Reflections from a Wesleyan Pastor in Christchurch, NZ

Posted by on Mar 20, 2019 in News | No Comments

So many thoughts and emotions have flooded my mind and heart since Friday afternoon’s attacks. It is difficult to put such things into words, but try I will. Not because everything thought or feeling needs to be given voice, but because some do.

In the aftermath, people have expressed a desire for (1) being together in community and the shared knowledge that they are not grieving alone; and (2) for some truth/theology to guide how they process and respond to this event.  This is a humble attempt to address the latter.

My primary concern is with our tendency to look outward at the ‘bigness’ of the problem and feeling overwhelmed and unsure of even how we can make a difference. Systemic issues of violence, prejudice, injustice, and hate can often seem beyond us. We wonder what difference we can make.

My simple offering is, “Lots. You can make a huge difference… but it starts with you.”
What do I mean by that? Start by examining your own heart before God.

Sure, there will be plenty to follow afterwards. For now, I offer these three practices as a starting point on how to journey what will be a long and difficult road for our city.

1. LAMENT
In times like these, I’m grateful for the depth and richness of our Christian faith. We have wonderful resources in scripture and the Christian tradition upon which we can draw in our sorrow and grief. Biblical lament is no stranger to immense sorrow and grief. It gives voice to pain, hurt, confusion, and injustice. It validates the feelings accompanying hardship and tragedy.

It is important to remember, however, biblical lament is different than feeling sadness and sorrow. It is more than expressing sadness and sorrow.

Biblical lament is crying out to God from a place of sadness and sorrow.

It involves a different orientation – one of looking to God from within the suffering; rather than looking (only) at the pain and hurt that surrounds.

Bring your hurt, pain, confusion, uncertainty to God. Cry out to God amidst all you are feeling and experiencing.

Allow the rich resources of our faith to guide your lament and sorrow.
Psalms 10, 13, 37, 46, 57, 61, 77, and 86 are a great place to start.

This is not some attempt to reduce or dismiss the pain and hurt. Those are real. Instead, it is bringing those things, in all their realness, to the One who knows all about pain, suffering, hurt, and injustice.

Bring it to the One who can handle it when you cannot.
Bring it to the One who understands when you cannot.
Bring it to the One who is strong when you are not.
Bring it to the One who comforts when you cannot.

Bring it to the One who will hold you in grief.

2. CONFESSION & REPENTANCE
Examining our hearts before God will inevitably lead to some form of confession and repentance. In this situation, we humbly confess and repent of any seeds of hate or prejudice illumined by God’s Spirit.

Jacinda Ardern, our Prime Minister, is a remarkable leader. And I’ve greatly appreciated her leadership through this tragedy. Several of her words have captured the nation (and the world) and serve as a rallying cry… Words like, “they are us;” and, “this is your home, you should have been safe here.”

And, referring to the shooter, PM Jacinda Ardern said, “This is not who we are.” It is a powerful statement and a wonderful sentiment that I wholeheartedly endorse. However, if we are to be completely honest, it is more aspiration than a reality.

In the wake of the shootings, we are hearing the voice of the Muslim community saying, “we do not feel safe.” And, (in my words)… this is who we are. Muslim men and women are afraid to leave their homes and be out in public. And this isn’t just since Friday. This has been true of their experience living in New Zealand long before Friday, 15 March 2019.

Muslim people (and others) have regularly experienced verbal and, at times, physical abuse sending the repeated message, “you are not wanted here.”

This reality breaks my heart.

Instead of becoming defensive or dismissive, humble self-examination ought to compel us to confession and repentance – both personally and communally. We confess and repent personally, asking God to purge any and all forms of hate, prejudice, and racism from our own soul. And, we confess and repent on behalf of our nation (something for which there is also a strong biblical warrant).

Ultimately, as true confession and repentance are outworked in our souls, and the soul of our nation, we might rephrase Jacinda’s words, “this is who we are… but it doesn’t have to be” (as referenced in this article).

3. NOTHING IS FUTILE

When it comes to responding in a situation like this, no gesture or effort is futile.  Especially when it is offered in the name of Jesus Christ as an expression of God’s love.  Hence, we live out of the belief that no gesture or effort to show kindness, love, and support is futile.

Words of reassurance, comfort, and encouragement to hurting people.
Offering a meal or cuppa.
Lingering longer and listening deeply.
Giving generously.
Attending a memorial.

On the surface, one might consider such acts as futile in light of the ‘bigness’ of this situation; but we all know they are incredibly meaningful to the one receiving such love and kindness.  They offer a very different message of welcome, love, and support.

And, the cumulative effect of small, seemingly futile, efforts results in monumental change.

This is, after all, the way of the Gospel.

Imagine how the disciples must have felt on the Friday night and Saturday after Jesus was crucified.  Surely they felt the last three years of their lives was a waste.  All the travel, teaching, sacrifice, trouble… for what?  Futile.

And then on Sunday, Christ rose from the grave overcoming sin and death.

And after ascending to heaven, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower the disciples to carry on with the ministry God entrusted to them.

And all of a sudden, what seemed futile was infused with incredible power, meaning, significance, and kingdom potential.

The same is true for you and me today… in this situation.

In fact, as we serve those around you in small ways and in big ways, Jesus says, we serve Him (Matthew 25:34-40).

As one desiring to be part of an authentic community in our church and our wider city, I recognise this means we “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.”  We need to get better at rejoicing and mourning with others.

And, I submit, one of the best ways for us to grow in this area is through an unflinching willingness to face any darkness, ugliness, issue, or sin in our own lives.  Rather than becoming defensive or blame-shifting, we followers of Jesus deal with our junk.  Because we know it need not be part of who we are anymore.

So, we bring it to God for forgiveness, healing, and restoration.  And we receive hope for living differently.  God has so much more in store if we will turn to him, cry out to him, repent, and follow Him forward even when it seems futile or meaningless.

By Clint Ussher