I stood in front of my congregation last Sunday and tried to find the words to respond to the shootings in El Paso and Dayton. They felt woefully incomplete.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said?
I have no answers. Only many, many questions. And while we become divided again over gun violence or mental health or divisive political rhetoric, the blood of the victims cries out and nothing more is done.
So I read the stories of saints that we commemorate in the next few days. They do not provide answers, but they encourage me to live out the questions. They remind me that in every age, we struggle to find meaning in a meaningless world. We struggle to live faithfully in a world of despair.
On Aug. 10, we remember an early deacon of the church. Lawrence was responsible for the church’s financial matters and for the care of the poor. Asked by the emperor in 258 to gather the church’s treasure, he presented a collection of orphans, lepers, and the like. They were the treasure of the church. The enraged emperor had him put to death.
How can I find the treasure in those that God treasures? Lawrence reminds me to look in the homeless, the immigrant. God is there.
On Aug. 13, we celebrate Florence Nightingale and Clara Maass. Nightingale was born in England and horrified her wealthy family by deciding to become a nurse. She led a group of nurses in ministering in the Crimean War and worked for hospital reform. Maass, a native of New Jersey, was also a war nurse and volunteered as a subject for research on yellow fever. She died of the disease in 1901.
How am I called to give of myself to others, no matter the cost?
On Aug. 14, we recognize Maximilian Kolbe and Kaj Munk.
A Franciscan priest in Poland, Kolbe remained in his monastery after the Nazi invasion. He helped provide shelter to refugees, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from German persecution.
In 1941, he was arrested by the German Gestapo and transferred to Auschwitz. Kolbe was subjected to violent harassment, including beating and lashings. In July, ten men were picked to be starved to death. When one of the men cried out, “My wife! My children!”, Kolbe volunteered to take his place. He was the last of the 10 to remain alive and was killed on Aug. 14.
A Danish Lutheran pastor and playwright, Munk denounced the Nazis who occupied his country. Though told to stop preaching and urged by friends to go underground, he continued to preach against Danes who collaborated with the Nazis. He was arrested on Jan. 4, 1944, and his body was found in a roadside ditch.
As we consider our response to the shootings in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton, may we be guided by the examples of Kolbe and Munk. Let Munk’s words echo as questions and a restlessness of our own.
“What is, therefore, our task today? Shall I answer: ‘Faith, hope, and love’? That sounds beautiful. But I would say — courage. No, even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth. Our task today is recklessness. … we lack a holy rage — the recklessness which comes from the knowledge of God and humanity. The ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets, and when the lie rages across the face of the earth … a holy anger about the things that are wrong in the world. To rage against the ravaging of God’s earth, and the destruction of God’s world. To rage when little children must die of hunger, when the tables of the rich are sagging with food. To rage at the senseless killing of so many, and against the madness of militaries. To rage at the lie that calls the threat of death and the strategy of destruction peace. To rage against complacency. To restlessly seek that recklessness that will challenge and seek to change human history until it conforms to the norms of the Kingdom of God.
“Millenia lie before us. Do we want our children and theirs again to think of this period in history, to think of us in such a way that we shall blush in our graves?”
As we confront our violent and divided world — especially in light of these recent despicable acts — may God bless us all with such a holy rage and recklessness so that peace and justice will take hold of us all.