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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Numbed Soul

I confess something I am not proud of.  I suppose that's self-evident, since this is confession.  I don't confess when I am proud, I proclaim.  I confess when ever anyone else confesses.  I confess when something is wrong in life and my action or my attitude may be a part or a cause of what is wrong.  In this case it is my attitude.

I heard about the tragedy at the elementary school in Newtown, CT, and it did not inspire any response in my mind.  I was caught up in my own concerns.  I don't really watch TV much, so I didn't follow the CNN coverage.  I didn't spend much time on websites reading about what had happened.

Normally, I spend a lot of time on news sites - CNN, BBC, ABC news, Reuters, and several others.  I am usually up on the news.  I have spent a lot of time on news sits praying over the Arab spring and the theater shootings in Colorado and the draught in Somalia and the election.  Right now, though, life has gotten full with getting Christmas cards out and prepping for extra worship services over Christmas and working on a lock-in our youth pastor would normally cover.  He's gone onto another church and I happy for him and I am happy to do the lock-in.  But it is occupying space in my mind normally devoted to other things.  My wife and I are planning a significant amount of travel in the first 3-4 months of 2013 and we had some pretty deep conversations about what trips we could take and which ones we'd need to pass on.  And, since this is confession, I do waste thinking time on some pretty frivolous topic - Facebook games, Fantasy Football.

What's worse is I waste time or I crowd out prayer.  My prayer life has become stale, sleepy, and I feel like I am connected with God, but I am not listening closely enough.  There is a taken-for-grantedness in my approach to God and that's not good.

Of course, what happened in Connecticut is huge news that psychologically hits our nations as hard as the 9-11 terrorist attacks.  But another struggle for me is that we've been hit so many times.  There was Columbine; the Oklahoma City Government building bombing; 9-11-01; the shootings at Virginia Tech and at the theater in Aurora, CO.  The congresswoman who was shot.  And these examples leave out several other shootings that happened in the same time frame.

I used to scoff when people would say after the 9-11 "We'll never be the same again."  I would hear that and think, "O yes we will.  Within a year, we'll be exactly as we were prior to this."  But now, I am horrified to admit it is true.  We won't be the same again.  In my case, the change is not good.  On 9-11, I was profoundly affected.  I wandered around in a numbing fog that gave way to grief and the to prayer.  My numbness then was due to shock. 

My numbness over this past weekend, after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary were entirely different.  I was not in shock.  I did not hardly notice.  My thought was "O, another shooting."  I have changed in that, it doesn't get to me any more.  How did I get inured to tragedy?  How did this happen? 

I have pointed to the frequency of violent incidences and also to my own distracted mind.  One other potential cause of my lack of emotional response is distance.  I don't live anywhere near Connecticut.  I have never been to Colorado.  But, I was living in Arlington, VA when 9-11 happened.  I heard the plane hit the Pentagon.  I did go to high school in Roanoke, VA, a short drive from Blacksburg, and I have been on Virginia Tech's campus many times.

Thank God that God is not inured to tragedy.  God's heart is not calloused, but tender.  I believe God was with those children as they died.  I don't believed God caused their deaths or willed it.  I don't know why God did not stop it.  I am stuck in not knowing why and maybe some of my lack of feeling is self-protection.  I am a pastor and I am utterly incapable of explaining the stance of God in this awful situation.  Maybe my feelings have shut down because of my theological impotence.  But I believe God could have stopped it and I believe God weeps more deeply than anyone over innocent suffering. 

I have to preach this Sunday.  Mercifully, our associate pastor is extremely talented and she really wants to preach on Christmas Eve.  I am more than happy to have her do that.  I have a Christmas Eve sermon and I will post it on this blog.  I am very glad I am not preaching it.  By the time this Sunday comes, I think I will have a message I will be motivated to preach.  But now, Tuesday, I don't yet know what it is.  I feel somewhat trapped.  There is no sermon in me, but that does not stop the week from marching forward.  Sunday's a'coming.  There will be 130 people in our sanctuary at 11:35 and they'll be watching me, wanting me to say something.  It would even be better if it were something helpful

We'll see what God gives and we'll see if I am smart enough to receive what God gives and to do something good with it.  For today, Tuesday, I thank God that God is not calloused and unfeeling.  God is passionate and full of love, a many faceted-loved.  I pray for something of that passion and feeling and love.  I suppose that means I am even asking God to give me grief.  That, right now, is much better than numbness.  It's more difficult, but also more appropriate.

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