Bella and I were taking our daily walk and crossed paths with a fellow walker and his dog. These frequent encounters always result in a 5-10-minute path talk, often about health or the latest news or something pertaining to our City.
This conversation was about the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, halfway between Palm Beach and Miami. Seventeen children dead because of an angry teen and his assault rifle. There are no words.
And that’s what my friend essentially said. He went to bed early because of his grief. Because of the lack of action and the excuses from public officials. This is not a political commentary, although it could turn into that pretty easily. It is, rather, about Christian presence.
My friend said, “You’re a religious man,” as if turning over in his mind what that meant. What he hears from Christians is typically something like “…my condolences and prayers…” What my friend calls a “bromide” meaning a trite, or insincere saying – something that costs nothing but makes the sayer sound “religious” or caring.
Which brings me to my subject of choosing the shape of one’s presence. Another of my friends is an irreligious educator at a local school who works with teens who have been unsuccessful in traditional high school. She shows up every day. Her students know they can depend on her for a faithful witness. I imagine that they ask her what the Florida shooting means for them.
I picture church planters as people who show up. That go where polite, stereotypical pastors are afraid to go. Too politically correct to say what everyone else sees as unjust, immoral, or self-righteous. That understanding why Jesus went into communities that religious leaders feared is part of their method.
The current political and religious debate is a great opportunity for pastors to sign up and show up. In the darkness of our time, it is so rare, hopeful, and faith-producing to see people who courageously engage with their communities. I’d suggest the following:
- Become friends with people who are actively engaged with the community and with those who are disenfranchised. They have a realistic view of life on the ground.
- Don’t use platitudes and bromides; they are insincere. Speak your pain. You will find many surprised people.
- Sincerely ask how you can help.
We concluded the talk with my friend saying, “Thanks for the talk and for putting up with me.”