The last couple of days have brought a flood of emotions to the surface in our already fragile repertoire of feelings. The events in Minnesota, Louisiana and now Texas have made us fearful again. We have been led to ask ourselves, some of us perhaps for the first time: “What is wrong with America?”
As one was not born in this country, I don’t have the luxury of reminiscing about the “glorious old days.” Neither can I join the chorus of those who decry the excesses of the old days. While many were experimenting with drugs and the sexual liberation of the 60’s, my parents were just trying to survive raising 9 children in the northern part of Brazil. I missed the 60’s altogether, except for the ballads a group from Liverpool brought to our Philco radios.
I missed the Civil Rights days but fell in love with MLK from a distance. I missed JFK but loved the food supplements his administration provided to my school through a program called “Alliance for Progress.” I missed the Vietnam War but years later would, with my wife, watch endless reruns and of M.A.S.H., thinking initially it was about Vietnam. M.A.S.H. and Ms. Ruth were my wife’s only English teachers when we first came to the U.S. In the early 80’s.
I grew up under a brutal military regime for 20 years. Congress was closed in 1964. Artists, students and teachers with left leaning views were haunted down, thrown in jail, tortured and killed. Many simply “vanished” with no trace, no closure, no accountability to this day. The lucky ones escaped to England, France, Portugal, even Russia. I was too young to fully appreciate the nefarious effects of those years.
The 70’s saw the so-called “Brazilian miracle,” an economic boom that later we would realize was only a boom to a few military officers and some clever politicians. I attended university during those years of political turmoil, my campus becoming a recruiting center for the communist party. I learned to despise communism and never fell for the propaganda that turned Fidel Castro into some kind of a hero. To me, he and Che Guevara were just another type of despots. I still believe that to this day.
The 80’s saw complete economic chaos: 3000% inflation per year. Shortages, looting, mass unemployment. But we also saw some political opening for the first time in my lifetime. I got to vote in a general election for the first time in 1986. We finally had a full and universal suffrage and the military were not in control.
The 90’s came roaring in with troubles. I secured a job teaching at my alma mater and was trying to support a family of 4. On my way to school, it was not unusual to see from the window of my bus a little corpse of a baby abandoned by a mother or a full size body of someone who had been killed execution style, the body still fuming from the burning that accompanied the killing. After seeing these things, I couldn’t sleep for days. I just didn’t understand how people could place so little value upon a life made by the Creator and imbued with all the innate qualities of personhood. And worse yet, I could never quite get why the people saw these tragedies as a type of entertainment. The bus driver would stop, people would get out, cross the street and parade in front of the dead, then they would take their seats on the bus, couples would kiss, others would talk about the final exam they were about to take and someone would make a cruel joke about an over cooked barbecue. The whole scene was surreal, insane.
And now, after many years of sojourning in this land, life has come full circle. I believe what we are doing to each other in the U.S. now is a prelude to the total disintegration of our entire way of life and unless we put a stop to it, we will fall like the other nations before us who put ideology before personhood, feelings before morality, man before God.
Our problem is not primarily racial. Our fight is not class warfare. The root of our problem is a lack of regard for human life. When life is reduced to chemicals dancing together in a primordial soup, it shouldn’t surprise us that there are elements in our society who believe they have the right to eliminate certain elements of our fabric they deem “undesirable.” In fact, we are already doing that when we have enshrined in our law books a provision that allows people to eliminate the most vulnerable among us — babies in their mothers’ wombs — at will, up to a certain time. This is one of the consequences of an ideology that says that man comes from apes.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that every evolutionist is a potential criminal, but I am saying that a society that is over exposed to a philosophy that attributes no transcendental value to life, no inherent dignity for being image bearers of the Divine, this society will eventually regress to acting according to the principal tenets of that philosophy, whether that’s a conscious act or not. Releasing a huge metal ball from atop a high mountain will always result in a movement downward, first slowly, then in a colossal crash no one can avoid.
Obviously, some elements of conservatism in our society contribute to this decadence as well. Many Christians, instead of acting compassionately as their Lord would, when they see the evils in our society, add fuel to the fire. They spew hateful words, plastered all over social media or uttered under their breath in dinners and gatherings with their friends. They consider themselves so much more superior to those immoral people of the left that I doubt they would have the courage of a G. K. Chesterton, who in response to an editorial in a British newspaper asking “what’s wrong with the world?” said, “Yours truly. I am what’s wrong with the world.” Churches and Christians need to wake up to the fact that many of them are not much different from the world. They need to lead by example, living an orderly life above reproach, loving one another and caring for the poor and those without voice in our world. God is calling us to repentance and righteous living that will result in truly living as salt and light in a society that needs Christ more than ever. But it is not through hatred and mere condemnation that this work will be accomplished. We need to look inside ourselves first and clean house before we can help heal the world outside.
Grace Church is a “house of prayer for all nations.” We have black, white, yellow, olive and all the colors in between. We have Americans, Brazilians, Haitians, South Koreans, Colombians, etc. We welcome everyone.
No one in our congregation will be untouched by the events of this week. Few, if any, will have no opinions on these tragic deaths. We are entitled to our own opinions but we owe each other love and respect, even when we disagree.
But remember that we are a unique group. We are the “called out ones” — out of the world, into His marvelous light. We belong to the family of God. Jesus calls us brothers. We are co-heirs with Him of the riches God has in store for us. We have the same Spirit. We are headed together to the New Jerusalem. Our citizenship is in heaven, where there will be no class distinction, no need for passports, no border control. We are all passing through and if we really get it, we will be the first to say that we are here on urgent business for our King.
When we see each other in church this Sunday, let me encourage you to seek three people you normally don’t speak to and do the following:
Offer words of encouragement (“I am glad to see you here this morning.” “I’m so happy to be a part of the family of God.” “You are a blessing to God’s family here.”). If you don’t know the person and are not sure if they are saved, please introduce yourself and welcome them warmly.
Offer a hug, a warm handshake, a tap on the shoulder, when appropriate.
Kneel down to greet children and tell them how glad you are that they are in God’s house. Ask them when their Birthday is. Tell them Jesus loves them.
If they are believers, take a moment to pray together for our nation and especially for the families and friends of those who lost their lives.
Ask them if there is anything you can do to serve them.
Commit to praying for each other during this difficult time in the life of our nation.
I look forward to seeing you in God’s house on Sunday as we take time to honor the One who gives us life and life abundant.
We have a living hope!
“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.” (Ephesians 2:13-16).
Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade
Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA