In the wake of the recent attacks in Beirut and Lebanon, Content Coordinator Beau Denton began to ask around for resources that members of The Seattle School community had found encouraging or enlightening. You can read some of those responses, and Beau’s reflection, here. In this post, Dr. Keith Anderson, President of The Seattle School, shares his reaction—one marked by raw emotion and a sense of futility. Keith’s words capture the feelings of uncertainty, frustration, and despair that many of us feel moving into this season of Advent. In our upcoming Advent series, we plan to wrestle with those feelings as a community, wondering together what it means to hold to the hope of a Messiah in the midst of such turmoil. Please join us.
I know I should have something compassionate, sensitive, and wise to say, but, in honesty, I don’t. My immediate emotional response was, “This, again? Again!”
I’m an educator, a pastor, a leader—I should have something reflective and thoughtful to say, but in this moment I do not. I heard someone say on the ferry yesterday, “I just want them all dead.” I didn’t feel that level of rage, but that was tested as I learned of training by ISIS to kill children. “This again? Again?”
What are we supposed to do when all we feel is futility and déjà vu in the worst possible sense? I said to someone, “If you asked me what we ought to do, I would say, mount the largest army ever and go door to door and take them out, one by one if necessary.” I guess you can sense that I don’t feel like being a peacemaker at the moment. I don’t feel like being the salt or light of the world right now. I only feel angry fatigue—we’ve been here before. “This again? Again?”
I wrote in my journal the most honest, visceral response I felt. “Outrage, fatigue, futility. That’s all I have—it’s all I feel in the moment. Don’t ask me for compassion. Don’t tell me to love my enemy. Don’t call me to be a peacemaker. It’s not what I feel.”
In those years I pastored churches, the Paris attacks would have given me a context for preaching about Advent. I would have shown that the violence in Bethlehem was repeated on the streets and in the theater and arena in Paris. I would have shown how we are the same, we human beings, as the powerful and violent soldiers of the king who sought out and slaughtered innocent children in order to crush a future rise of a competitive political leader who might be called Messiah. In my preaching days, I would struggle very hard to find a glimpse of that Messiah in the horrific violence, in the same region as the terrorists of ISIS. But this week, I only feel anger, fatigue, and futility.
Most of my adult life has been spent speaking sacred words to congregations of people numbering 40, 110, and 1,500. Those moments helped keep me grounded in the word in the midst of turmoil. And, now as president of a theological graduate school, what can I do when my emotions are irrational anger, fatigue, and futility? Well, I go to others who preach—and Barbara Brown Taylor is my favorite: “Church is not a stopping place but a starting place for discerning God’s presence in the world.” And I hear my own heart beating the question, “This again? Again?” Maybe, just possibly, at the end of the day, that’s what I get and it’s certainly all I can give.