Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bus Story

I ride the bus to and from work most every day. I find it relaxing, and one way to lesson my carbon footprint. Because I generally take the bus at the same time each day, my regular bus drivers recognize me and will, on occasion, strike up a conversation. In addition, I ride to the end of the line on my way home so the bus is often empty or nearly empty for the last few miles of the trip. That offers a prime opportunity for the driver to chat.

Today I had nodded off for a few minutes but as the bus stopped to let a passenger out, I woke up. The driver noticed and wanted to know if he could ask me a question. I said, “sure.” He knew from an earlier conversation that I was a professor. So he asked me what I teach. I told him “theology.” He said that was good because that was exactly the sort of question he had in mind.

He proceeded to tell me that a few days earlier, his 5 year old neighbor girl had died. He told me that he is not a big fan of death in general but he found the death of such a young child baffling. Why would God allow such a thing?

I told him that I really didn’t know; that if we knew everything there was to know about God, he wouldn’t be God but that it was tragic.

He said he agreed. He didn’t really know what to think about God in general, but he did think that if there was such a thing as God, we certainly wouldn’t be able to figure him out.

Then he told me this. He doesn’t go to church and neither does the family whose child had died. But anticipating a large crowd at the funeral, a nearby church offered to let the funeral home use the church for the funeral for no charge. The bus driver thought that was pretty nice. But that was not all. Apparently, someone in the church heard about the funeral and knew that the family could ill afford the expenses associated with it. This person anonymously donated the funds necessary to cover the funeral expenses – everything.

The driver finished the story by saying that he didn’t know much, but it sure seemed to him that Someone was behind that person’s donation.

I told him that although sometimes the church doesn’t behave very well, this was a great example of the church doing the work of God in the world. I explained that being part of the church is being part of a community that strives to serve God at least in part, by showing the love of God to those around them.

He agreed as we arrived at the end of the line. Never underestimate how closely the world it watching us and the power our actions have to bring someone into contact with the living God.

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” 1 Peter 2:12

Sunday, September 11, 2011


For people about my age, two events are of the sort that prompt memories of where we were and what we were doing at the time we heard about the particular disaster. One of these events is the crash of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. The other is 9/11/01.

Today is the 10 year anniversary of the latter of these two events. I do remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news. I remember being horrified and frightened. I remember calling my sister in Colorado and crying together on the phone as we watched the news and wondered exactly what was happening. The United States of America was under attack. Unthinkable! Yet there it was, right in front of us on the television.

I remember how eerie it was to have a clear blue sky yet no planes flying overhead. I remember my children coming home early from school, and the seminary I attended canceling classes – almost unheard of.

As I think about that day and the intervening ten years, it occurs to me that in many ways, not much has changed. Life does indeed go on. People have gotten married and had children. Others have lived out their years to a good old age and have died. Young people who were in elementary school have grown up, graduated from high school, and gone to college. Many have jobs and children of their own by now. We continue to get up every morning, go to school or work, cook dinner, and sleep at night.

And yet in other ways much has changed.  Air travel has become a chore of sorts, enduring long screening lines and full body scans. Folks who look as though they are from the Middle East endure suspicion, rude remarks, and worse. Muslims are regularly assumed to be terrorists. Troops were sent overseas in a so-called war on terrorism, a war that has impacted thousands more lives than the attacks on New York and Washington D.C.

Violence and revenge run deep in the human race. The earliest chapters of Genesis already record violent acts, even brother against brother. By the time we arrive at Genesis 6 the Bible tells us humans are doing only evil all the time. Violence seems to be part of who we are post-fall.

We are not left there, however. In Christ and through the power of his Spirit, we are able to overcome these tendencies. We are capable of doing the impossible. We are empowered to rise above returning evil for evil. We are enabled to overcome evil by doing good, even to our enemies.

I have no idea what that might look like on a national level. Frankly, I am frequently not all that good at it on a personal level. But in the wake of 9/11, it is worth pausing for just a few minutes to consider what it might mean to be an agent of peace, even if only in my own small sphere of influence.