Only in times of tradgedy are we actually at our best

Rev. Robert Chell

Rev. Robert Chell

You’ve seen them on TV, the family standing in front of the burnt out shell of their home. Rich or poor, church going believers or Sunday morning golfers, they always say the same thing: “We’re thankful to God to be alive. The house can be rebuilt.”

When one’s back is against the wall, those who have faith, if only the size of a mustard seed, find it. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say faith finds them — cutting through soccer schedules, marriages on the rocks, unanswered letters and coveted new computers. All the ‘stuff’ of life is pushed aside revealing what is central, what is important, what is ultimate.

9/11 did the same for us as a country. 9/11. We’ve instantly and universally agreed to toss out the grammar rule which says dates ought always be spelled out — or maybe not. It isn’t a date after all, it’s an event, a turning point of history. We were at our best; giving our time, our money, our blood, taking to heart Jesus words to share not only our coat but our shirt as well.

We’ve done it before. More than one college student has done it, leaving a cap, a shirt, a suitcase full of clothes, when a spring break mission trip has exposed one to three dimensional poverty in contrast to the two dimensional, and easily dismissed, suffering offered up daily on the evening news.

Why then, I wonder, do I see that same student in my study two weeks later apoplectic over a roommate who has, once again, borrowed clothes without asking?

What is it in us that confronted with the worst brings out our best and blessed with affluence turns us, one and all, into self-centered, sanctimonious boneheads?

See that same family rejoicing in their good fortune in escaping a burning home two years later when Dad got a door ding at Wal-mart, Joey had a Nintendo game swiped, Suzy didn’t get chosen for cheerleader and Mom was bypassed for a promotion at work, and you won’t hear much about God’s blessings. Uh-uh.

One of my favorite quotes is from the frontispiece of an otherwise mediocre book. It says, “It’s not my parents I hate, I hate the way I am when I am with them.”

It brings home the point. The problem is not natural disaster, terrorists, inconsiderate roommates, our parents or any of the travails that are part of life. The problem is us.

The problem is the stuff of life. The stuff with which we clothe our insecurity, feed our depression, numb our confusion and hide our fear. We are satiated with stuff, stuffed with food, yet we hunger. We hunger for meaning. We hunger for purpose. We hunger for challenge.

It’s no wonder we are discouraged. We hunger for the substantive while we feed on the superficial. Superficial relationships, superficial work, superficial sex, superficial religion, superficial stuff.

We cannot break out of the cycle because we cannot break out of our humanity. We can only be attuned to God’s breaking in. Fire, terrorists, roommates, parents, professors, pain and problems. God is always breaking into our lives. With the power of a wildfire sweeping over one’s home, with the power of a wildflower gently pushing soil aside as it reaches for the sun.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning , in her poem Aurora Leigh, writes:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes–

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,

And daub their natural faces unaware…

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

E-mail comments to Pastor Bob at [email protected].