Kids Who Die

“This is for the kids who die, Black and white, for kids will die certainly. The old and rich will live on awhile, As always, eating blood and gold, Letting kids die.” (Langston Hughes)

“A Voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled because they are no more.” (Matthew 2)

Yesterday 19 little children and two of their teachers were slaughtered in Texas while they were trying to learn how to add and subtract and use new words, as they contemplated the peanut butter sandwiches in their lunchboxes and the summer break only a few days away. The one who shot them celebrated his 18th birthday a few days earlier by buying two assault rifles, weapons of war, and posting on Instagram “Kids be scared.” He, a sick and demented child himself.

This is where it’s easy to take our normal tack, writing it all off as the work of a mentally deranged individual, responding with love and prayers and dropping the whole event like an email into our massacre file so that it can be forgotten, until the next one tomorrow, or if we’re lucky, next week.

But ours is a culture of death not unlike that ancient one Jesus was born into. The part of the Christmas story we don’t often read, and for good reason: “When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem…” And the people were left to take up the ancient words of Rachel, who cried as she was dying, giving birth to Benjamin (Son of my sorrow).

Thankfully, we say, we are different than evil old Herod. We are civilized, we do not have rulers who do such horrible things, and we are people who deeply treasure and value life. But today the Spirit confronts us with a one word question: Really? Really?

To just what level is it that we treasure life? Though we don’t order the slaughter of innocents, don’t we collectively allow for it, don’t we continually put up with it? Is this the first time we’ve encountered kids who die needlessly? This ongoing pattern of mass shootings with access to weapons of war, has it caused us collectively to say enough, and to take action, desperate action to stop it? If we do nothing, it seems that we are a great big collective Herod after all.

I’m angry and heart-sick this morning, not meaning to residence my spirit in politics but in the Kingdom of God, which is focused on life, and joy, and peace and flourishing, all bound up in the love of neighbor. My rights are to be relinquished if it is better for your welfare. While we can argue till the sun goes down about the second amendment to our collective constitution, there is no argument for citizens having access to weapons of war, more easy to access than cigarettes. This is a gross mis-understanding of the right to bear arms, when we are arming ourselves not to fight the redcoats but to wager how many black people we can kill, or how many Christians or Jews we can kill, or how many children we can kill.

And from a Christian perspective, we would be most ready to figure out a way forward with laws that restrict access to such weapons, as well as a thorough process before one can be a gun owner at all. It’s clear this is what is best for our neighbor. Certainly for the innocents being slaughtered.

For now, we we must grieve with parents submitting DNA samples so that their unrecognizable first grader’s death can be confirmed. We wail with sorrow for teachers shielding the little ones and being murdered. We sorrow for the family of the gunman, and for those first responders who must go inside and see a sight of such destruction.

I learned from my daughter Hannah that the word “Politic” means “the things of the city”, the Polis. Whatever your opinion about laws or approaches, we as people of faith must deeply care and act for the good of the things of the city. We who follow after one we call the Prince of Peace, we must lead the way forward to some other way forward in our own culture of death.

For the kids who die, our hearts are broken.

Peter Hawkinson

The Things We Carry

A couple of weeks ago, I got a frightened phone call from my sister.

She was walking home from worship service at her church, during which someone had fallen ill and collapsed. She had watched, with growing concern, as several people had tried to revive this woman, and then – failing to do so – called in the paramedics.

The pastors had interrupted the service to move everyone to another room in the building, where they concluded the now-solemn gathering with a song and prayer. People sang quietly, tears streaming down their faces, and then left in silence, all wondering – did we just watch someone die?

My sister called me, shaken up and asking the same. She said it made her realize all of the trauma we’re still carrying around from the last two years of COVID, of watching people die all around us and being helpless to save them. That we haven’t resolved that, haven’t necessarily processed it, and still have to deal with its repercussions and consequences.

It’s good to get back to something like normal, to gather again, to hug, to share meals and laughter and celebrate the big and little things.

But I’ve also noticed that sometimes this urge to “get back” doesn’t leave space for the reality that we are different people now. We have been through something terrible, and we can’t just flick a switch and turn it all off.

At the very least, we realize how precious and wonderful it is to celebrate birthdays and weddings and graduations and even to gather for funerals in physical space together.

But perhaps more honestly, we are profoundly exhausted, and grieved, and we have lost some things we may never get back.

That woman from church, I am happy to say, is just fine. But that night at church reminded my sister and I of something important: of what we are still carrying.

And so, as we get back in some ways, to some things – here is what I hope we remember: that we are different people now. But that doesn’t have to be all bad. We can be more grateful, more deeply rooted in the blessing of what is right in front of us. We can be kinder to ourselves and to others, recognizing that we all carry untold burdens. We can be more open to the grace and mercy of every day. We can be more curious about what God is doing, even when things seem bleak.

