Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Violence takes its toll on a much wider swath of the community than simply the few persons directly, and physically, harmed by attack. It is an oddly sad day for me. I've listened this afternoon to the live stream from the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to which I belong and which I serve (albeit passively now) as an ordained minister. The annual gathering is in Minneapolis yet through the magic of internet technology, Twitter, facebook, and several blogs, I can feel as if I'm in the convention center. (And, at the same time, eat an ice cream sandwich and, more importantly, pet and comfort my dog, Daisy, who is terrified of the ongoing thunderstorm.) I watch my friends make speeches on the video screen that introduce the Lutheran Malaria Initiative, our partnership with the larger UN Foundation's "Nothing But Net" campaign to provide malaria nets to everyone in Malaria-prone areas of Africa, Cindy, Andrea and others. This is the same campaign that Bill Gates, Ashton Kutcher, and Bono champion. We're part of it. $10.00 from you buys a net. Saves a life. We Lutherans do this sort of thing really, really well! We get resources on the ground and with less overhead than almost anybody else -- including organizations such as the Red Cross, national government, and UN aid. In the aftermath of the tsunami in Asia, Hurricane Katrina, and other disasters, we had money and supplies in people's hands within hours. Our ten bucks a head will go directly to purchase the nets. We're very efficient at this sort of thing. Besides buying "nothing but net" we are very good at delivering medical care, training medical professionals in Africa, and promoting the development of essential infrastructure that brings long-term, self-sustaining progress in Africa and elsewhere. It is moving and wonderful to learn of this activity. It makes me proud of our church. It may be just about the best thing we do. My daughter plans to become a medical doctor, her special interests are public health and medical care to underserved communities. This initiative is something I could easily imagine her getting excited about, and perhaps even committing her time and talent to. Sadly, because of what happened to me, and the church's response to it -- this same larger church that does some things so well -- she will have nothing to do with it. Of course, my daughter's vocation will be carried out in fulfilling and important ways. And the church will find the personnel required to deliver the care it seeks to offer. But I always rather expected, and imagined, that my daughters would also serve through the church, in part because, in this arena, it does such a great job. Not only my daughters and husband are lost to this church, but scores of others. And not only as a consequence of my experiences, but in relation to hundreds of other instances where the church has failed to care for victims of violence within the church. There are millions of Americans who have become estranged from churches, ours and others, because of the crass, self-serving, and mean-spirited actions of its leaders. I respect their decisions, especially as many of them are deeply spiritual persons who have found creative and meaningful ways of serving the world and honoring its people. They are often profoundly compassionate, humble, and hard-working in the ways they do divine work, even without so naming it. My family has taken other paths over the past several years, ones in which they have discovered new ways of engaging their values and commitments. I am so proud of them. I honor and respect them more than I can tell. The world will be grateful and make excellent use of their gifts. And they will find exciting ways to give. But on a day like today, I'm reminded that we have come out at a very different place than I expected years ago. And I can not but feel melancholy and a bit sad. There is never a containment policy for violence. It spills out. In ways we could not have imagined. Beyond boundaries we could not have predicted. We need to count these costs. The church can get along much more easily without me than it can without all these others. And they are legion. Legion.