When I was younger I used to believe that if I covered my eyes when I was scared I could keep myself safe. As long as I didn’t “see” the scene in the movie that frightened me, then it wasn’t really happening, for example. That habit of closing my eyes followed me into young adulthood. When I first moved into an apartment and was frightened by creaking sounds, I’d close my eyes, out of instinct, to dodge that which I was afraid of. The habit also followed me into my early weeks of training in the hospital as a chaplain intern: if I turned away when I was afraid, then I wouldn’t see the pain I was afraid of encountering. The true, deep pain of true, deep wounds.
However, as time went on and I engaged in rigorous theological education, I realized that I couldn’t keep closing my eyes and turning away from pain if I truly felt called to ministry. I couldn’t faithfully respond to my call with privileged eyes glued shut, dodging the message of the gospel’s intersection with the deep groans of creation. I opened my eyes – to the intrinsic and complicated pains of living and dying.
With eyes open I’m forced to confront the problem of evil. It’s a theological question upon which all theological inquiries face the ultimate test. Against the problem of evil, everything I say I believe will reveal its strengths and undoubtedly its flaws and inability to keep up, to make sense of the world that is literally falling apart around us. People are killing people. At an unbelievably rapid speed. Cain killed Abel and we keep killing each other. Broken systems of racism lead innocent people to their deaths too quickly. Anger races at doorsteps and innocent people are killed in response to killing. Terrorism sweeps the lives of hundreds of people to instill fear in the minds of hundreds of observers. And we try to close our eyes, to turn away, to wish and pray and hope it away, but it’s not working. We blame the other-ed for their own deaths. We blame the other-ed for the killing. Closing our eyes didn’t keep the truck driver from slaying dozens of people Thursday night in Nice, France. And it didn’t stop the killings of Stanley Almodovar III, Amanda Alvear, Oscar A Aracena-Montero, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Antonio Davon Brown, Darryl Roman Burt II, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, Juan Chevez-Martinez, Luis Daniel Conde, Cory James Connell, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Deonka Deidra Drayton, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Paul Terrell Henry, Frank Hernandez, Miguel Angel Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, Kimberly Morris, Akyra Monet Murray, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, Enrique L. Rios, Jr., Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, Edward Sotomayor Jr., Shane Evan Tomlinson, Martin Benitez Torres, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Luis S. Vielma, Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, Jerald Arthur Wright, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, Brent Thompson, Deravis Rogers, those killed in Istanbul, those killed in Brussels, and those who are not mentioned here.
Creation is crying out! We can’t close our eyes any longer. And yet, too many were never given the chance to close their eyes to begin with. Institutionalized oppression and other-ing made it so they had no option but to see the disturbing realities of inequality in their midst.
Once we open our eyes, we shall see that the created order was never intended to be this way. Peace and justice and the presence of God walking and talking amongst creation, a God who loves enough that through the incarnation shows us that even death shall be redeemed unto new life, that nothing can separate us because the Holy Spirit accompanies and unites us across our differences; this triune God, three in one and one in three, makes us stronger in diversity by reaching us in our unique belovedness and embodying such a model of being together through the trinity. Closing our eyes allows us to believe that the darkness behind our eyelids is the peace we seek above the chaos. Opening our eyes allows us to remember that our whole beingness is tied into the beingness of all of creation. When suffering inflicts upon the oppressed and death races at the hands of evil we are tied up in that because we need each other. All of the created order is connected; I am in some way or another still of the rib of the first of creation, when I encounter you I encounter God’s own beloved, and when I watch the slashing of creation at the hands of evil my own beingness is challenged. A friend said it better than me, “silence kills.” Closing our eyes is to surrender, wave our white flag, to say that nothing can change. This is simply not the way things should be. Cain killed Abel but Cain went on living, and we still haven’t figured it out.
One of my professors, Paul Galbreath, taught me to think of the Lord’s Supper as an eyes-wide-open prayer. That when we do the liturgy in thanking God, remembering Christ, and praying for the Holy Spirit to make broken places whole, we keep our eyes open to the vision of a table where all are welcome and invited, where swords are beaten into plowshares and the meal of grace and interconnected wholeness is bountiful and enough. So we open our eyes. We grab the hand of another. We keep marching forward, saying to our siblings in the faith, “Keep your eyes open. Feel the pain and feel the cries. Hear the voices of those who are weeping, and know that it is for the sake of all of creation that we amplify such voices rather than muffle them out. Keep believing that the triune God is at work in this broken world, weeping with those who weep and ushering us forward to do what needs to be done so that we all might gather at the table of justice and faithfulness in God’s family made known and restored.”
We take the bread and cup, and our eyes are opened.
Our blog continues the summer tradition of contributions from our incoming elders. Elected by the congregation in the spring, they are currently in training for Session service and will formally join that group in the fall. We thank Laura Kelly for this opening reflection. Laura is a graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary. In August of 2016 she will begin her Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at VCU Health System. Laura is eager and excited to be with her GPPC family after an incredible intern year at the Gayton Kirk PC(USA).