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Monday, December 17, 2012

What Is Right With Organized Religion: Reflections on Newtown

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

Like many people, I spent the weekend with a kind of emotional schizophrenia.  There was shopping to do, and holiday events, and children with Christmas adrenaline coursing through their veins.  And then there were the children and adults of Newtown who wouldn't be celebrating Christmas this year at all. In social settings and check out lines, we adults either awkwardly talked about it or we didn't   But either way, as one friend said,   “It isn’t just the elephant in the room.  It is the elephant pressing on our chests.”

In this kind of state, I stumbled into church on Sunday.  And there I was reminded of what is right with organized religion. My tradition is protestant Christian, but I suspect Jews in their synagogues and Muslims in their mosques experienced something similar.

In the Christian tradition, it was the third Sunday of advent, the Sunday given to themes of joy and rejoicing.   How can we possibly do this with the elephant of Newtown pressing on our chests?    I have heard many times that the word religion comes from the root “ligio,” which means to connect. (Think ligament.)  Maybe that was it.

In church on Sunday I was helped to connect the pain in my heart with the ancient tradition from which Christianity began. Maybe it was my pastor’s heroic and successful efforts to speak the word that might bridge our fragile state and the promises of God.  She didn't offer easy answers, but simply held out the assurances of a God who would be present in pain. Maybe it was the carols that speak honestly  of fear and sorrow, but also of hope.  Maybe it was simply being together, in community.  This Sunday when we looked at one another and said, “The peace of Christ be with you,” we really meant it. Whatever it was, it helped.

There is a lot of talk these days about what is wrong with organized religion.  On Sunday I was reminded of what is right with it.

Ed. Note:
If you would like to mail sympathy cards or letters of support and solidarity to the school, the school address appears to be:
Sandy Hook Elementary School
12 Dickenson Drive
Sandy Hook, CT, 06482

1 comment:

  1. This was a great post Doug!

    It was interesting to come back and read this now (Jan 4) as we prepare for Epiphany. The visit of the wise men is on tap for this week in the lectionary (I know cause I'm reading!!) I find it interesting that the "official" reading stops at v 15. Hmmh?? Okay, they flee to Egypt, but why??

    The reason of course is that Herod has ordered infanticide to guarantee no threats to his rule. So the Holy Family becomes displaced refugees. It's almost as if we'd prefer to forget about the rest of Matthew 2.

    But the stories in Matthew 2:16ff, are important to contemplate if we wish to understand the full Story of Jesus, as is the ominous and chilling end of prophecy of Simeon to both Jesus and Mary (Luke 2:33-35) that Luke (writing decades after these events) uses to foreshadow what is to come in Lent and Holy Week.

    Unfortunately, however, these readings, if read at all, are proclaimed to half-empty churches in the weeks following Christmas. I suppose there's a natural human tendency to focus on the good and joyful stories and forget about the flipside. Lord knows you won't see the Masacre of Innocents portrayed in the kid's Christmas Pageant -- nor should you.

    But I do think there's a darker side to Christmas -- and to Christ -- that we need to experience if we are to fully appreciate the whole story of Jesus. Maybe I feel it because I lived it in recent years. It's not something any of us would necessarily choose, but it's something we ALL need.

    If we just leave the cute baby in the manger (itself not as sterile as we often make it out to be in Christmas Cards) and then return to the empty tomb, we've missed important details.

    If we enter in, we begin to appreciate how Christ entered in. Jesus entered the world as it really was -- and really is today -- as opposed to the world portrayed by Hallmark. Jesus didn't ignore the grim reality of suffering and tragedies that often defy explanation. No, he chose to enter in -- he came to be with us just as we were. In taking on our flesh, he got about as personal as you can get. Through Jesus, God was redeeming not only us as individuals, but the whole world. The world was off course and God intended to put things right, and invited us to join in that effort. Jesus', life, death, and resurrection lay the seeds of that transformation, and still bear fruit today. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is with all those who follow him, and becomes real as you and I share him with those we meet.

    Indeed, the light of Christ dwells "in us", and that light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.