By Jim Segaar
With that, all the disciples deserted Jesus and fled. – Mark 14.50
What do you do when your world is blown apart?
I’ve been immersed in Good Friday this week, preparing for our Good Friday service. I’ve read multiple versions of the scripture accounts of that day, pondered it all, crafted some of my thoughts into a reflection for the service, and still I keep thinking about it.
Not so much about what Jesus must have thought and felt. I don’t think I have the capacity to imagine life from his perspective. To become an itinerant preacher with a revolutionary message. To draw a core of disciples to follow him. To take his message to Jerusalem, to the seat of Power, and to confront that Power in the full knowledge of what would happen next. I can’t even begin to empathize with what Jesus did.
But I can empathize with the disciples. I can imagine being captivated by the Teacher, and giving up a humdrum life to follow him. Listening to his lessons, and consistently missing the point. Arguing about greatness when I should be learning about servanthood. And then seeing my worst fears become reality with the arrest and execution of Jesus. To run away and hide, too afraid to do anything else.
And I keep thinking about those students from Parkland, Florida. Can anyone who hasn’t been in a similar situation imagine what it’s like to be in school when a shooter starts shooting? To see or hear friends and teachers die? To know that any second literally could be your last? And then to return to that scene a few days later with expectations that you resume your education?
I can empathize with students who refuse to return to school, to want to run and keep running. But at first I thought I couldn’t understand the leaders who have emerged, started the #NeverAgain movement, and helped organize the March For Our Lives. Could I do what they are doing? Take on the NRA and our national cult of gun worship? Keep going even when powerful people make fun of you and tell you to shut up?
But actually, I can imagine, at least a little, what their lives are like. I remember what it was like to grow up gay in a place where no one, including me, knew what that was. I remember coming out to family members who poured their anger on me, who saw my anguish only as an affront to themselves. I remember telling the first person who threatened to “out” me at work to go to hell. I remember hearing about “gay cancer,” and doing everything I could to help care for my dying friends and neighbors. I remember working harder than anyone else in my department, for less pay (no family to support, after all), because I believed that any day could be my last day of employment.
And I remember when things got better. When estranged relatives became friendly again. When I met other gay people at work who were not fired, but promoted and trusted with greater responsibilities, and having the same thing happen to me. When the nightmare that is AIDS didn’t go away, but did become transformed into a chronic condition.
That’s what I hope and pray will happen for those kids from Parkland, and to survivors of school shootings across our country. I pray that they continue to face their fears instead of running from them, to call BS on a broken system that claims nothing can be done, and to see changes happen, even if things happen too slowly. To live to see a day when common-sense restrictions of our gun culture become the law of the land.
And here I am back to Jerusalem, in those days right after Good Friday. The disciples ran, but they didn’t keep running. They came together, first in fear, then in unbelief, and finally in belief, to support each other and carry forward the message of their Teacher.
Good Friday, like any calamity, could have been the beginning of the end for the followers of Jesus. But instead, they made it the end of the beginning.
What’s next for us?
By Jim Segaar
Some mornings I wake up thinking, “Which horrendous problem with our society should I freak out about today?”
Because we definitely have choices.
This year, following the murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many people are freaking out about gun violence, and I’m one of them. In some ways this is an “easy one.” Nations from Great Britain to Australia to Canada have dealt effectively with gun violence by implementing what even Dick’s Sporting Goods refers to as “common sense gun reform.” So even though the powers that be resist needed change, at least we have a pretty good idea of what those changes are.
But other problems seem even more intractable.
In March, Time magazine devoted an entire issue to the Opiod crisis in the United States. Drug overdoses killed nearly 64,000 people in the U.S. in 2016 – that’s about twice as many as are killed in the U.S. with guns in an average year. Photojournalist James Nachtwey’s work fills the Time issue. He commented, “ I had no idea what it looked like on the ground. The only way to make real sense of it, I told my editors, was to see what happens to individual human beings, one by one.” Where do we even start to address this crisis?
We can add many other problems to the list. Climate change. Our political system rotting from the head down. Systemic racism and sexism. Homophobia. Islamophobia. Imigrantophobia. Or maybe we could just call it all “NOT-LIKE-ME-ophobia.”
Where do we even begin to pick what to focus on, let alone solve the problems? I don’t have a clue. But I’ve found a few hints in my recent reading.
According to the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who collaborated on a recent book, the key to achieving happiness not only on an individual level but a societal one is compassion. Per the Dalai Lama, “A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.”
In addition to compassion, or perhaps as part of it, we need to take action. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared many words of wisdom regarding action, including:
And all of the above find inspiration in the life and teachings of Jesus. In addition to compassion and action, Jesus stressed nonviolent resistance. This is supported not only in the Bible, but in Roman references pertaining to Jesus, according to authors John Dominic Crossan and Sarah Sexton Crossan . Per to the Roman penal code: “the authors of sedition and tumult, or those who stir up the people, shall, according to their rank, either be crucified, thrown to wild beasts, or deported to an island.” Jesus of Nazareth, the leader of a nonviolent resistance and a Jewish peasant, qualified for crucifixion. The fact that his followers were not also crucified means that his movement was nonviolent, according to the Crossans.
So what do we do in our troubled world? How can we move beyond freaking out every day?
Our traditions tell us to begin with compassion, action, and nonviolent resistance. And we need to add one more element for more complete picture. We have no guarantees of success, at least in our lives or per our own timelines. The arc of the universe may bend toward justice, but no one promises that our efforts will bend it fast enough so we see the results personally.
So what do we do next? We have an opportunity to join our voices with thousands, perhaps millions, of others on Saturday, March 24 by participating in the March For Our Lives, which will take place in many cities and calls for that “common sense gun reform” mentioned earlier. The Seattle march begins at 10 a.m. at Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill.
We don’t have any guarantees that the march will lead to needed legislation regarding firearms, or that any of our efforts to fix our broken society will bear fruit any time soon. But we must take every opportunity we have to show compassion, to take action, and to nonviolently resist that which we believe to be wrong. To do anything less means we fail to move past freaking out.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist