September 22, 2016

Stuff We Can’t Fix

The fall equinox is here. Days are growing shorter, and even drought-scorched Los Angeles is showing signs of cooling down.

It’s been an overwhelming summer. The unrelenting violence around the nation and the world has gotten to me. Police shooting people. People shooting police. People on trains, in airports and hospitals, celebrating at weddings, seeing their lives turned suddenly to carnage. Earlier this summer, a mom and her 4-year-old daughter shot to death on the way home from the grocery store two blocks from a church I served. Today, news of four people shot, two killed, a block from another church I served. Trouble here, there, everywhere.

Los Angeles has also seen an enormous upsurge in homelessness. In the mile and a half between my home and my church, I pass dozens of people living in tents on the sidewalks, dozens more living in their cars and vans and rundown campers. Mountains of trash grow near each small encampment. It’s like that all over the city. Many of my homeless neighbors get up and go to work every morning. In LA, a job is no match for the cost of housing, especially for anyone whose credit has ever been compromised.

How do we pray about huge, horrible things that we can’t easily stop or control? How do we pray when there is nothing we can do to fix what is wrong? How can we pray when we are mired in systems and history that are not easily undone, even by long hours of advocacy and heartfelt desires on the part of many?

Psalm 69...”Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck. I am sinking in deep mire and there is no firm ground for my feet….”

The psalms don’t fear the depth of pain and sorrow. They lift our eyes to the hills, from whence cometh our help. They remind us that sometimes we are just called to be faithful. Loving my neighbor for one more day will not bring the relief from violence that I seek, not in any immediate, dramatic way. But it is the next step forward, the next act of peace, the only way to be faithful now or anytime.

I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed. I don’t want easy answers. I’m even finding myself resisting constructive efforts and suggestions about how to tackle the huge problems before us, and I suspect I am not alone in that either.

How does your congregation speak to overwhelming realities, to things that are not easily mended--at least in any visible way--by our prayers and programs and best efforts?

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