Monday I had the opportunity to go to Quantico along with our team to learn more about leadership. On this trip our lessons were from a retired Colonel Joseph Shusko in the United States Marine Corps. He was instrumental in changing the training for marines and martial arts at Raider Hall and around the world as he included training in body, mind and spirit. I was expecting discipline, toughness and responsibility as part of the training, but was surprised by his idea of mentorship and helping others. Part of the training includes what he calls “tie ins” which are moral parables to help these men and women build character.
Thankfully one of our colleagues bought each of us a copy of his book: Tie-Ins For Life: Stories that Teach Great Values and Inspire Moral Action. Though I have read many of them in past e-mails, sermon illustration books …etc., I am thankful for the reminders (especially on this day.) As we made our way back to Richmond, we heard the tragic news about the bombs in Boston. It is hard to fathom why people would intentionally harm another person, but the question for us is always, “How do we represent God when it does?” Though we all grieve and are shocked by the initial tragedy, what next? (See “When Crisis Happens” in my archives for some ideas of initial responses.)
Here is a Tie In from Colonel Shusko’s book which I heard before, but was thankful for the reminder.
A young woman was complaining to her father about how difficult her life had become. He said nothing, but took her to the kitchen and set three pans of water to boiling. To the first pan he added carrots, to the second, eggs, and to the third, ground coffee. After all three had cooked, he put all three contents into separate bowls and asked his daughter to cut into the eggs and carrots and smell the coffee. “What does this all mean?” She asked impatiently. “Each food,” he said, “teaches us something about adversity, as represented by the boiling water. The carrots went in hard but came out soft and weak. The eggs went in fragile but came out hardened. The coffee, however, changed the water to something better. Which will you be like as you face life?” he asked. “Will you give up, become hard- or transform adversity into triumph? As the chef of your own life, what will you bring to the table?”
As you think about teaching this Sunday, perhaps you will want to use this illustration along with some wonderful words from Mason Smith (One of my former youth who now pastor’s a Baptist church in Germany and is a much better wordsmith than me!) I am discovering a renewed hope as I see young adults like Mason and my children.
No one knows why darkness falls, let alone why it falls upon us at our moments of joy. Crossing the long awaited finish line, hands raised in victory, even then the worst can seize upon us. Senseless hate is sometimes the cause. At other times the reasons are less black and white. Reasons, however, are no reason for such wanton violence. And no reason or words of comfort can bring back a life or erase the pain felt by a grief stricken friend, family member, colleague. Too often the words preached, intended to bring hope, are the very words that act like salt rubbed in the wound. What can we say to those hit hard by this recent tragedy, or any of the tragedies of our time?
And yet there is hope. Or, should I say there are “hopes”? Not all people are bad. Can this not give us some comfort? We live in a rugged world, yet some are still free of callousness. With still smooth hearts they act, even in the face of hate, to bring moments of human love. Hope rests also in that human drive to rally together in the aftermath of tragedy. Some, no doubt, are cynical about such tendencies. They rightly point out how quickly we go our own way. I choose to celebrate that we come together at all! For in those moments of connection and shared strength, we at least catch a glimpse of who we could be as a people.
At last, finally, I hope in the power of the resurrection- that one day all will be made right. This is not a passive hope. It is not “pie in the sky when you die.” It is an active hope. The hope calls us into action. Jesus taught us to pray “Your Kingdom come, on Earth, as it is in Heaven.” He taught us also “the Kingdom of God is within you.” Those who follow Jesus are called to bring resurrection and reconciliation into this chaotic world. Every bomb and bullet, however, is a reminder we are not doing our job. Even so, I take hope in the knowledge that if I fail to make the world a better place it will become so nonetheless.
Smells like coffee to me!