We the People

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Politics and civil commentary with community columnist John Eyster.

"God is with us at worst moments"

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John Eyster
Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"God is with us at worst moments" is a valuable reflection by Michael Gerson published in his OpEd column in the Washington Post and reprinted in today's Janesville Gazette (p. 6A). I found it very meaningful and reassuring. I encourage you to read it.

Christmas 2012 has been UNusually difficult with the wide-range of violence which has permeated the days from Friday, the 14th of December with 20 children and 6 school people and the killer’s own mother by Adam Lanza with a semi-automatic rifle. Perhaps that tragedy with the world-wide attention complemented by the presence of our President BARACK OBAMA, himself the father of 2 young girls, and the week of funerals sensitized us all to gun violence throughout our American society. What has been YOUR reflection?

President Obama was PROACTIVE as he shared the mourning and then spoke at the community memorial service in Newtown, CT on Sunday, the 16th of December. Meaningful that he asserted that he would use every power of the presidency to prevent such tragedies from happening again.

Since then the discussion exploded with continuing intensity with a focus on gun control. The discussion is reflected in every news report I’ve seen on TV, heard on radio and read in a news newspaper and magazine.

The discussion hit hard in the comments to my WE THE PEOPLE blog post on Saturday, December 15, “Morning of MOURNING.” I did express my advocacy for additional gun control by our US and WI governments, especially a prohibition on civilian ownership of automatic and semi-automatic guns.

And then on Friday, December 21, responding to Governor Dan Malloy’s call for a “DAY OF MOURNING” and Governor Scott Walker’s Proclamation for a “DAY OF MOURNING,” I posted on my WE THE PEOPLE blog information about and support of “9:30 a.m. – MOMENT OF SILENCE on this DAY OF MOURNING.”

Again the comments focused on guns in our American society.

Was YOUR Christmas 2012 impacted significantly by the violence surrounding this Christmas time?

Reading the Gazette this morning, I appreciated that the Editorial Page Editor Greg Peck chose to reprint Michael Gerson’s OpEd column from the Washington Post, “God is with us at worst moments.” I myself read the original OpEd column in the Washington Post yesterday, CHRISTMAS DAY. I think the Gazette’s title is better than the Washington Post’s title. I am able to give you the LINK to the Post’s publication and IF you do not have access to page 6A of today’s Janesville Gazette, I encourage you to read the column, “This Christmas, joy wrestles with grief.”

Gerson’s opening statement hit me between the eyes because it reflected my own thoughts, “This is a Christmas season shadowed by sorrow. We know, of course, that human beings, even small ones, sometimes die in horrible, unfair ways. But all the horror and unfairness seemed to arrive at once in Newtown, Conn., where some parents wake on Christmas Day, if they slept at all, to mourn their absent children.

I appreciated Gerson’s reference to the sermon preached at Riverside Church in New York City by the pastor, the Rev. Dr. William Sloane Coffin on March 5, 2004 – just 10 days after his son Alex was killed in a car accident with the incisive statement, “When parents die, they take with them a large portion of the past. But when children die, they take away the future as well. That is what makes the valley of the shadow of death seem so incredibly dark and unending. In a prideful way, it would be easier to walk the valley alone, nobly, head high, instead of — as we must — marching as the latest recruit in the world’s army of the bereaved.”

If you would like to read the whole sermon, you can access it on Public Broadcasting’s "NOW" program archives online using this link, “Eulogy for Alex.”

I encourage you to read the whole eulogy/sermon and the whole OpEd column.

I totally agree with Gerson in his declaration, “There are no easy philosophic or theological explanations for unnatural death — no greater, cosmic good that neatly justifies unfair suffering. And those who try to find God’s will in an earthquake, a cancer ward or a mass killing are engaged in a particularly cruel and arrogant exercise. Coffin would have none of it: ‘Nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn’t go around this world with his fingers on triggers, his fists around knives, his hands on steering wheels. .?.?. The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is, “It is the will of God.” Never do we know enough to say that. My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.’”

Gerson goes on to comment, “Death is not the expression of a just moral order but its violation. And the proper response is not explanation but friendship. ‘Immediately after such tragedy,’ said Coffin, ‘people must come to your rescue, people who only want to hold your hand, not to quote anybody or even say anything, people who simply bring food and flowers — the basics of beauty and life — people who sign letters simply, “Your brokenhearted sister.”’”

NOT EXPLANATION but FRIENDSHIP! AMEN & AMEN! ("Amen" is an expression of STRONG approval of or support for an assertion.)

Gerson meaningfully asserts, “Grief is particularly difficult at Christmas, as the best memories can be the hardest ones. But the hope of Christmas is broad enough for joy and sorrow.” He continues to share the REAL blessing of Christmas, “The point of Christmas is not a sentimental optimism about the human condition or even a teaching about the will of God. It is an assertion that God came to our rescue, and holds our hand, and becomes, at the worst moments, our brokenhearted brother. It is preposterous, unless it is true. And then it would be everything.”

I do NOT know whether Gerson’s OpEd column influenced the Washington Post’s editorial writer or visa versa, but I would alert you to the Post’s editorial, “Christmas 2012: A day of sorrow mixed with joy.”

The editorial has a stark reminder of the reality of the Bible’s report about HUMAN NATURE, “THE CHRISTMAS story is one of warmth and light, but there’s a darker chapter that isn’t so often retold. Not long after the birth of Jesus, the Roman-installed king of Israel, Herod, got word that a future king had been born in Bethlehem. Herod, insecure and ever fearful, had all the male children in Bethlehem under 2 years of age killed. But Jesus’s family, forewarned, had already fled into Egypt.

Of the four Gospels, this story of the “slaughter of the innocents” is told only in Matthew, and there isn’t much historical evidence for it other than Herod’s established record of murders and atrocities committed against those whom he saw as threats to his throne. Scholars say that if it did occur, it was not a major event: Bethlehem was a little town, as the carol says, and the number of children killed would have been accordingly small — about 20 or so. By Matthew’s account, after it was done, “what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’ ”

Contining its reflection, the editorial attests, “Religious faith has been a persistent reality in most societies since their earliest days. It has over the millennia been mocked for its various theologies, repressed by governments, exploited for political or personal gain, distorted and misled by fanatics and charlatans who kill and coerce others. Yet it remains astonishingly resilient, as does the need to perceive some order and justice and source of consolation in the world that is beyond the wisdom of judges, therapists or grief counselors. I appreciated the reflection on the reality of the situation for the people in Newtown, Conn. , “…are in one of those times when the true meaning of the Christmas holiday is felt and expressed by all people of the community, regardless of faith, wealth or social standing. It is a time for coming together and for understanding and consideration, for seeking whatever solace can be had. It is a time not only for joy to the world but also for hope that there is truth in the words found further on in the Book of Matthew: ‘Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.’”

Remember, NOT EXPLANATION but FRIENDSHIP! What is YOUR testimony/experience/comment?

Here we go…

Mr. E.

Last updated: 10:33 am Wednesday, August 28, 2013

John W. Eyster lives in the Edgerton area. He is an adjunct professor assigned with the online/distance education faculty of Viterbo University, LaCrosse. He continues his personal mission supporting democracy/civics education in Wisconsin K-12 schools through Project Citizen, We the People, Discovering Democracy (Milton HS). John is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff or management.

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