The Pastor's Buzz

Pastor Buzz Trexler's blog for God's people in The Meadow.

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Name: Buzz Trexler
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Journalist for 29 years; married to Donna for 28 years; parent of David, 27, and Elizabeth, 24; pastor of Green Meadow United Methodist Church in Alcoa since 2002.

Friday, September 02, 2005

But we're not like that ... are we?

We are not like that, are we?

The raging chaos of rape and pillaging in New Orleans has caught people by surprise. After all, this is something you see in Lagos, Nigeria, or elsewhere, not in America ... or is it?

Do we not all have the same capacity for sin?

We seem to have the attitude of the Pharisee in Matthew 18, who prayed, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men -- robbers, evildoers, adulterers -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get."

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'"

When are we going to get it?

The images from the hurricane-stricken Gulf Coast cities have brought draw-dropping disbelief and words of outrage.

That’s appropriate because we should be outraged; however, we should also ask questions such as, "Why do some people fall to their lowest common denominator at times like this? Furthermore, what is it that restrains some, but not others, at times like this?"

Stealing bread a la "Les Miserables" is one thing, but carjacking a nursing home bus, threatening survivors, ransacking stores for beer and electronics is something totally different.

What is behind such actions?

In his book "Blue Like Jazz," (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville) author Donald Miller tells of watching a "Nightline" broadcast detailing the horror of genocidal wars in the Congo. "As the images moved across the screen I would lie in bed feeling so American and safe, as if the Congo were something in a book or a movie."

Don talks it over with his friend Tony the Beat Poet and, as often happens in their discussions, Tony gets down to brass tacks.

"Do you think you could do something like that, Don?"

"What are you talking about?"

Tony gets pretty graphic.

"Are you capable of murder or rape or any of the stuff that is taking place over there?"

"No," Don replies.

"So you are not capable of any of those things?"

"No, I couldn’t. What are you getting at?"

Tony then says, "I just want to know what makes those guys over there any different from you and me. They are human. we are human. Why are we any better than them, you know?"

The truth is, Don did know. And so do we.

We all have the capability of carrying out genocide, of stepping over bodies to loot hurricane-ravaged homes.

Why?

Because humankind is basically self-centered. As Miller would later say in his book, "The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: Life is a story about me."

If life is a story about me, then it’s perfectly understandable that I would put my needs above another's -- even to the point of stepping over their body to steal a microwave.

If life is a story about me, then all things that would better my situation are acceptable -- even if it means that your life is degraded in order for mine to be upgraded. (Corporate greed is a prime example of such an attitude; after all, it's all about the bottom line, not about the people who produced the bottom line.)

In short, the lowest common denominator is ... sin.

As Don would say, "... the problem in the universe lives within me."

That’s the "why" of it all. What is puzzling is the "how." How is it that some people give in to this sin nature, while others are restrained?

From the perspective of Christian spirituality, the answer is that our ability to restrain the propensity to sin is in direct proportion to our surrender to the Holy Spirit. In other faith traditions there may be some correlative theological construct that could explain, for example, why it is that some Muslim extremists would rejoice at death and destruction along the U.S. Gulf Coast, while others would lend their hands and feet to recovery efforts.

We are told that God has placed within the heart of every person the desire to know him. Certainly there is the possibility that God has placed within the heart of every person the capability -- if not the desire -- to love your neighbor as yourself.

Would that we would all embrace that capability, and surrender to that desire.

After all, life is not a story about me; life is the story of God, his message of grace, peace and love, and how we express that in this world.

"Nothing is going to change in the Congo until you and I figure out what is wrong with the person in the mirror," says Donald Miller.

Likewise, until that day, images of New Orleans could become more commonplace.

But then, we are not like that, are we?

Grace, and peace, and praying for those who are in need of "shelter from the storm ...