Monday, March 29, 2010

A "Christian Thing"

It started out as a “Christian thing.” David Brian Stone would take his family to church. They would pray. They would read Scripture, particularly Revelation, and believe they knew how the world would end.  
But then something happened. According to David’s ex-wife, he began to take it too far. He started talking about taking on the government. He joined the Hutaree, an extremist Christian militia group based in Michigan.  He became the group’s leader. He went from hand guns to automatic weapons to improvised explosive devices. 
On the second day of Holy Week, David, three of his family members, and five of his fellow militia members were indicted on an alleged plot to kill a police officer and then bomb the funeral procession.  “Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment,” the Hutaree web site says. “The Hutaree will one day see its enemy and meet him on the battlefield if so God wills it.”
What started out as a “Christian thing” had gone terribly awry. 
We’ll never know what snapped in David, or why he was allegedly leading others to commit heinous acts in the name of Jesus. 
What we do know is this: On the sixth day of Holy Week, they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back in its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:50a-52a).
Jesus was beaten and mocked, ridiculed and whipped. He never retaliated. He died later that day, when violent hands nailed him to a cross. He forgave his killers and traitors. Three days later, he rose from the dead and triumphed over all of the violence and hatred and suffering, leaving an unsurpassed peace for those who love and follow him. 
That, my friends, is a “Christian thing.” 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Have you seen Raven?

Raven is a 70-lb black Lab who's been missing since the late afternoon of Tuesday, March 23. She escaped from a yard near 71st and Michigan Roads. She was last seen headed north toward 79th Street. If you see her, please call Holly at 317-517-2070. 


Standing with her in the rain

Samantha approached me outside the church on Thanksgiving morning with her hair disheveled and her coat covered with dirt smudges and rain drops.  She demanded to borrow my cell phone to find if the Thanksgiving dinner she had requested from a charitable organization would be ready for pick-up in an hour.  I was in a hurry. I needed to be inside preparing to lead worship. I begrudgingly let her borrow my phone, but I insisted on dialing the number myself and standing with her in the gentle rain.
Samantha issued commands to the person on the other end of line. When she hung up, the rant continued against our church, our staff, the weather, and this meal that would serve as her Thanksgiving dinner.  I had to let her go mid-rant, but not before reminding her that I would keep her in my prayers. 
My encounters with Samantha have continued over the past few months. She’s almost always confused, angry, and paranoid. She tells stories about growing up with another member of our staff, who never met her until recently.  It’s hard to know how to respond to Samantha. 
A friend called me recently to ask if our church had any resources for helping congregations to welcome those who struggle with mental illness. I pointed her in a few directions, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Even as I offered her the information, I felt uneasy. Connecting with those who have mental illnesses is a complex, difficult journey. 
It was raining again on Monday when I saw Samantha. She was sitting in the front lobby of the church. She shouted at me as I walked out the door, “Be careful out there! Two guys tried to kidnap me, and I wouldn’t want that to happen to you.” Unwilling to believe her, I replied, “Samantha, I’m sorry you had a rough morning. I’ll be thinking of you. Hope your day gets better.” I continued out the church doors and opened my umbrella.
I later discovered that Samantha was mugged that morning. Thankfully, the police believed her while I blew her off. They arrested the alleged perpetrators that afternoon. 
I’m embarrassed by my lack of gentleness and compassion toward Samantha, and I know I’m not alone. I wonder what it means for the Church to embrace, accept, and listen to those who have mental illnesses. I wonder how church leaders like myself can grow and help others to deepen their care for people like Samantha.  
There are no simple answers, but I think the answer starts in a simple place: We stand with them in the rain.