A Fog of Tragedy

There is a fog over the Charles River. While the sun is trying to burn through the mist, the fog is heavy and solid.

I wonder if this is what it is like for those families affected by another school shooting. The fog of disbelief and anger so heavy; the gut-deep sadness and nausea overwhelming. Everything a blur of loss and tragedy.

Where is the sun in that fog?

While most of the country was focusing on chocolate, roses, and chalk hearts with stupid sayings, a community was facing a nightmare of violence.

This is America’s true brand of terrorism, but we clothe it in politics instead of common sense and being on the same side – the side of life, the side of protection, the side of making hard choices.

I am more and more convinced that the “individual rights” that are so highly valued in our culture are dangerous. Both my intuition and my experience tells me what is really important is community and caring for others; what is really important is giving up my rights and my right to be right for the sake of others.

But no matter what I think, there are people who are hurting and planning funerals. Young life is extinguished and parents and friends are hurting. They are broken in their grief, and even though I don’t know them, I must stand with them.

I stand with them as one who mourns a broken world and longs for redemption. I stand with them as one who cries for the moms who will no longer hold their children; the moms and dads who would beg for just one more hug, one more ‘I love you.’ I stand with them as one who prays that the sun’s light will penetrate the fog, a glimpse of God in the midst of a fog of tragedy.

Our world is not as it should be. And though we see beautiful glimpses of redemption that startle and amaze us, we still face all that is part of this broken world.

So I stand as one broken – broken by sorrow of death and loss, by pain, by the weight of difficult relationships. And in the silence of the broken I know God is near.

If you are weary of sorrow and pain, if you are face to face with tragedy and death, with the broken bones of a weary world, know that you are welcomed into the arms of God.*

In the Fourth Watch of the Night


Recent Headlines:

Saturday, December 3 – 10-alarm fire in Cambridge, MA displaces 166 people.

Saturday, December 10 – Explosions outside football (soccer) stadium in Istanbul kills many. Turkey declares Sunday a national day of mourning for the country.

Sunday, December 11 – Terrorist attack in Coptic Church kills over 25 people with many more wounded. Most of the victims are women and children.

Sunday, December 11 – At least 160 dead when church in Nigeria collapses.

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The book of Matthew, first gospel in a set of four, says that Jesus came to the disciples on the fourth watch. His disciples, fishermen by trade, had gone fishing and a storm came suddenly in the middle of what had been a calm sea. 

After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary.And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

The Romans divided the night into four three-hour segments and the Jews had adopted these divisions. The fourth watch was the last part of the night between three and six in the morning. This was the last watch, the end of the night.

The fourth watch is that point where you wake up and it is so dark, you look at the clock beside your bed, and you sigh deeply – you can still sleep for another 2 hours. Or it’s the time when you have to be at the airport for the early morning flight, that flight that leaves at 6 am, passengers sporting only sleep-blurred eyes and coffee breath.

Or it’s the “darkest before dawn” part of the night.

It meant this storm on the sea of Galilee had raged all night long. It meant that the disciples were exhausted and defeated, that they had battled a critical weather event with every ounce of their human strength – but it was not enough. The storm was going to defeat them.

Until Jesus came and spoke words that calmed the sea.

The fourth watch. My mind fills with questions: Why did Jesus wait so long? Why did this miracle worker not intervene sooner? Why, when it was at their last bit of strength, did he suddenly appear – a ghost-like figure walking on the stormy seas?

My questions will never be answered and even as I write them I know these questions reflect my heart – a heart that finds faith hard, that sometimes thinks God waits too long to intervene. Too long to move hearts and souls, too long to change circumstances. I want him to come on the first watch, not the fourth.

Explosions, bombs, faulty construction, fires, a never-ending war in Syria, refugees by the million, continued persecution of Christians in the Middle East; people fleeing homes only to drown at sea — all of it feels like the fourth watch. It’s gone on too long. When will peace come? When will the Prince of Peace reign? When will evil be conquered? When will God intervene?

I texted an Egyptian friend yesterday when I heard about the bomb at the cathedral. She had invited me to the cathedral during our recent trip to Egypt and because of timing, we couldn’t go. “What can we do?” I typed out. Her immediate response “Pray. Pray for the wounded. Pray for the grieving. Pray for us.”

My heart is grieving for Egypt and Turkey. It is also heavy for my own stuff – my own grief and sadness. Perhaps yours is as well.

The world is waiting for the fourth watch. I am waiting for the fourth watch.

Many years ago there was a group of people who were waiting. There had been four hundred years of silence; four hundred years where there were no prophets, no mouth pieces of God. Four hundred years of history and oppression and finally, occupation by Rome. It was surely the fourth watch when Jesus came as a little baby, insignificant, another male child at the time of a census. The significant marks of his birth were seen later — a virgin birth, a star in the East, and an angel’s song to shepherds. Perhaps people like you and me were saying the same things that we say during these days of grief and loss.

