An optimistic van hosting a blood drive in a grocery store parking lot called out to me as I passed by in my Subaru; at the same time, I listened to the frantic voices of reporters on the radio as they provided moment-by-moment updates on the shooting in San Bernardino, California. Simultaneously, a call for the gift of blood mingles with the cry of innocent bloodshed. Blood crying out for justice, blood crying out for answers. Blood in California, blood in Paris, blood in Charleston...Blood in every corner of the world.
We hear daily stories of violence, of hatred, of evil. While violence is not a new thing, each life is valuable, making every fresh loss feel as if we've heard about it for the first time.
Listening to the unfolding of this shooting in San Bernardino, a hollow pit burrowed its way deep into my stomach. When I think about all the evil in the world, the temptation is to slip into despair. For many of you who have experienced tragedy, you know that there often are no words to alleviate the pain. Advice-giving, telling you that we understand, offering up religious platitudes - this is not helpful. So how do we adequately express the grief, the agony, the horror?
What is the appropriate response to such pain?
Two thousand years ago, another major bloodbath against innocent babes occurred. The second chapter in the book of Matthew (found in the New Testament of the Bible) details the story of a king named Herod who ordered the slaughter of little boys in the region surrounding Bethlehem. Infants, toddlers - all boys - two years and younger - put to death by soldiers. Rightly so, a lament is lifted up. The record is as follows:
A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more. (ESV)
Rather than offer up plausible solutions, it seems that making room for grief is the most appropriate response that I can offer up on behalf of yesterday's blood.
San Bernardino, I lament for the loss of life. For the terror. For the loss of innocence. As a member of the human race, I confess that I am prone to anger. I am prone to selfishness. I am prone to pride, to arrogance, to hatred in my heart. I cry out for justice on your behalf.
Today I make room for grief.
If I only make room for grief, then I will be consumed with despair. Along with lamenting, I must also choose to hope. Not hope in how good people are or hope that there will be no more killing. No, the only true words of hope I cling to were written a long time ago:
...Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:3-4 (ESV)
These words don't mean that the tragic events we experience are any less tragic. On the contrary, the more we love, the more opportunity we have to be wounded. What these words do mean to me is that one day, there will be an end to the shedding of blood. No more bombings, no more shootings, no more abuse. No more evil.
Today as I make room for grief, I also make room for hope.
Thinking of San Bernardino today, rather than ramble on, I offer up a simple lament:
A Lament for San Bernardino
Red. Blood red. The crimson blood cries out. The blood screams for justice and asks, "Why?"
How long, O Lord? How long must we wait? How long?
I lift my voice, my one and only voice and say, "Return."
You came long ago. You brought Light into the darkness, and now we wait again.
I wait in expectancy. Wait for the wrong to be made right.
Emmanuel, God with us. I cry out for the second coming. I cry out for justice. I cry out for mercy.
Written by Heidi Sadler. © 2015 All Rights Reserved. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For some people, crying is a rare event. But for people like me, crying is a typical activity. And because I fall into the weeping crowd, I love it when other people cry -- in a good way, that is.
As I have been in the process of writing my 365 Letters, a common response from recipients has been that the words I sent were so meaningful that it made them cry.
Based on this response, I'm recognizing how much people need to hear words of affirmation. And not just once in a while. Even if we have heard it before, we need to know that we are loved and appreciated. That we are seen and not invisible.
So next time you have a few minutes, write someone a letter detailing what you appreciate about them. It just might make them cry.
If you read "The Notorious 'F' Word," you know that Fear attempts to intimidate my creative spirit.
Well, Fear turned up again when I began receiving letters from people that I have written this year. And while it might seem ridiculous, I took several days to open some of these letters because I, the letter writer, was nervous to read what others might say to me.
Seeing that I am sending letters that I want others to open and enjoy, it has been good for me to be on the receiving end of love. Clearly, I can be one of those people who fear vulnerability and struggles with embracing words of affirmation.
Once I was brave enough to open my letters, I was encouraged by the words that my friends had to say, and I recognized that I didn't need to fear love.
This experience brings me to a realization that we live in a society that tends to be critical. Whether it's movies, books, restaurants, or celebrities, we are constantly critiquing others.
Because there is so much negativity around us, we tend to assume that others are thinking the worst about us. But what would happen if we created a culture in our homes, in our schools, and workplaces where we were known for being people of encouragement rather than people who criticize? If we expected to be affirmed rather than cut down, we might not fear answering the phone or checking our email or opening letters.
As I think about my own community, it is good to ask myself:
Who can I encourage today? Who can I affirm? Did I encourage or discourage others today?
