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Apr 16th, 2014 by Wallace

In the Shadow of Death

It is the middle of the week. Holy Week. Yet for many, just another Wednesday.

On the first day of this week, Palm Sunday for many, the eve of Passover for many, another day for many more, shots blasted out in suburbia, and lives were shattered. Outside of the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, a man fired on a high school freshman and his grandfather (and missed others in the parking lot), then drove away, only moments later to take the life of a woman stopping by a nursing home to visit her mother. The shooter, a 73 year old man, was later identified as a known white supremacist and member of the KKK, who had in the past been quoted as saying that because he was Christian he “hated all the Jews.”

There has a been an outpouring of love and support for the families of the victims (who all happened to be Christians, though the shooter was ignorant to that, blinded in his hate) as well as for the Jewish community, and especially those who live in the retirement home and are regulars at the community center. What has not gained as much national attention are the other shootings in Kansas City, several seemingly random “drive by” shootings over the last several weeks along major commuter corridors. We do not feel safe. We live in the shadow of death.

We are always living in the shadow of death, though sometimes we are not as aware of the shadow. The shadow creeps up quickly when we receive the diagnosis, when we hear the phone ring at 3 a.m., when we get a glimpse of our own vulnerability. The shadow lurks slowly when we struggle with depression, when we realize we are getting older, when we feel responsible for our loved ones and we cannot always protect them or control the actions of others in a world of random and premeditated violence. We live in the shadow of death.

There is a somberness to Holy Week. We are lingering and lurking in the shadow of the cross. Jesus was God’s love in flesh, who lived among us. God felt for us, loved us, and so God sent the Beloved to show us the Way of Love, even in the face of violence and hatred. Love that included laying down one’s life for one’s friends. Soon we will celebrate Jesus’ power over the shadow of death and even death itself. May we also celebrate and live the power of love over hate.

To live that reality, we are called to be an incarnation of God’s love here and now, in the neighborhood and community. In the cold and dark of winter it was easy to stay indoors (but more isolated from the real world). Today I turned off the news reports of local violence and I went for a run. It was the first time in a long time (“Lord, I am out of shape,” I wheezed my prayer as I tried to outrun the shadow). Instead of just driving by the neighborhood in a rush from A to B, I saw again the houses, waved to a few people, noticed the green of spring beginning to bloom. In taking steps to improve my physical life, I happened to move toward all the life happening around me that I have been numb to! I felt more down-to-earth, and I thought about what that means for the “incarnation” of love.

Our neighborhood is increasingly diverse, though that does not equate to being increasingly friendly. My route included running by the “angry house,” which has had anti-Obama signs in the yard for over 6 years. Someone had recently spray painted over the “Pro Gun, Pro Bible, Anti-Obama” and “Moochers, Morons, Fools” signs (each “O” the logo from the previous campaign), and the homeowner has planted a new sign next to the painted over sign that says in red letters “does the truth affend you?” (I think they meant “offend” which would have been an opportunity to be creative with the “O” again). Instead of constructive dialogue we have drive by politics, which could possibly escalate to violence. I have never thought to stop and knock, or to attempt to befriend the homeowner before.

Incarnation means face-to-face encounter over Facebook scrolling. Going for a walk or a run, but being willing to stop and introduce yourself to a stranger, to be near rather than numbly passing by. Incarnating love means knowing our neighbors, breaking bread together, working toward dialogue. In this week of all weeks it means reaching out in solidarity and reconciliation between Christian communities and Jewish communities, and for our particular neighborhood it may also mean working toward a brighter community with our Hindu and Sikh and Muslim neighbors, because of what we believe it means to be Christian, which is very different from what the angry shooter believes.

We live in the shadow of death. We all do. Sometimes we are more aware of the shadow. How will we choose to live our life? How will we choose to live love (which can be abundant and eternal right here and now)? To be near and with each other? May you respond with your next steps… … and God is with us on the Journey.

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