It’s gone on too long.

When will peace come?

When will evil be conquered?

When will God intervene?

I’m reminded of this on this Monday morning.  We are weary. We are waiting for the fourth watch. We are waiting for the words: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 

May it be so. 

*The story relayed is from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 14: 23-47.

[Note: this post was adapted from a previously written piece.]

The Healing Word

It is Monday morning and already the work week has assaulted me. My ‘to do’ list seemed to procreate over the weekend and I opened my email to many demands.

It was a weekend full of family and life, which made the news of the Orlando shooting in a nightclub even more poignant. Having been off grid, I didn’t receive the news until yesterday afternoon. I then purposely stayed off grid, fearing that people would once again use tragedy to justify political messages. Such are the times that we live in.

“Senseless violence” we call it, even as we try desperately to make sense of it. Sons, daughters, friends, co-workers were all killed in a premeditated rage. Pundits pund, talkers talk, politicians politicize – but none of that really helps.

It’s into this chaos that the Psalms of David speak. They speak with authority and grace. They are written with full knowledge of the human condition; with full understanding of how fragile we are; with deep belief in God’s love and comfort. These Psalms talk of grief and rage, of depression and sorrow.

It is into sorrow and tragedy that the Psalms speak most beautifully, most poignantly. And so I go to them, and they do not disappoint.

The healing Word speaks. And if we stop and bend an ear, we will hear. Softly, lyrically, with grace and great love the Word continues through generations.

Do you hear it? 


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The video below is a beautiful conversation on the Psalms between the singer, Bono, and Eugene Peterson, a thoughtful author of many books.. If you have the time, take a look. You will not be disappointed.

“Why do we need art? Why do we need the lyric poetry of the Psalms? Because the only way we can approach God is, if we’re honest, through metaphor, through symbol. So art becomes essential, not decorative.”

A Life Overseas – For You in the Trenches

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Readers, I’m at A Life Overseas today talking to those of you who are in the trenches, where world events happen all around you. I hope you join me in that space. 

All weekend I have thought about what to write this morning. I think about world events and how they have filled up our newsfeeds, yet I also know that you live in your own world events. You live in places where bombs go off, where corruption runs rampant, where trash builds up because of anger at governments, where babies die too soon and young women and men lose their innocence to the evil of others.

So what do I say to you who live in the trenches; you who sigh as you hear the news, because you know how awful it is, you know how broken it is. You don’t need a bomb to tell you the world is broken. You heard God’s call to a broken world, a world he loves, and you try to live out that call every single day. You have given up what Rachel Pieh Jones calls the Western illusion of safety, instead you walk in the safety of God.

You have chosen a currency beyond fear. Because when fear is our currency, we cannot live effectively. Whether this be around parenting, around work, or around where we are called to live, this is truth.When fear is our currency, we forget that safety is not about where we live, or work, or play.

Safety is about knowing where our security lies, what we’re called to do, and who we’re called to be.

What are we called to when we face a broken world?

Read the rest here at A Life Overseas. 

Filed under “Why?”

There is a file in my brain and heart with the label “Why?” It’s where I file the tragedies that make no sense. Some of these tragedies happened to people close to me, others far removed — but no matter. The thing they share is the “why?” 

The file started when I was young. Why did Lizzy Hover’s dad die?  Why did the little baby from the sweeper colony die from a freak accident? 

Growing up, we faced many tragedies,  And one of the ways I chose to cope is to create this file.  The file grew as I grew. Why did my friend lose her husband on their honeymoon? Why did Amy Jo die!? Why did  a beloved pastor fall to his death in Cairo?  Why did my brother face such extreme loss at such a young age? 

And then there’s the looking back in time. Why the massacre of the innocents by Herod?  The weeping and grief of mothers captured by an artist in the 16th century, a brutal reminder that has lasted through the centuries. 

The file sometimes stays closed for a long time, and then it opens again with an angry roar. That’s what it did yesterday. A young man, new husband, newer father dies. It makes no sense. The tears flow for his young wife and the child who will know him only through pictures. 

I put these things in the “why” file because they make no sense to me. Discussions on a broken world, on evil, on the goodness of God don’t help. 

The only thing that helps is the face of Jesus, God incarnate. It is the icon of the Pantocrator that I weep before. “He had compassion on the crowds,” I’m told. And I beg for his compassion, his mercy. 

A poem from long ago comes to mind and I alternate between that and the Jesus Prayer. 

