Do Not Lose Heart


    Americans are a resilient bunch.  Throughout our history we have been known to roll with the punches.  Our fights with the British roamed halfway across the continent from 1776 until 1812.  During the American Civil War between 600,000 and 700,000 lives were lost, then more through other wars including a devastating attack at Pearl Harbor and the more recent attacks in September 11, 2001.  While we have always come back after such horror, it is difficult for us to grapple with death on our home soil.  It has been a long time since 1812, but we understood that we were at war with England and the English, generally, only fought those who chose to fight.  Pearl Harbor was hard but it was, at least, an attack on a military target.  September 11th was different.  It shook us and caused many to begin looking for revenge.   Many joined the military to be a part of finding the perpetrators or at least to do something to be a part of our national defense.  
    After September 11th most everyone expected that there would be more of the same.  We knew we were in a “War on Terror” and so we expected that there would be more frequent attacks on American citizens and on American soil.  It is a huge credit to law enforcement and military personnel across the country and around the world that nearly all of the expected attacks since 2001 were discovered and averted before they could be carried out.  Until now…
    With this latest attack during the Boston Marathon many of our feelings revert to what we felt on September 11th.  At this time we do not know anything about the attacker(s), who they are, or where they are from, or why they did what they did.  We heard that a suspect has been arrested but that too, was premature.  We want revenge, we want retribution and a few may feel that somehow we should run away, or give up fighting.  Any of these responses will cause us to lose our way.  As Christians we are called to something different, to follow a different path.  Today I specifically want to speak to those who are frightened by these events.
    In scripture our temptation to surrender because of our fear is referred to as losing heart.  It is ‘heart’ that makes us who we are and what we are, it is ‘heart’ that makes us move forward in the face of fear.  In Hebrews 12 we are encouraged, when times are hard, to consider all that Jesus endured for us, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)  The prophet Jeremiah offers similar advice, especially in times like this, saying…
 “Do not lose heart or be afraid
    when rumors are heard in the land;
one rumor comes this year, another the next,
    rumors of violence in the land
    and of ruler against ruler.”
(Jeremiah 51:46)
    Remember that we are citizens of two nations, one is an earthly kingdom ruled by men, and the other an eternal kingdom ruled by the creator of the universe.  Our King has not forgotten us.  The Savior of the world still cares for us and watches over us.  Jesus knows your limits.  He knows how much you can take.  Find comfort and reassurance in knowing that even though…
He will not quarrel or cry out;
    no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matthew 12:19-21)
A bruised reed he will not break.  
A smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  
He knows what you need… and how you feel.
He hears your prayers and he understands your fear.

Who Can We Blame?

It seems that every day there is more to read about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I understand that this is a huge news story that affects millions of people along the southern coast of the United States and I am really not too concerned that the media is (typically) overplaying the story. What concerns me is the way that local residents, and politicians of all stripes (local, state, and federal) are turning a horrible accident into a bizarre circus of finger pointing in the extreme. Legally, I understand that the cost to clean up the mess will be enough to bankrupt several major corporations and that BP may not survive to pay for it all. I understand that BP will want to shift some or all of this financial burden onto whichever other corporate entities may have had a role in allowing this accident to happen. What I have a problem with, is the tendency that people have for wanting to make this tragedy personal.

Folks are pointing a finger at the CEO of British Petroleum and saying that it is, personally, his fault that this happened. They point fingers variously at President George Bush and President Obama and the commander of the Coast Guard and anyone else that seems even remotely convenient and somehow construe the facts of history to make it that persons fault. Yes, mistakes were made. No, things happened that shouldn’t have happened. Shortcuts were taken that shouldn’t have been. All that can be true and still, it doesn’t have to be any single person’s “fault.” That’s why they call them accidents.

Many of the policies in place were enacted by the Bush administration but they were likely voted on by many members of the opposing party. Many of these policies were changed by the Obama administration and the enforcement of these regulations fall to that administration as well. In either case, I doubt very much that either President Bush or President Obama had any specific knowledge of what was happening on this one particular drilling rig. Likewise, I doubt that the president of BP, who is (or at least was) not an American and who does not live in the United States (BP stands for British Petroleum, remember?) knew anything about the specifics of what was happening on one of the hundreds of drilling operations his company was conduction around the globe. Certainly none of this was intentional. The spill alone is horrible. The environmental damage is unimaginable. Thousands of people have lost their livelihoods and eleven men lost their lives aboard the Deepwater Horizon. No sane person would have intentionally caused this to happen or even allowed it to happen. It was an accident.

Psychologists tell us that when people are under stress they look for a place to focus that stress. It happens in churches that are undergoing significant change. When people are under stress they want someone to be responsible for the stress they feel and will often reach out to any convenient authority figure. I have been the focus of such stress. All sorts of elaborate stories can be created to direct that stress, or blame, upon these convenient figures regardless of the facts or the truth. Reality just isn’t that tidy.

The reality is that churches that are undergoing change have often come upon that change in a process that spanned many years and involved many more people. The reality of the accident aboard the Deepwater Horizon is that its causes were undoubtedly many and involved persons from the drilling rig, its owners, BP, regulators and members of state and federal government. Even worse, pressures were put on all these players by market forces by which each and every one of us played a part. Face it, when I get off the freeway to buy gasoline I really don’t give a rip about who has the best environmental record, I just want the cheapest gas. The pressure to produce fuel cheaply and to develop an abundant domestic supply while abiding by the various restrictions placed upon them undoubtedly played upon some of the poor decisions that were made and which led up to the accident. Besides that, accidents happen despite the best intentions or preparations of any of human being. That’s why we call them accidents.

I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be a complete and thorough investigation, there should and if criminal acts were committed then those acts should be punished. Neither am I saying that BP and its subsidiaries and subcontractors should not pay for the damages caused and the cleanup that is required, they should. What I am saying is that I doubt that we will ever find a smoking gun. I doubt that anyone will ever be able to say that any one person or that any specific group of people are, personally, responsible for this accident.

As people of faith, especially as people of faith, we need to be clearer about that. Instead of becoming belligerent and argumentative, instead of busying ourselves pointing fingers at people who were far removed from actual events, we need to have a different focus. As people of faith, we need to let the justice system do its job and conduct its investigation without our interference. As people of faith, we need to focus our attention on the least and the lost, to try to help those who have been harmed by this disaster and who have no safety net to catch them. As people of faith, instead of looking for people to blame, we need to show a little grace.