Currently, I'm in the middle of doing research for a novel that addresses the sex trafficking issues in Portland, Oregon, where I live. Ironically, the erotic movie Fifty Shades of Grey is scheduled to release during this process.
I could spend the majority of this post relating the themes of the story and asking you to stay home from the movie. I could discuss how our culture's approach to sexuality contributes to domestic violence and sex trafficking. But rather than reiterate what others have thoroughly addressed (see the excellent Resources below), I'm compelled to ask myself:
What does the hype surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey teach me about myself, and what can I do about it?
What I've Learned
I'll be honest - when the books first came out, part of me wanted to know what was in them. Thankfully, I heard a few excerpts and watched an interview with the author, which solidified my decision to decline. However, I have to admit that the desire to know things is a temptation. I have to take responsibility for what I have participated in just because my mind is easily drawn to the unknown.
I Battle Fear
In writing this post, I have felt a measure of fear. Fear of being misunderstood, fear of what people might think, fear of being viewed as intolerant. Because my voice might be contrary to the millions saying this story is just fantasy for consenting adults, I am tempted to remain silent and let the "professionals" discuss it.
But at the end of the day, it's okay for me to disagree. If I want others to be honest, then I have to be honest too. Granted, I could avoid this topic, but if I fearfully opt out of the conversation, I miss the opportunity for a respectful, healthy dialogue.
I can exercise my freedom of speech and say that, as a strong woman, I'm offended by any story that would manipulate me into thinking that graphic sexual entertainment is beneficial.
I Am Inconsistent
In this country, women have intense feelings about equality and independence. We advocate for homes without violence. We expect our husbands to be faithful. We see how pornography destroys marriages, and we insist that women be treated as more than sexual objects.
In spite of all this, millions of women have flocked to read this book. By substituting the word erotic, it suddenly doesn't seem so bad. (See Merriam-Webster's simple definition of pornography).
As a woman, this phenomenon forces me to look at the inconsistencies in my own life. When have I acted against my core beliefs so that something doesn't seem quite so bad?
What I Can Do
I Can Value Myself
I've worked with many women in crisis: abused women, women involved in the sex industry, and women facing unplanned pregnancy. Behind a mask of sexual freedom, my conversations with them would often reveal that they had little value for themselves.
So what can I do to value women? One of the best things I can do is to value myself. This might be as simple as talking well about myself rather than constantly degrading my weight, my skills, my personality...When I value myself, then I am eager to express value for others.
I Can Value Men
Watching the Superbowl, I cringed as the Fifty Shades trailer and a graphic Victoria's Secret commercial graced the screen. It grieves me that my husband, my father, my brother-in-law, my nephew, and my friends can't watch a football game without being subjected to sexual images that exploit women.
While it seems that most of the criticism surrounding this Fifty Shades has focused on the way it degrades women, I'd like to propose that this story is just as offensive to men. Shadowed by fantasy elements, the message to men is that women want to be treated in a violent, controlling manner. How confusing and insulting it must be for good men to see millions of women enthralled with this violent expression dubbed as love.
One of the most loving things I can do for men is to proclaim that all the "tee-heeing" around this movie is a harmful masquerade. The emperor literally has no clothes on, and women need to say so.
I Can Turn Around
I've often been found guilty of falling into the lie, "Well, I've gone this far. I might as well go the rest of the way." In my life, this train of thought can be as subtle as:
- I didn't exercise on Monday. I suppose I shouldn't bother on Tuesday either, since I already blew it this week.
- I already ate half the tub of ice cream. Might as well finish it off.
- I already wasted an hour of my day. I might as well waste the rest of the evening.
Millions who have read Fifty Shades may think seeing the movie is just part of the package deal. But this doesn't have to be the case; we aren't animals who can't control ourselves. Nobody has to see this movie.
Over the years, I've had to throw out magazines, movies, and books because I realized they weren't beneficial. Just because I have the freedom to do something doesn't mean I should, and there's no shame in turning back to the road less traveled.
I Can Create Out of Love
Some time back, I heard the author of Fifty Shades admit that she would be mortified if her kids were to read her work. This disconnect convinces me that anything I create needs to be something I'm comfortable with my parents reading or my nephew hearing. If I can't share my writing with those closest to me, then I probably shouldn't write it in the first place. Whatever I create should be a gift to my friends and family.
The Good News
This is a teachable moment for our society. As individuals, we have the ability to make our own choices, which also means we are free to choose the best path. Thanks for hearing my heart on this difficult topic. Whether you agree or disagree with my insight, I welcome your respectful interaction in the comments below.
Be loved this Valentine's Day! - Heidi