“I lay my ‘whys’ before your cross, in worship, kneeling. My mind beyond all thought, my heart beyond all feeling. And in worshiping realize that I, in knowing You, don’t need a ‘why?’ “

The file stays, and it won’t be open until I see the one who can make sense of all of it. Until then, I’m allowed to grieve, I’m allowed to weep, I’m allowed to lament. And I’m allowed to have a file labeled “why?”  Because at the feet of Jesus, it will all make sense. And I stake my life on that. 

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

1 Corinthians 13:12

I Choose Good

I’m sitting here in the safety of a coffee shop. It’s almost empty at this hour and so I can think, write, and pray.

I don’t want to listen to the news. The death toll is over five thousand and counting in Nepal. Newsfeeds are endless in their stories and statistics.

The governor has called the National Guard to Baltimore, with hopes that peace will be restored. Looting, riots, police violence – it’s all there and more.

And then there’s life in our neighborhood, where the lawyers for Tsarnaev are arguing against the death penalty. It is amazing the number of people vehemently opposed to capital punishment who want Tsarnaev to die. At what point do we change hard held opinion based on what we deem to be a crime worthy of a death that we have argued against?

The fact that I’m safe, drinking a great cup of coffee only serves to make me feel more depressed, more helpless.

And that’s the thing – in the face of all this, we are helpless. There is little most of us can do to make any of these situations better. It would not help for us to get on a plane to Nepal unless there is a specific skill we can bring. When my oldest brother was in Pakistan helping in earthquake relief he told me of a group that sent hundreds of people to Pakistan. He said there were around 250 people wandering around the hillside with no language skills, no knowledge of Pakistan, and no knowledge of humanitarian aid. It was a disaster, but they all went home with good pictures of the tragedy.

It’s the book of Kings where I find comfort today. For those not familiar, these are books in the Old Testament. They are full of blood shed and violence, full of stories of tragedies, full of the sordid tales of leaders and others doing evil things.

These books tell the narrative of the different Kings of Israel and Judah. The books begin with David’s death and sweep us through history looking at every King. I’ve no idea what scholars say about the books of Kings but it strikes me that the theme is simple; really simple.

Either they did what was good, or they did what was evil. There is no ambiguity. We are told their names and immediately after their names we have an assessment of their lives. They either chose to do right or they chose to do wrong.

Could it be that simple? Could it be that I complicate my life far more than I need when it’s really about choosing God and good, or choosing to not choose God and not choose good? About refusing evil and choosing good? 

Could it be that in the middle of these worldwide tragedies that are so far away in distance, and yet so close to all of us in terms of news reports, that what I am called to is to do good?

Is it that simple? 

Today the prayer of my heart is that I choose good.

When Your Heart Hurts on a Friday

Robynn continues on sabbatical this week – but if you want to read an amazing piece that she’s written in the past – perfect for yesterday’s events take a look here: On Common Prayer.

I’m sitting in my spot – my early morning spot that I’ve described before.

And though I want my heart to feel light, it feels heavy with the weight of tragedy. Israel mounted a ground offensive against Gaza yesterday and the pictures of children and moms cry out to me from their inanimate place on my computer screen. An airline was shot down by a surface to air missile and all people on board were killed. At least 295 – perhaps more. I read about an Australian woman whose heart is breaking – first she lost a brother in an airplane that went missing, yesterday she lost a step daughter.

And there are still those horrible tragedies that have gone on daily; those that I’ve pushed to a convenient spot in my mind, a spot that doesn’t continually surface and paralyze me for the sorrow of all of it.

My heart hurts for people I don’t know, those I have never met. And  my heart hurts for those I do know, those who are local and have problems and sadness that will never make a news story, but are so real and so paralyzing in intensity that their whole world is affected. The hurting marriage, the mom who just found out her son has been arrested, the pregnant teen, the old man who found out he has cancer, the young man fired and wondering how he will tell his wife — all the sorrows that overwhelm the individual yet are privately grieved. Our God is a Global God; our God is a local God. Just as concerned about the person in my neighborhood who is hurting as he is about the huge tragedy in the skies over the Ukraine. That’s what makes him God.

And I’m human so even as I hurt for those suffering, I feel enormous joy this week for a book that was released. It feels so big, it feels so small.

And because I don’t know how to pray, I don’t know how to properly care, I say the words that have reconciled man with God through the ages “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy.” 

I leave my spot on the couch. Paralysis helps no one. I go forward knowing there are still “10,000 reasons for my heart to sing ‘Bless the Lord’….” 

What do you do when it’s too much to bear? You put your head down and pray so deeply it hurts. And then you go to work doing what you know you’re called to do for the day, because you are not the Saviour, you are only the saved and that by grace alone.” from On Polio and when it’s all too much to bear.