Chaos and Anger

Sometimes we want to think that churches and other religious centers should always be places of peace and calm. That will never be. Churches, and all organizations, face a common, insurmountable problem. By definition, they are made up of people.

In a society were interdependence is de-emphasized, many people choose to keep their contact with all organizations to a minimum. In a way that makes sense. The fewer people we interact with, the fewer people we can have conflict with.

When Christians contemplate the life of Jesus, they are faced with a different view. We are taught that one person of the Divine trinity chose to leave an environment of perfect love and peace to spend more than 30 years with human beings and all their passions, mistreatment and, in his case, to suffer crucifixion at their hands. He knew what was going to happen and he came anyway.

It has long been the teaching of the church that the interaction of members of the church helps us learn how to love one another. The ancient Christian teacher and writer Tertullian once said “Solus Christianus, nullus Christianus” – A Christian alone is no Christian.

I have heard this put many ways over the years. One preacher told us we were all rocks on the bottom of the river and the way we push against each other is what polishes us to get ready for heaven. However we put it, it is easy to say and follow when everything is going smoothly. It is quite a different thing to remember it and live it when a given church (or parish) is in the middle of chaos.

This question has become totally not theoretical for me and the fellow members of my local church in the last few weeks. A month ago we had two full time priests and, as far as most of us knew, everything was going well. Now both of those priests are gone, maybe permanently, and we have fill-in priests and are dealing with our bishop to get help to keep the parish going.

In addition to all the chaos and confusion, we are seeing people leave while others stay and people are taking sides. Instead of a spirit of love and cooperation, we are in danger of creating an environment of anger and self-righteousness. The question is now whether love or anger will prevail.

I am reminded of an episode called “The Day of the Dove” from the original Star Trek television series. In that episode, the Enterprise crew find themselves trapped on the ship with an equal number of Klingons in an endless series of battles. They realize that when they are killed in a battle, they return to fight again. The solution comes when they realize there is a creature on board who has created the conflict and feeds itself from the hatred it is generating.

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was telling this story in a science fiction format in a setting “where no man has gone before.”  But there is nothing new in this concept.

The Christian teaching is very clear that there is one who wants to destroy our souls and poison everything good in us that God put there. Whether you call our adversary the devil, Lucifer or the destroyer of souls or any other name, he exists. He seeks to put us at each other so that we forget we are here to show God’s love.

In times of chaos and anger, we have to decide what we want for our souls and those of our neighbors. There is obviously hurt and anger and shock. We may feel the need to lash out. At a minimum we need to express our hurt and anger. Hopefully our friends involved in the situation will be able to provide ears or shoulders as needed.

But we need to keep in mind that at each moment we are feeding ourselves either the “good food” of love and understanding and peace or the “bad food” of hatred, anger and self-righteousness. No matter how much we feel wronged by others, if we dwell in that hurt or anger we harm ourselves, not them.

The “winners” in this will be those who turn to God the soonest. The more it hurts, the angrier we feel, the more important it becomes to turn quickly. He is waiting to help us. He will help as much as we let Him. He is calling to each of us, no matter what “side” we are on, to turn to Him now. He won’t make us turn. If we insist on being miserable in ourselves and to others, He will honor our choice.

In some ways we want to cry, “Why us?” but in a sense it is a tribute to our spiritual readiness. We are being offered a test at the next school grade level in our spiritual journeys. How soon will we be able to “pass the test” or “win the game” by turning completely to God?

It is my fervent hope that we all choose God sooner rather than later. May our parish become a place where all who come, or return, are welcome and see only the love of God.


Life’s Mystery – It’s Awesome

The Rush of Everyday Thoughts

It is a typical Sunday night and the most routine of tasks. I move around the condo gathering all the trash for the morning pickup. I’ve done this uncounted times before. My mind is off in a whirl of thoughts.

My wife has been away helping care for her ailing mother. She is about to start the thousand-mile journey home. I am a little worried about the journey. I’m worried about her. I’m worried about her mother.

My daughter has been here for her summer visit. I took her back yesterday. I wonder about her coming school year. How will she do? She fell from a horse last year and broke her collarbone. Even with that, her love of horses is so great she is dropping other activities to have more time to ride. I’m reminded of a famous actor who was recently paralyzed in a fall from a horse. I wonder about my daighter’s safety and know she won’t stop riding.

Tomorrow starts another work week. My mind starts to race through the details and schedules of the coming days. Which meetings are the most important? How do I balance the requirements of various co-workers and activities? What surprises are waiting?

Creating a New Life Story

In counseling, I’ve found that I often fall into a very negative story about my life. It is a story of suffering and hurt and pain. There is doubt about God’s love and kindness. My counselor has suggested I create a new story about why I am on this earth. Why did I come here and what do I want to accomplish?

I remember the words of the gospel hymn that tells how Jesus shows his love by leaving the “splendor of Heaven” to save the world on a cross. It is a moving and powerful hymn.

In my down moment, I wonder: Did I leave heaven to empty trash on a Sunday night in a lonely condo? Did I give up all that glory, even temporarily, to live in uncertainty and confusion and all the unknowns of human existence?

Like a bolt of lightning, the answer hits me. Yes. It’s exactly the routine moments and a life of unknowing that I came for. It’s a chance to spend a life time in the sheer wonder of what the next moment holds.

Science Fiction is full of super races who know everything there is to know. But my boredom is temporary. Those beings can’t possibly be surprised. They know all the answers. Nothing is unknown for them to wonder about.

Have you ever watched your favorite team play on videotape? Even if you don’t know who won, it isn’t the same thing as watching it live. You know you can get the score if you wanted it, and you know that mystery has vanished.

But life constantly surprises me. I can plan and figure and analyze to my heart’s content. It makes little difference. Life will happen the way it does. The only thing I know for sure is that it will surprise me. Sometimes I’ll like the surprise. Sometimes I won’t.

The Blessings of Wonder and Trust

Yet I can do something the super races and divine beings of the universe can’t. I can wonder what the next moment holds without knowing the answer. I can wonder what the future holds for my loved ones. I can go to a game and cheer for my team and I’ll be completely surprised by the result.

There’s more. I am sure to be surprised by the answer to the most fascinating question of all. “How did my life turn out?” The answer: “I don’t know yet.”

I have the chance to learn the meaning of trust. Trust is irrelevant when you know how things turn out. How can I learn trust if there’s no possibility of disappointment? Yet what a great gift. Only by not knowing the future can I learn to trust.

Routine Becomes Awesome

Then another feeling flooded over me. It was awe. This surprised me. In the Catholic church, I learned awe in the observance of expertly and exquisitely executed ritual. I felt the splendor of God in those moments. I was filled with awe.

But I never expected to feel awe in collecting trash. Then, I understood. I was in awe of me! Somewhere, sometime, I agreed to this. It may have been before my birth. It may not have been before this moment. Still, it has happened.

I have agreed to completely put my trust in God. I’m willing to give up the right to know what the next minute holds, or even if I will have another minute.

Peter was willing to step out onto the water at Jesus’ word. In the same way, I am out on the ocean of life. I cry a lot. I holler and complain a lot, and still, there are those moments when my trust is complete.

In those moments I am in awe of everyone. That any of us have the courage to leave the “splendor of heaven” and to live in a sea of the unknown is amazing. That we all do is awesome.

Gathering the trash will never be quite the same. In the routine of day-to-day life, I encountered a moment of awe.

This article originally appeared in the April, 1996 edition of Unity Magazine