different way as the focus shifted from the site of the violence to the home from which it had been fostered. Less than 2 miles from our home. ½ mile from Madeline’s school. A stone’s throw from Phil’s office. Between our home and Juliana’s school. No one died there, but it still evokes grief for me.

In the past few months, I’ve been reflecting on how overwhelming it is that technology gives us instant, immediate knowledge of tragedy from around the world. Around the whole stinkin’ globe. How do we cope with that? How do we process it? We can’t grieve everything, we can’t fix everything. You don’t want to ignore tragedy, but you just can’t grieve everything everywhere. It’s not humanly possible. So we tend to focus on our families, our community, which feel safe and in control. But then, when we do that, we start to believe that the evil is “out there”, not “in here”. And then we become smug and complacent and judgmental and unloving. And the reality is that there’s no “out there”. The fact that there were over 20 pipe bombs and 4,500 bullets and who knows what else sitting in a house on a street I drive daily means that the evil is here. But the enemy isn’t a race or ethnicity or religion or even the devices used for destruction – it’s the elements of our human nature that are warped and tarnished to extreme degrees. It’s selfishness and greed, or pain and anger, or loneliness and grief, or superiority and pride. Or all of them. Those things are all around us and are inside of us. And they’ve been here always.

My community will no longer live in fear of the “what if”. What we feared is here. And strangely, I’m partly relieved. We can stop being afraid of what might happen. It happened and we have to face it. It was in us all the time. I went to the grocery store yesterday and I realized I’ve probably shopped with those suspects before – at Trader Joe, or Gerrards, or, yes, the Middle Eastern market that I love and buy pomegranate paste from. And what about the people who actually knew the murderers – what are they thinking? That they should’ve seen some signs, should’ve had some idea?

And then, when I was driving home from the store yesterday, I saw a man who is very familiar to locals (you know him – he used to be one of a dapperly yet shabbily dressed duo, both in coat and hat, who would tip their hat and smile whenever you made eye contact; then it was him pushing his friend’s wheelchair, still same greeting; and now it’s just him). He tipped his hat to me and smiled, and I totally burst out crying right there as I was driving. HE’s my community, too, and I’ve “known” him for years. Just like the evil, there’s decency and love, joy and happiness and sacrifice, selflessness and dedication and bravery all around and within us, too. Those things are “out there” AND they are “in here”.

The dichotomy of that – of evil and of good –has focused my prayers this week on the gift of free will. Free will is simultaneously a terrible and a wonderful thing. God gave us the power of choice. In His wisdom, He knew that forced love, forced submission, and the removal of choice are worthless. He gave us the power to choose Him or not. So, when people say that God’s not listening, or that prayer does nothing, they forget or don’t know or don’t believe that God invites us to choose a relationship with Him, and that relationship provides us with eternal life and an open line of communication between us and our Creator and FORGIVENESS from our sins, but NOT a complete removal of that sin. He gives us love and hope and instructions for becoming more like Him. He did it for us, as a free gift, in spite of our sin and because we could not save ourselves. Now I look to His promise that nothing separates me from His love and feel the peace that comes with the knowledge of His sovereignty. So my response to the events of this week must be to continue to live out the heart of the Gospel and pour out love on the sinner, which includes me and you and our neighbor and the weird guy down the street. This sounds easy and right, because it *should* be, but the sin in me makes it hard. I’m so thankful for the unbroken tether that allows me to go back over and over to God to ask forgiveness for my selfish, unloving, nature that is so different from His earthly example.

GRUENLER webBy Sheryl Gruenler