Did you know shrapnel–a hollow projectile containing bullets or the like…designed to explode before reaching the target and to set free a shower of projectiles–was named after Henry Shrapnel, a 18th Century British soldier who invented it? I learned that by reading an article from the most recent Esquire Magazine (with Daniel Craig on the cover) written by Charles P. Pierce called, “The Bomb That Didn’t Go Off: America in the Age of homegrown Terrorism.” It is one of those rare magazine pieces that speaks concisely, vividly, and accurately to the condition of our national soul in this time and place. Pierce uses shrapnel as a metaphor, one that i find particularly apt, for 21st Century American culture; everything is fractured, everything is designed to splinter and wedge and divide, so we find ourselves colliding against one another and causing more fracturing, making the project of being the United States ever more difficult. It’s a violent image for a violent age, which as he documents the more than 30-some violent political crimes we’ve had since the election of Barrack Obama, you realize that is exactly the kind of age we are in.
1 O God, why have you rejected us forever?
Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?
2 Remember the nation you purchased long ago,
the people of your inheritance, whom you redeemed—
Mount Zion, where you dwelt.
3 Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins,
all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary.
4 Your foes roared in the place where you met with us;
they set up their standards as signs.
5 They behaved like men wielding axes
to cut through a thicket of trees.
6 They smashed all the carved paneling
with their axes and hatchets.
7 They burned your sanctuary to the ground;
they defiled the dwelling place of your Name.
8 They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!”
They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land.
This has been a hard week. A friend of ours lost her father to cancer last week, and we’ll go to the funeral tomorrow. And in Oslo, Norway on Friday, a political crusader exploded a bomb in an office building and then went to an island and executed children, killing a total of 93 people in the process. I’m sure there were other atrocities this week, more loss, more suffering, more tears. This is the world, after all.
9 We are given no signs from God;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be.
10 How long will the enemy mock you, God?
Will the foe revile your name forever?
11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!
It never fails to astonish me, how much easier it is to give in to the whims of destruction, rather than going through the process of partnering with God for the work of Creative Love. Even those of us who don’t practice physical violence seem more comfortable wearing our pains and victim-hood on our sleeves, leaning into others as we meet, causing exponential suffering, destruction, and grief as we go. Rather than creatively healing or uniting or soothing, we compound the fractures in our hearts and world…we hope, however weakly, that we might finally break our way through to peace…but all we get are more pieces.
12 But God is my King from long ago;
he brings salvation on the earth.
13 It was you who split open the sea by your power;
you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.
14 It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan
and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert.
15 It was you who opened up springs and streams;
you dried up the ever-flowing rivers.
16 The day is yours, and yours also the night;
you established the sun and moon.
17 It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter.
People of faith are usually accused of believing that they alone possess the answers to life’s questions. We are usually mocked–and occasionally envied–for believing that God and God’s Power supercede all earthly powers. What people don’t appreciate as often is that devout faith in God allows us to confess little else than, “All is yours God. You made everything and everything rests in You.” Everything we espouse beyond that is necessarily tied to the words, “We hope.” All our faith allows us to say is that there is One God, Creator of All Things…and we believe God loves God’s Creation, and we HOPE to experience that Love. We believe it’s possible, we hope for the best, we attempt to Partner with God for the great work of Creative Love. People with answers, people who are certain, people who take violent action to achieve their own desired goals, people who claim to “know” what the rest of us can only “believe”…those are the people who terrify me. And they have nothing to do with faith or belief…they are in the business of knowing and convincing and winning. And no matter how “religious” their language, no matter how “Biblical” their rhetoric, they are not interested in God’s all-encompassing presence, which we faithfully witness as Martin Luther King Jr. described, an long arc bending toward justice. People of Certainty take matters into their own hands, they fracture the world in hopes of dominating the pieces, their actions are well-intentioned shrapnel piercing the soft flesh of God’s creatures, their mission is to conquer and revenge. People of Faith put themselves in the Hands of God, we hope for the healing of the suffering world through Prayer and Lament, our mission is to surrender to God’s Creative Act of Loving Justice.
18 Remember how the enemy has mocked you, LORD,
how foolish people have reviled your name.
19 Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts;
do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever.
20 Have regard for your covenant,
because haunts of violence fill the dark places of the land.
21 Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace;
may the poor and needy praise your name.
22 Rise up, O God, and defend your cause;
remember how fools mock you all day long.
23 Do not ignore the clamor of your adversaries,
the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually.
I found myself weeping today…not just for the recent crimes and losses I’m aware of, but also for the ones I am blind to. The victims claimed by genocides and famines and drug wars and diseases and all manor of angry, violent, apathetic damage we afflict on one another, willingly or no. You know, Charles Darwin once said (or wrote), “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.” This reason he gives against faith is actually the exact same reason why faith might be the most important trait in surviving this century. Because human beings are not immune to the forces of nature, the forces of evolution, the desire to live and thrive; and we are the only creatures alive who possess the powers of gods, the ability to destroy and create on grand scales, from the molecular level to the global. If we don’t find ways of believing in the God of Creation, if we fail to be the People of God who can Creatively Love the world towards Justice, then all we have are a bunch of tiny, insecure would-be-gods dividing the world among themselves until we tear it asunder. “Rise up, O God, and defend your cause.” In a silent black field this night i could almost hear God whisper back, “Stop getting in the way.”
I pray we get out of the way and get on The Way, that we stop our endless cycle of terror-shrapnel exploding into bits of pain and hate and begin the holy process of Partnering with God to Lovingly Create Justice on this planet. When I say “we” I don’t mean some global, or even national idealized group of holier-than-thou super heroes….I just mean a small band of faithful believers…tiny networks of those who would follow The Way, joining today to lament, tomorrow to serve, and, hopefully, some day to eternally rejoice in God’s Creative Act of Love in the world. I pray all this in the name of the one who holds me, you, and 93 precious, innocent Norweigans and all of creation in large and tender hands, our Great Shepherd. Amen.