I hope we will.

-Pastor Jen

Love’s Price

Grief is the price we pay for love.”

That’s what Queen Elizabeth said the day after 9/11, quoting the British Psychiatrist Colin Murray Parkes. These words come back to me today as I greet the news of the death of my mentor, colleague, foe (at times) and almost life-long friend and fellow pilgrim Rev. Richard Lucco.

I first met him at the free-throw line at after-school basketball at North Park Covenant Church when he was a seminary student and I was seven years of age. As I tried to launch the ball with might I didn’t have in my little body, he pushed me aside and said, “watch and learn!” with his characteristic whole body laugh. That day began my relationship with my first coach. In many ways, my journey followed his. Later he was my camp counselor, and a fellow covenant pastor who was present at my ordination interview in 1995. After the interview, while I was nervously waiting out in the lobby as the board deliberated, Dick emerged from the room to call me back in with a somber face, and said, “We’ve denied you because you’re a cubs fan!” And the whole body laugh came again, he a Cardinals die-hard.

He went on to be a conference superintendent and then ECC Vice President, and here for a season our collegial relationship was strained by the hard discernments of our pastoral journeys. Never, though, was there a question about our friendship filled with deep respect and love. In the midst of it all he came and found me one day and said, “I love you very much.” Just at the right moment, a kind of hollow, grieving moment (I’ll spare you the details), he came and loved me. There’s that connection again.

Today it’s holy grief that shows up and knocks at the door. After five years of a mighty struggle with an aggressive and unrelenting cancer, Dick Lucco has died. Our chances at life together, at least according to our mortal frames, are gone. Our continued work at healing is over.

Losing those you love really does lead us into grief. I’m learning as I grow older how true that is.

Yes, yes, our faith gives us hope. We greet the glad news that death has been swallowed up by life. We ask the defiant questions of the early church: “Where, O Death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” But we shake our fist at death as at least for now, it gets the best of us. I don’t know about you, but I’m longing for the promises of God to come into clear view when these dreaded sufferings and sorrows are no more. On that day we will be able to say together, to sing together, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

For now, these things still sting.

Love (and grief) from here,

Peter Hawkinson

“Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Richard Lucco. Acknowledge we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive Richard into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

All Together, Now

As I’m writing this morning, I am sitting on my screened-in porch at my condo, staring at several dozen plant pots.

When I moved in here, almost a year ago, I had a vision: that I could make this little space up on my third-floor deck into something lush and green. I would hang planters from the ceiling, and mount boxes on the railing, and fill them with flowers and herbs and maybe even try for something ambitious like some tomatoes and spinach.

And it’s finally coming together.

I about wept when I hung up the first planter, and started to see the thing I had dreamed up come true; to see it become reality.

But it wasn’t without its hardships.

There was a long and difficult house hunt, trying to find what I wanted where I wanted it, learning what to compromise on and what to insist on, figuring out what I could afford. There were hard conversations with loved ones, who had their own vision of where I might live. And worries about being too far from church, or too far from friends, in too quiet of a neighborhood for a single woman, or too loud of a street for someone who doesn’t love city living.

I questioned myself a lot, and I cried more than I would care to admit. And maybe that’s what makes this moment, when I feel so clear in my choice and so grateful for my space, extra precious.

But while I am at this lovely moment of clarity and assurance in one small part of my life, admittedly I am still experiencing doubt and turmoil in other areas.

I imagine the same might be said for you.

I hope that in some parts of your life, you are enjoying great peace and contentment. But I am sure there are areas where you are not. Maybe it’s a relationship that you struggle with, including a relationship with yourself (don’t all of us have some thoughts about our bodies, here on the cusp of “swimsuit season”?); maybe it’s a professional concern, or a financial one. Maybe you are in a new and unexpected chapter of transition, or in the midst of a long grieving.

I know this is true for our church. I know that at the same time when we are getting back in person, eating meals together, celebrating confirmation, cheering on graduates, having Easter pancakes again, and cleaning out long-neglected closets, that we are also saying some goodbyes. We have lots of exciting momentum and some grief and loss, as we mark the transitions of Dimitri, Jason and Josh from our staff.

We have new seasons of possibility coming up, as we hope to welcome a new youth pastor later this year, and we will be blessed with the music ministry of Mary Gingrich as our new choir director. But we might also yearn for the “before COVID” times, when we didn’t have to hold all our plans loosely, and church life continued to go on much as it always had.

All of these feelings are hard to hold together – but we must try.

Try, to create space for the joy and the sorrow. The hope and the disappointment. The energy and the fatigue.

Try, to give ourselves and each other more grace, more patience, more tenderness and love.

Try, not to deny the complexity of this time, but to live honestly into it.

Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for mourning and a time for dancing, a time for weeping and a time for laughing. Sometimes those times come all jumbled up together.

There is no secret, no quick fix or easy button for living well when they all do; when grieving and celebrating aren’t linear but tangled up as one.

But I do think part of the answer is to lean in, towards each other. To divide our sorrows by carrying them with friends, and to multiply our joys in the same way. Galatians 6 reminds us to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. But the Bible also talks repeatedly about celebrating, with big tables and generous invitations to join in – to share our joys as well as our sorrows.

So I am making this my goal, in this beautiful, difficult, complicated season. And I hope you will too.


Pastor Jen

Tend the Softness

“Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

My father Jim has been gone now for eleven years! So hard to imagine, so full of life he always was. Just last week our daughter Sarah forwarded email conversations she had with “Opa” in 2009, when she was a confirmation student and was grappling for the first time with big questions.

Sarah writes: “I was just recently reading Exodus, and I came across a phrase that was being used continuously, and it kind of confused me. When Moses keeps asking Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, the Bible keeps saying The LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart.’ Why does God harden Pharaoh’s heart?”

“Boy” he responds, “You are really perceptive….I think one could say that it was Pharaoh’s pride in his own wisdom and power that hardened his heart, not only once but many times…The contests we all face in life are always between God and our own pride. We think we know better. So in that sense one could say that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because Pharaoh did not recognize God as God.”

“Think of it this way. When you harden your heart, say, against your sisters over something or other, that is your pride at work. You want your way, so you harden your heart against them. But then you get a conscience over it and your heart is softened. That is God opening you up again, softening your heart.”

What wonderful, caring, and wise words! But what’s best comes next:

Tend the softness, the love God has planted in you. Honor God in that way, and know that even when you don’t, God will find a way to soften you up again.”

Tend the softness. Tend the softness. what a wonderful and rich phrase, like a breath prayer really. It would be easy to add another verse to the hymn, “Lord, I want to tend the softness in my heart, in my heart…” Not tend to softness, but THE softness, a particular softness of the heart that is a love “that God has planted in you.”

It is this love, this softness of heart that is as much part and parcel of an easter christian, of one who has been raised to new life with Jesus.

Dad asks Sarah a concluding question: “Does this help?” and it’s a holy wonder that it’s as though even on this faraway day he’s asking me, asking me to consider the gift of a love, of a soft heart that God is planting in me to combat my own pride.

This next Monday will be the first chance I have to tend to spring planting. As I unpack the crunchy pallets and stir up the dirt and put the annuals in their pots and planters, I will be praying, over and over and over again, “O God, help me tend the softness.” I’ll keep on with it as I water the roots. And as I watch those impatiens and geraniums fill up their pots a month from now, I’ll recover again an eager longing for the God of all love to plant that very love in my beating heart.

I want to grow in this way.

Peter Hawkinson

Holding Each Other Close

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now…It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart…” (Philippians 1)

Recently while visiting with an aging mentor and saint I was reminded of life’s most important spiritual work. This friend is and will be immobilized for some time. Asking her a bidding question about the frustration she might be feeling, she replied “Yes” and then “But….” and continued on for some time about the “But”. At the heart of it was her realization of what she called “my most important spiritual work” that she was doing from her bed. “I have time and space to join my heart to the joy and struggle of others” is what she said. She can’t get up. Her eyes make reading tough. Lots of time on her side.

She might have written a little devotion that I have earmarked for decades, from a little book that’s wearing out and packs a punchThe Art of Pastoring: Contemplative Reflections by William Martin. Though intended for pastors, it hits the nail on the head for all of us christians. Thought 43 of his goes this way:

How would you pastor if you could not speak? How would you love others if you were immobilized in bed? If you can answer these questions, you know the truth of your calling. If you can do these things, you will overcome all obstacles.

Since my visit, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I might do that work more in the midst of a busy and noisy life filled with movement and racing the clock. It’s the age old juxtaposition of doing-vs-being. Often it seems that my most important work of tending to spirit things — God’s Spirit, my own, and those who I love — falls to the bottom of my over-extended life’s priorities. Unless I am bedridden, I must be intentional about stopping, and being still, and letting my life go SO THAT I can become aware of the anxieties and burdens you are bearing, SO THAT I can hold you in my heart and prayers.

Paul says it so beautifully all ver his letters to the early church, called to be a community of care.I love his image of “carrying others in his heart”, and of “Bearing each others burdens”. Who wouldn’t run toward a community like that?

But for most of us, running through life, it’s a challenge. So join me in making time and space to care for each other in our prayers, in our hearts, and in the practical acts of caring that surely will follow.

On my way out the door, my friend asked for a list of church members and friends in large print font, which she now has. Who knows, but maybe as you read this she is holding you in her heart on this very day.

God bless us, one and all!

Peter Hawkinson