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Why are 20 veterans a day taking their own lives? That’s the question the Rev. Tom Davis has been asking since August 2015, when a magazine cover on veterans’ suicides grabbed his attention. After all, he thought, aren’t these the same men and women who fought so hard to stay alive during active duty, as Davis did during his combat service in Vietnam?
As Christians, this is the promise toward which we live, but it’s not just an eschatological hope. It’s God’s vision into which we are called to live daily, supported by our faith in the One who has given himself on our behalf. Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” — nothing less — and the guide for our daily living.
I recently read a sermon by a friend from seminary detailing a harrowing time when insomnia led to migraines, which led to hallucinations, which led to a diagnosis of mental illness. My friend drew on Jesus’ healing of the demoniac in Mark’s Gospel, and explained that Jesus, today, used medical professionals, effective drugs and sabbath rest to return her to health.
In 1993 fighting erupted within the small South Sudanese town of Yei (pronounced “Yay”). Machine guns mounted atop land cruisers and men wearing fatigues launched shells of ammunition into the air. Mothers and grandmothers hurried out of gunfire with babies tied to their backs and cooking pans seated on their heads. They emptied into forests, pushed through branches and waded through streams, moving up gravel-covered hills and down shadowed valleys. They assembled at border crossings bulging from the influx of refugees. Thousands flowed across the border of the world’s newest nation into United Nations-sanctioned areas in Uganda.
At age 16, Kalief Browder found himself on New York’s Rikers Island, awaiting trial for a crime he says he didn’t commit. Returning from a party in the Bronx, Browder was accused of stealing a backpack holding a credit card, an iPod Touch, a camera and $700. At his arraignment, he was charged with second-degree robbery. Bail was set at $3,000. Browder didn’t have the ability to “bond out” — pay the fee. He would spend the next three years in jail before being released, with his charges dropped.
The carnations were placed in vases on a table near the front door of the church. As the congregation filed out of the sanctuary and shook hands with the pastor, members of the worship committee handed carnations to women in celebration of Mother’s Day. Not all women received a flower, however. Only those who had children. I still remember the look of pain on one woman’s face who was denied a flower. She was approaching her mid-40s, yet she still clung to hope that she would have a child one day. I was still just a seminary student, but that began my questioning as to how the church should handle Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day, for that matter).
A new level, a new devil. I couldn’t believe my ears when a young mother said this during a Bible study once. I rarely heard anyone talk so openly about the opposition that comes when you walk with Christ — even though our Presbyterian confessions speak of this reality. In the Heidelberg Catechism, Question 127 asks why we pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” The answer: . . . since our mortal enemies, the devil, the world, and our own flesh cease not to assault us, do Thou therefore preserve and strengthen us by the power of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may not be overcome in this spiritual warfare . . . .
When I was in middle school, my neighbor joined the Shaun Cassidy Fan Club. She got a great poster that looked like it had been signed by the pop star to hang on her wall. We swooned as we stared at it, sitting on her bed and listening to mix tapes. I wondered, as I stared and swooned, what it would be like to be such an insider, to be an actual member of the fan club and get special perks.
A wondrous change is taking place — a movement of the Spirit. Presbyterian congregations are reprioritizing the work of the Church, taking it from an institution of survival to a way of getting actively engaged in the community and making the world a better place.
When leader Nick Pickrell heard that The Open Table KC, a worshiping community in Kansas City, Missouri, that gathers for dinner and fellowship, would receive a $25,000 1001 New Worshiping Community growth grant from the Presbyterian Mission Agency, he thought, “What? What!”