I am sure you have seen the commotion on TV screens and read about all the chaos in Afghanistan. It has been heart-wrenching, to say the least. I am at the point where I don’t even want to read about it, or to turn the TV on and see what’s going on there - not that I don’t want to know, but because I am so heartbroken about the entire situation. I think about the loss, the incalculable loss in life and treasure, and I can only feel a deep sense of hurt and disappointment. It has been tragically upsetting. I want to find that sense of optimism and hope in the debacle, but I remind myself that that may not be enough.
I am not a politician. In fact, as much as I can, I stay away from politics. I did not serve in the military, nor am I in the military. Deacon Denise, however, did serve in the military and I have the utmost respect and regard for her and the millions of others who found a calling in laying down their lives in service of the people they love - whether those people are known or unknown to them. I share in the deepest frustrations of those who risked their lives for what we all truly believed was a worthy cause. For many of those people, this feels like a total letdown, and there’s no word that one could find to describe the depth of anguish that many of our veterans feel.
There are now some deep and serious questions: Could we have stayed in Afghanistan in perpetuity? Of course not! At some point, we have to leave. Was there a better way to pull out? Probably so. There’s always a better way of undertaking a task. Was the Afghan Army, which we had trained for years, ready and willing to fight for their own country? Perhaps not. If, after all these years of training, they wouldn’t fight for their own country, how then do we justify sending American soldiers to fight for people who are not willing to fight for themselves? This is my dilemma - if we cannot stay in perpetuity, and if the American-trained, Afghan Army wouldn’t fight for Afghanistan and the institutions that have been built to support daily life and work, what then is the endgame? Can you see new life spring out of the hard concrete of desolation, hopelessness?
In the 20th century, Karl Barth - a Swiss theologian - was the leader of a group of Christians in Germany who opposed and resisted Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. He spoke in a way that invited his hearers to see the radical nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He wrote that "Faith is awe in the presence of the divine incognito; it is the love of God that is aware of the qualitative difference between God and man and God and the world." Remember this - faith is the love of God that is aware of differences. It is this awareness that, in his view, should drive every Christian to live life with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
Both the Bible and the newspaper should inform and influence our actions in the world. The Bible helps us to understand who our neighbors are, opens our eyes to see that neighbor, and embraces our duty to our neighbors with purpose, humility, and gratitude. The newspaper reveals our neighbor’s situation to us and helps us to understand what is happening to our them. Having been duly informed of what is happening to our neighbors, the Bible’s invitation to us is to then respond the best way that we can in helping our neighbors out of their distress.
In a sense, then, faith isn’t a subjective esoteric reality that seeks to shield us from the dire needs of the neighbors of our world; instead, it is the energy that drives us to engage with our neighbors and others to respond. In one word, faith is a response.
For this reason, we have to go back to the questions in paragraph three of this article and probably ask some more questions, but we must do so with the goal of trying to understand how we can live faithfully in a world that can sometimes make hell look like paradise.
Some of our parishioners gathered to reflect on the best way that we, the Christ Church community, can respond. Remember, faith is a response, and we have begun work on discerning what our response to the Afghan refugee crisis will be. As days unfold into weeks, we will share more information about how you can also help. In the meantime, if you are interested in being a part of this process, please reach out to Deacon Denise by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org, talking to her for a moment or two on a Sunday morning after church, or by contacting me.
A couple of days ago, a parishioner, Adrian, returned my earlier call to her. In our conversation, she shared with me a quote from Abraham Herschel which had had some impact on her. Herschel wrote, “God is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance.” I sincerely believe Herschel’s words because if God is of no supreme importance to me, what else can be?
It is, therefore, my recognition of God’s supreme importance in my life that I respond, holding the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, to the needs of the world. For me, that is how we should respond to this Afghan crisis, and how we can offer new life to a refugee family that may walk into our common life during the coming weeks.
I hope you feel that sense of faithful response as I do.